Premier Pools and Spas, a major pool builder currently operating in 20 states, has made a significant change in its go-to-market strategy.
By the end of the year, all Premier locations will be franchisees.
Additionally, the company has attained a national trademark and is set to re-enter the Phoenix market.
In 2010, Premier Pools and Spas, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder, sought to create a national brand. To accomplish this, the company began offering licenses to existing pool builders who wanted to adopt the Premier name. It also created an umbrella corporation to oversee the licensing, called Premier Pools Management Corp., located in the firm’s Rancho Cordova, Calif. headquarters. The following year, PPMC converted all its corporate-owned offices to licensees by selling those branches to former employees. This included the flagship location in Rancho Cordova, which went to founding partner Keith Harbeck.
With 35 licensed offices in 15 states (along with Mexico and India), PPMC has decided to switch to a franchise model. Under the licensing model, each location owner held majority ownership and had ultimate control over the office, including how much to use the training, services and resources supplied by PPMC. This was meant to allow enough flexibility for owners to respond to the different market and environmental conditions in each location.
“That was kind of a challenge that we had,” said PPMC CEO Paul Porter. “I can’t make their business better unless we can control the environment a little bit more and control the processes more. … [Currently] as long as they’re hitting their quotas and not doing things to affect the brand adversely, there’s not a whole lot we can do in helping them run their business.”
Now, Porter said, his company aims to replicate the same operational and customer experience across the country and, thus, wants more control over variables such as training, marketing, design, and even when staffs meet at each office. “It is in the Premier operations manual that you will have a meeting every Monday morning to go over every construction job,” Porter said.
With this change, Premier also is taking a broader approach to the kind of candidate it seeks to run each office. In the past, the company looked for pre-existing builders with at least 10 years of experience. Coming shortly after the recession, many such veterans fit that description and needed help boosting their operations. With the training, processes and procedures more stringently drawn out in the franchising model, Porter plans to open up opportunities to professionals from outside the pool and spa industry.
Each franchisee, no matter the level of previous experience, will be required to complete a weeklong training before opening its doors. After that, each office will be reviewed quarterly, and Premier’s business operations manager will visit each location and provide evaluations at least yearly to determine what additional training is needed.
Franchise rights will be revoked if it is determined that the operator isn’t following the procedures.
Premier’s current licensees will be converted to the franchise model by the end of the year, Porter estimated. They will be grandfathered in and won’t have to pay the $30,000 first-year rate to take on a franchise location. Yearly fees will remain the same for former licensees and new franchisees, save the initial year’s cost. “We’ve had zero pushback,” Porter said.
In addition to this foundational shift, Premier also obtained a national trademark for its brand. “Now we really have an opportunity to go in every state of the country,” Porter said.
When a company name contains a descriptive term, such as Premier, it can be difficult to obtain a trademark, because the company owner must show that consumers make a connection between the word Premier and the company. If the brand contained a distinctive term, such as a surname, trademarks are generally easier to receive. For a national trademark, the company must prove that it conducts interstate commerce.
In making the case, Porter said, his company explained that they have almost 400,000 website visits per year, they have built nearly 40,000 pools, received coverage in several publications and invest $2 million each year in advertising to protect the brand.
Though deals have been worked out with pre-existing companies that used the word premier in their branding, PPMC was met with a lawsuit in 2012 when an independent Dallas-area builder, also named Premier Pools, tried to stop a licensee of the national builder from doing business there. The case awaits retrial, after the initial jury decision was overturned by a judge. Porter could not comment on the case or speculate about the new trademark’s potential effects, citing pending litigation.
Finally, PPMC has selected a new operator to run a franchise location in the Phoenix area. Late last year, Premier had to exit the Arizona market when financial problems forced closure of the Phoenix and Tucson offices. The licensee did not finish construction on all pools, leaving PPMC to finish the jobs.
The new owners, Ralph Schindler and Ryan Phelps, will open their office in Tempe. Schindler has experience as a defense contractor, while Phelps has been a general contractor.
“I’m excited about it, because [last year’s closure] is just not the experience that we want,” Porter said. “We’d had 10 years of very successful business there, so it was heartbreaking. But I’m really excited about the opportunity to find such a high-quality person with so much experience in business…”
Porter said his company is looking for a candidate to open an office in Tucson. “We do have plans to re-enter that market, but nothing’s definitive,” he said.