WA Poolwerx franchisees making a splash across the state

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Irene and Ian Hughes are used to big moves. About 10 years ago the couple migrated to Australia from the UK. Ian, previously an aircraft engineer, wanted to sink his teeth into a new challenge and bought into a poolcare franchise in Western Australia, Jag Poolcare, while his wife, Irene, enjoyed the buzz of the corporate world.

PoolWerx and Jag merged in 2004 and two years ago, when their business was growing to a level that was more than Ian could handle on his own, Irene left her job and the two have been working together ever since.

The pair has also made another big jump — from being single unit to multi-unit franchisees.

Irene says she enjoys the challenges of operating five PoolWerx territories much more than she thought she would, and she and her husband have complementary skills that ensure the business operates as successfully and smoothly as possible.

“I’m the business and HR manager. Ian mainly looks after the mobile side, because that’s quite large now and we’ve got quite a large commercial aspect to our business too. So he focuses on the mobile team and I focus on our retail stores as well as the overall businesss management and staff management.”

And while the couple, who were last year named PoolWerx’s Western Australia Franchisee of the Year, have almost perfected how they operate their business, they still have to make sure they leave work at work and put just as much effort into their personal lives as they do their professional lives.

“We’ve had to work a little bit on making sure that we still have time to ourselves when we come home. It’s really easy to bring everything home and work well into the night, particularly when you’re excited and passionate about growing the business. So we have to be quite careful about coming home, switching off, talking about other things and having a life,” Irene explains.

Irene and Ian own the Joondalup, Beldon, Hillarys and Ocean Reef stores and also have a commercial territory in Perth city. The Perth territory, which involves contracts with strata buildings, hotels and public water features, allows the pair to develop their expertise, branch out beyond the domestic market and helps to keep the money coming in during the typically slow winter months.

Managing the Perth territory is good not just for the bottom line, Irene says, but for her husband who is always keen to try his hand at something new.

“Ian has this particular skill set which enables him to get involved with the more technical aspects of the larger pools and the commercial environment. He was itching to get more technical because of his background, so he saw that as a way of motivating himself and keeping himself interested.”

Ian has also started flying in and out of mine sites, working on and maintaining the pools at miners’ living quarters. “You really need to seek out opportunities for growth in the off-season,” says Irene. “And those are definitely projects that will bring in large amounts of money and give you something to focus on, as well as assisting in growing your business during the down season.”

Irene says being a multi-unit franchisee is not as complicated or stressful as some may think.

"It gets easier as you grow. You get greater flexibility for moving staff around and you can step back a little bit and focus on the vision rather than the day-to-day stuff, so it does become easier."

“You just need to focus on getting your structure right. It’s really important to surround yourself with a good management team ... so having people that you can actually trust to manage certain aspects of your business and being able to hand that over and trust that it’s going to happen is very important.”

Having an effective, well oiled team is what will allow the Hughes’ to expand even further — something that the two are definitely considering. “Where we are now, we’ve got some Greenfield territories around us, so there’s two developing suburbs in Perth that we have our eye on trying to move into,” says Irene.

Not only is the support of staff essential, but Irene says the guidance and extra assistance that comes with being a part of a franchise system makes a huge difference for those franchisees wanting to grow beyond one store or territory.

“The branding and the day-to-day support, as well as the marketing, is something that any small businesses struggle to do on their own. So you might get so far as a small business and then when you come to be a business of this size, you actually rely on the brand more as it gets bigger. Just in terms of marketing, for example, the national branding and so on, once you get to this size you really need that financial as well as quality support because even now we would really struggle with how much that would cost.”

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