Florida’s largest pool maintenance company is expanding nationally and bucking a trend by not using a franchising model.
In recent years, we’ve seen VivoPools and America’s Swimming Pool Co. (based in suburban Los Angeles and Macon, Ga., respectively) enter new markets by licensing their brands to aspiring business owners. In the case of ASP, its expansion has been rapid enough to land on Inc. and Entrepreneur magazines’ “fastest-growing” lists.
Yet despite franchising’s potential for higher profits and turnkey growth, Bay Area Pool Service flat-out isn’t interested. The Tampa-based firm, which services more than 8,000 pools along the state’s west coast, is actively exploring all growth strategies … that is, with an exception of one.
“The franchise model was something we threw away almost instantly,” said Gary Crayton III, the company’s owner. “The freedom a franchisee would have to potentially not service clients the way we want them serviced … is an unacceptable business model for us.”
Instead, the company will grow organically through acquisitions or by establishing new locations from scratch. Knowing “Bay Area” wouldn’t play well in landlocked markets, Crayton and the firm’s president, Dave Hahmann, hired a Canadian ad agency to develop a new brand that will facilitate the firm’s foray into Arizona, Nevada and Texas. The company’s new locations will be called Pool Troopers: America’s Backyard Heroes.
Though some pool service firms have had success with the franchising model, it isn’t for everyone. Becoming a franchise means being subject to more federal and state oversight and can cost upwards of $40,000 for legal compliance in the first year.
That’s the No. 1 reason companies do not franchise, said David Gurnick, an attorney specializing in franchising and distribution law. The “regulatory process is burdensome and costly in the view of some folks who want to expand,” said Gurnick, who is with the Los Angeles law firm Lewitt Hackman.
And the No. 2 reason? Control. You’re essentially placing your brand in someone else’s hands.
That’s why Bay Area Pool Service isn’t entrusting its new territories to wannabe entrepreneurs who could potentially jeopardize the firm’s “family first” culture. Its 80-plus employees don’t work weekends, all are full time and receive full benefits. The company will promote from within, giving employees who’ve risen through the ranks opportunities to become operating partners.
“We’re not in it for the quick dollar upfront, to take $50,000 from somebody to make him a franchisee,” Crayton said. “We’re looking for long-term growth in the marketplace.”
Bay Area Pool Service has been poised for growth for some time now; however, the recession slowed plans for a national rollout. That gave the 60-year-old firm, which was purchased by Crayton’s father in 1971, an opportunity to instead extend its footprint in Florida. In the latter half of 2012, the company began experimenting in new markets, first in Spring Hill/Brooksville, about 60 miles north of Tampa.
“That was mostly to test what we do. It’s not a huge market, but it was close enough that if it struggled, we could fix it locally,” Crayton said. “But it didn’t struggle. It thrived.” That proved the company’s IT infrastructure was sophisticated enough for tablet-equipped field workers to operate in other territories, with the Tampa home base handling the back-office operations.
Locations in Bradenton, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Naples soon followed.
This spring, the firm will deploy Pool Troopers in Orlando and Palm Beach, as well as debut in Dallas. Next year: Houston, and Arizona and Nevada. These are all dense pool markets where the company intends to replicate its Tampa Bay success by gaining 5- to 6 percent of the market share.