Cover Story: PoolWerx

By Business Franchise Magazine

This article appeared in Issue 1#3 (Mar/Apr 2007) of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand

PoolWerx Foreshadows ‘Next Big Thing in Franchising’

“Not all that long ago, I regarded a mature franchise system as one with all the main systems and services in place, a solid pool of franchisees, a strong support office, good harmony and absolute compliance.”

“But I have come to realise that it’s more than that. Maturity is having enough confidence to harness the experience, opinions and ideas of franchisees by involving them very closely in key decision-making, and also to relax the rules – when it makes sense.”

This, from John O’Brien, CEO of PoolWerx Corporation, a multi-awarded, Australian-grown system hundreds of franchisees strong, now expanding internationally into NZ, Europe and the USA. O’Brien is also Chairman of the Franchise Council of Australia.

“It’s a pretty big admission on my part and I guess it will shock the sector. I have always been known as a demon for franchisees doing things exactly by the book – meaning my book – but there comes a time when you have to recognise that there are franchisees out there with exceptional ideas that don’t fit the system as it is. And some whose markets suggest an approach that the manual doesn’t authorise.”

“Do we say ‘no’ on principle? There are arguments for it… for doing only what we know works and maintaining absolute consistency. But the last thing you want is stagnation.”

O’Brien says that in hindsight, PoolWerx set the foundations of a more liberal system in 2003, when it created the world’s first structured ‘Career Path in Franchising’, dramatically raising the quality of franchise applicants.

This model enables franchisees to start affordably as a mobile unit providing household and commercial pool-care, then go multi-mobile, and then establish a pool-side lifestyle outlet to anchor the mobile network. Beyond that are options to establish intra-territory satellite stores, take on multi-territories, or become a regional master. Given sufficient resources and experience, franchisees can open at any level.

It’s powerful. Young couples have started with one mobile, reached stage three and broken the million dollar barrier in around two years. There are franchisees running multi hubs, each anchoring multi-mobile networks in several territories, turning over multi-millions. O’Brien says franchising has made these rates of growth possible by bringing order to a fragmented and disorganised billion-dollar business sector (the swimming pool and spa aftermarket).

Registered Training Organisation status (encouraging preference by commercial pool clients), guaranteed professional indemnity insurance, a layer of regional masters whose sole responsibility is to help drive franchisee profitability, and royalties that reduce as turnover rises are just some of the subsequent innovations.

“These steps have attracted top-level franchisees who are mature enough to have a lot of input into the system – and where local markets suggest, step outside some boundaries,” says O’Brien.

He says the realisation came after a few nights at sea, aboard Crossfire, the pocket-rocket yacht his team uses for its think-tanks (read wet, cold and dinged). Marketing Director Troy Cartwright was talking about a franchisee who had sold a chain of six chemists to join up, and wanted to do a few things differently.

“What if he’s right?” said Cartwright.

O’Brien’s belief is that open-minded leadership of increasingly inclusive systems will become the next big thing in franchising.

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