Coming to America: How Poolwerx Laid a Slow-and-Steady Strategic Plan for Success in the States
Coming to America: How Poolwerx Laid a Slow-and-Steady Strategic Plan for Success in the States

As the brand continues their growth in the United States, Poolwerx does so behind a model unique to the franchise industry.

For many Americans, achieving business ownership through franchising is the ultimate dream. But for many franchises that have established a strong presence overseas, cracking into the American market is a dream. Poolwerx, a pool and spa retail and service company founded in 1992, is looking to do just that. With 106 retail locations and 330 mobile units currently in Australia, the brand has recently focused their attention on establishing a firm footprint in the U.S.

The recent expansion in the U.S., however, came after years and years of research, analysis, and preparation.

“One of the biggest mistakes that franchise brands make when looking to enter the U.S., is thinking that everything will be fine because of the volume of opportunity. That is how they fail,” said Troy Hazard, Director of Strategy for Poolwerx. “For many years I had a franchise consulting business and I've helped bring a number of brands to the United States. And with each and every one of them they were in a hurry to be here, and we were always in a hurry to slow them down. The slow and steady entry mentality is something that Poolwerx founder and CEO John O’Brien had from the first day he got into the pool industry.”

Hazard, now sits on the Board of Directors for Poolwerx in Australia and America, has an extensive background in the franchise industry, working with more than 300 brands across 16 countries. Named the Global President of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization in 2006, Hazard has also founded and developed 12 businesses, four of those in the franchise sector.

O’Brien, is a franchise Hall Of Fame recipient with 30 years in the franchise sector, having owned multiple franchisor businesses. He is also the former Global Chairperson Of the World Franchise Council. In short, he knows what makes a solid franchise system as he’s built a number of them. In fact Poolwerx has just won the prestigious Franchisor Of The Year award in its home country of Australia.

“In the mid 90’s on the back of a global sabbatical in search for a new concept John saw a tremendous opportunity in the pool and spa care network. I can recall meeting with him right after he bought Poolwerx and he had a global vision for the business, but a realistic approach as to how to execute on that vision. Interestingly we were very aligned on our view of the world, in particular the USA. As a result I’ve been with the brand in some capacity ever since.

For Hazard, a “gold rush” mentality on the U.S. is a recipe for disaster. Rather, the Poolwerx board of directors and leadership team, put together an extensive plan to lay a foundation for smart, long-term growth in America.

All in all, Hazard said that growth in America came after a 15-year-long research project.

“In the late ‘90s, John started to take field trips to the USA to look at the markets, do some competitive analysis, and look at what the landscape looked like. I was already travelling here four or five times a year for business, so John and I would gather our research from each of these trips and compare notes and see what was shifting in the marketplace,” said Hazard.

In 2007, the company engaged consulting group DC Strategy to develop a very deep research paper on how to bring the business to America, including analysis and insight into adjustments that needed to be made to make the international leap a successful one. Even though the business had invested heavily in the research, the storm of the global financial crisis was brewing and O’Brien decided that discretion was the better part of valor. Despite a tremendous interest from potential American franchisees, the call was made that it wasn’t the right time for U.S. expansion.

Instead, the business invested more time in revising and revisiting their plan of attack in the U.S., which Hazard believes made their eventual entry much more profound. Poolwerx now boasts 24 retail stores and 115 mobile units across six states all in the Sun Belt region of the country. The overall plan calls for 300 retail and 900 mobile units within the first five years in America with a geographic focus on the Sun Belt and then northern growth from there.

“The U.S. is such a diverse country and it's easy to get distracted. You see so many brands that come in and spread themselves too thin across the country and it's impossible to sustain. We are focused on the Sun Belt and saturating that region before we consider growth in other areas of the U.S.,” said Hazard.

As the brand continues their growth in the United States, they do so behind a model unique to the franchise industry. The brand recruits from outside their industry but also has a conversion process to benefit both younger and older independent pool and spa businesses that are looking for the next phase in business.

“The younger independent owners typically want to stay in the business but need a road map for growth, we can maximize that opportunity through franchising and our hub and spoke business model. And then there are the more seasoned owners who we are helping convert, organize, and build their business using our franchise system and processes. They stay with the business for a short period of time and then realize the true potential of the value of their business by transferring out and selling to someone who wants to get into the pool business from outside of the industry. Because we have such an extensive training program and world class training facilities, we attract a broader range of potential franchisees from all walks of life offering a stronger exit strategy for people who are at the end of their pool pro career. Our conversion program has been an attractive plan for both of these groups of folks,” said Hazard.

Additionally, Poolwerx is employing a strategy of acquiring independent businesses and running them as a corporate entity.

Proof of this came yet again this week with the strategic acquisition of another key asset in Dallas Texas. The company successfully completed the purchase of Dolphin Pool Supplies, a 50-year-old iconic business in the pool industry with two retail stores and 22 mobile service units in the field. “You don’t convince someone to part with their baby of 50 years unless they believe in what you are seeking to achieve. Dolphin is great business that we will run as a corporate business, as our ‘center of excellence’. In addition to our training facility, it gives us a great opportunity to bring in Franchise partners for practical and theory training in a live environment in all aspects of the business”, says Hazard.

“Our strategy is not a ‘hope for the best’, ours is very strategic and our board of directors is very focused on the plan. We invested the time and research in a plan with very particular action items in place to create a clear path to reach those goals.”