In another example of an emerging industry trend, a Florida home services company is entering the world of pool service franchising.
In a deal finalized on Jan. 18, UniServ acquired the recently launched swimming pool franchise business ZipWorks. Both firms are based in Fort Lauderdale.
Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
Founded in 2001, UniServ offers pool cleaning/maintenance, pest control, lawn spray and handyman services in five counties throughout south Florida. ZipWorks, which began operating as a franchiser in April 2012, had yet to sign on any businesses.
Prior to the acquisition, UniServ had operated not unlike a franchiser in that it handled administrative, marketing and other tasks for its 23 current business partners who service upwards of 2,300 pools. The firm had intended to roll out a plan of its own to set up a franchise network early this year, but officials believed a partnership with ZipWorks would expedite the process, CEO Chip Sollins said.
Though ZipWorks was still in its early stages when the deal was made, Sollins was attracted to the firm’s business model, which relied heavily on proprietary technology being developed by ZipWorks founding partner Dan Rubenstein.
As part of the new relationship, Rubenstein will take on the role of UniServ’s chief technology officer. In this position, he will continue to develop the program Sollins believes will poise his company for major expansion over the next three- to five years, he said.
Using the technology as a selling point, UniServ hopes to transition all of its current business partners to franchisees, a process scheduled to take place by the end of the first quarter 2013. The firm also intends to venture into new Florida markets later this year, with expansion into Arizona, Nevada and Texas being planned for 2014 according to Sollins.
“It’s the perfect marriage because [UniServ] has a lot of people running the operation smoothly, but it’s not scalable,” Rubenstein said. “With the merger, we each are going to get where we want to go faster … by bringing [the industry] up to 2013.”
ZipWorks is a “management in the box” tool that will include a series of apps designed to allow franchise operators to conduct their business while in the field using handheld devices. Rubenstein anticipates the application will be available in a year. It’s intended to handle customer sign-up, ordering, quote approval, invoicing, case management and more.
“Customers are expecting immediate attention with every interaction, and we need to be responsive to that,” Rubenstein said.
While many believe franchising does not have its place in the pool industry, some suggest the business model will cater to consumers who rely on brand recognition as validity of a company’s knowledge and reliability.
This may be especially true in markets such as Florida, which has been home to a number of fly-by-night technicians who have tarnished the reputation of other pool professionals in the region.
“I believe there is a place in the market for a pool franchise, and with a good corporate franchiser, the franchisees can do well,” said Jim DeBerry, a partner with Orlando-based DeBar Holdings.
“Potential franchisees will breathe fresh breath into the swimming pool industry. It should be attractive to let quality newcomers join the industry, and companies like UniServ are on the right track to bridging the industry gap and taking our beloved industry to new heights.”