ASP employee Stephen Wise will become his own boss when he opens his own ASP franchise in Florida next year, thanks to company's new "franchise scholarship" program.
Credit: ASP

ASP employee Stephen Wise will become his own boss when he opens his own ASP franchise in Florida next year, thanks to company's new "franchise scholarship" program.

As companies across the country look for new ways to find high-quality help, ASP is focusing on two sources to fuel its aggressive expansion — veterans and existing employees.

Each year in January, America’s Swimming Pool Co. considers all its franchised locations that launched the previous year and declares one of them the very best of the bunch.

The best new franchise this year is operating in Virginia Beach, Va. Coincidentally, the runner-up is also in Virginia.

But it’s no coincidence that both are owned and operated by military veterans.

It’s been Stewart Vernon’s experience that veteran-owned ASP locations tend to perform better than the rest.

“We’ve just watched how disciplined they are, how they’re able to execute a plan, follow directions and follow a roadmap,” said the CEO of the pool service franchisor that boasts 188 locations and counting.

It’s understable why Vernon wants to recruit more of them. And he’s dangling a pretty enticing carrot.

The Macon, Ga.-based company will significantly reduce the cost of becoming an ASP franchisee for one veteran each year. By waiving the franchise fee, ASP is covering the applicant’s start-up expenses, which include access to the company’s trademark, corporate IT system, marketing data and extensive training program.

“It’s the equivalent of a $30,000 check going right back to them,” Vernon said.

The program launched on Veterans Day. Applications are being accepted on an ongoing basis with one veteran selected for a fee-waiver each year.

“It’s not a one-and-done type of thing,” Vernon said. “We’re committed to it long term.”

Vernon acknowledges that the selection process won’t be easy.

Applicants needn’t have pool industry experience. The ASP network is comprised of people from a variety of professional backgrounds. The franchisor provides two weeks of training at its Macon headquarters, followed by 10 weeks of continued education and online learning resources.

The veteran chosen for the fee waiver might not necessarily be the one with the longest, most decorated military experience, either. Rather, the company is looking for the one standout who holds the most potential to become a successful ASP franchisee.

“We’ll get everybody’s story and their life background and work experience and just find the one who’s the right partner for us,” Vernon said.

Franchise Business Review named ASP a Top 100 franchise for veterans. The company also is a member of VetFran, an organization that helps veterans transition back into civilian life by pairing them with business opportunities.

In addition to military veterans, ASP recently discovered another viable talent pool that could help achieve its goal of coast-to-coast expansion: Employees of existing ASP franchises.

To encourage them to strike out on their own, ASP launched what it’s calling a “franchise scholarship” that will reduce the start-up fee by 25 percent for each continuous year that an employee has worked at a franchised location.

It’s a maneuver that will not only help firms within the network retain top talent — it also will ensure that new locations get placed in capable hands.

Stephen Wise will be the first such employee to take advantage of the program. After attending business school at Georgia Tech, Wise went to work for the very first ASP location in Macon. Approaching his third year with the firm, he has determined it is time to make a go of it on his own.

To reward his loyalty, he’ll receive a 75 percent discount on the fee required to establish an ASP office in Sarasota, Fla. in the spring.

“It really put me in a place where I was thinking about ownership down the road,” Wise said.

But employers needn’t worry about their hired hands becoming competition down the line. Those who receive the scholarship will be assigned new territories, Vernon said.