US a new business opportunity for two Aussie PoolWerx franchisees

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How franchisees Darrell and Di Doust plan to make a splash in the US with Aussie poolcare brand PoolWerx. 

Franchisee, master franchisee, franchisor - is there anything this pair can't do? For almost two decades Darrell and Di Doust have been involved in the franchised pool market in Western Australia; now the couple are heading to Phoenix, Arizona to lead the expansion of PoolWerx in the US. 

The WA based couple had moved into franchising by default about 19 years ago, returning to the mining state after a three year spell back in the UK where Di had grown up. "I was working part time, and we'd been living in Kalgoorlie because Darrell always had a fly-in, fly-out job, contract maintenance. Darrell was looking for something else." 

The pair invested in a competitor's franchise and within three years had not only become master franchisees of the small group but bought out the disinterested franchisor. "We knew we had to buy the business off him or sell our own," explains Darrell. 

So within six years the pair had moved from running their own business to acting as a coach and mentor for other franchisees and ended up in charge of the whole operation. 

Profitable franchisees are key

Di highlights the challenges that faced them. 

"It's all about getting the balance right. You have to make sure you have brand compliance and that the systems are followed, you want the franchisees to succeed. But they are individual business owners as well. Some may have their houses on the line, they have quite significant pressures. 

"You have to work with people, understand their individual issues and ensure brand compliance." 

However, it comes down to one simple truth, says Darrell. "If the franchisees are profitable, everything else follows." 

It didn't take them long to appreciate the value of an advanced franchise system that offered infrastructure; so when PoolWerx approached the pair, selling the business to join the more established network of franchisees made sense. 

"We had to invest heavily in infrastructure ourselves, or find someone else who had it," explains Darrell. 

The benefits of infrastructure are illustrated by one of the franchisees in the system, Di says. "One of our first franchisees was a Mr Mum, a part-time operator. Eventually his wife joined him in the business, and they are PoolWerx Franchisees of the Year this year. They went from a $150,000 turnover to $3m a year." 

Once in the PoolWerx system, the Dousts returned to the role of master franchisees. "We were able to focus on our franchisees, we didn't have to develop software, or marketing or new products, that is all done for us," says Darrell. 

The couple added to their experience with extra training from PoolWerx to ensure they could best grow and utilise their skills. 

Master franchisees help franchisees solve problems

"A master franchisee is really a business coach," explains Darrell. "They are the people who help franchisees solve the problems that stop them doing well. That includes financial mentoring and marketing support." 

The couple built up the WA network to 16 franchisees running 36 businesses (14 of these are stores, the rest are mobile vans). 

And now they are poised to farewell all this for the hotter and drier state of Arizona, where PoolWerx is beginning its foray into the massive US pool market. 

Business opportunities in the US 

Since the brand's arrival was announced recently in the US there has been plenty of positive feedback, the pair reports. 

"We're already looking to grow," says Darrell. Right now PoolWerx has bought out a poolcare chain comprising nine company owned outlets and seven franchised units owned by four franchisees. 

"The plan is to franchise the existing businesses, to convert the company owned stores to franchises, and to convert the existing franchisees to the PoolWerx system." 

These outlets all operate within Phoenix, a city of 1.5 million people and three times the number of pools in WA. 

The pair is approaching this as a new challenge. Di takes on the role of marketing and HR manager, while Darrell is the business development manager. "We've done similar roles," says Di.  

It will be a different challenge facing them however, from the expansion of a well-known brand on home-turf. "For us it's about not understanding the culture and the different requirements, the rules and regulations." 

Darrell says although there are a couple of big groups in the poolcare arena in the US, it is predominantly an industry of individual operators and they are looking for greater buying power, among other things. 

"A lot of our growth will come through rebranding businesses," he says. "One of the attractions to PoolWerx is that we've done it before. We've been involved in most parts of franchising." 

What makes a good franchise?

So what in their view makes a good franchise? 

Darrell suggests a strong system is a great start. "At PoolWerx we've not tried to branch out. As John [O'Brien, founder] says, we are a franchise company that just happens to be in pools. John's strength is that he sticks to his decisions." 

Di believes organisation, getting the right people on board and managing them, are key factors for a good franchise operation. 

"You have to identify the different support required by the many individual needs of franchises; you have to be able to identify and use the systems to help them." 

For Darrell, franchise advisory councils and regular structured meetings go a long way towards engaging franchisees. 

"Franchisors need to get out and talk to franchisees, find what their hot buttons are. They have to encourage them to input in the business." 

He points out, "If you look for good people, you have to use them. It's no good for franchisors not to takeaking their advice." 

When it comes to hot topics, none is hotter than the issue of finance. And this is not just for franchise buyers seeking to invest but existing franchisees planning to expand their business. 

"Finance has been a problem for five years. We have finance deals in place so there is a level of unsecured finance available. But it's one of the hardest things, having funds readily available." 

He admits funding will be more of a challenge in the US where the brand is relatively unknown. But he is confident the recovering US economy makes this a good time to enter the market.  

While the timing is right for the economic recovery, it's also right for the Dousts. 

"Our son is 23 and he's going travelling in Europe; we can try something different and see a bit of the world," says Di.   

It's all about getting the balance right.You have to make sure you have brand compliance and that the systems are followed, you want the franchisees to succeed 

The plan is to franchise the existing businesses, to convert the company owned stores and to convert the existing franchisees to the PoolWerx system.


Sarah Stowe

Sarah Stowe heads up the editorial in the Inside Franchise Business group at Octomedia. Sarah is a hands-on editor who has worked in consumer and B2B titles in UK and Australia and she has been editor of the View More...
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