Leland Stith was a newcomer to the pool industry six and a half
years ago when he decided to take the plunge and purchase a 50-pool
route. Stith, owner of Blue Fish Pool Maintenance in Vacaville, Calif., says
using a broker to arrange the purchase eased some of the worries he
had about investing $30,000 in a new business.
“It was good that I was dealing with someone that knew the
business,” he says. “I’d use a broker again
— especially when I’m spending money like
Buying a route, whether via a broker or not, can provide a quick
way to become a pool service technician without having to build a
business organically. It can also give someone already in the
business a way to add customers to an existing route. That said,
when purchasing a pool route, there are factors that buyers need to
Do your homework
When investigating a route, take a look at how geographically close
the homes are, whether customers pay on a timely basis, the
conditions of the pools and how much landscaping is around each
“A route has a value,” says John Malnic, owner of
JT’s Pool Service & Repair in Glendora, Calif.
“It’s based on how much you can charge a person, how
nice a neighborhood it is, and how tight it is.”
Another factor that determines value is how long the tech had the
route. “You have payment history, you know that the customers
pay for filter cleanouts twice a year, things like that,”
says Tommy Falvai, broker and owner of Pool Route Pros
in Anaheim, Calif.
“We like to see a route where the seller does advance
billing, at the first part of the month. We also like routes where
the tech has built-in vacations.” Falvai says many techs get
burned out on the business because they don’t schedule time
off into their routes.
A route with about a five-mile radius is good to shoot for,
The key to the price of a route, with a few exceptions, is the
number of customers and the monthly service fee charged to each
one. Most routes sell for 10 to 12 months’ gross receipts,
with routes in highly prized locations, such as Hawaii, going for
up to 14 months’ receipts. A broker will usually take two
months’ worth of receipts as a sales commission.
A buyer and seller often tour the route, where the seller can see
if there are any accounts that could be problematic. Malnic
recently bought a couple days’ worth of a route to expand his
business. “A route like the one I bought was sort of
‘as-is,’” he says. “I talked [the seller]
out of a couple accounts that I didn’t like. I saw the pools
and they had trees over them or they were in disrepair and I
didn’t want to do them.”
Making a choice
When buying a route, the question of whether to use a broker or
work directly with a buyer has no right answer. The choice depends
on a variety of factors from whether the buyer has already targeted
a route and knows the seller to how much money can be invested and
how much knowledge they have about the industry.
Working with a broker can be a way to break into the business
quickly, says Al Mangin, service manager for Purselley Pool
& Spa Service in Fort Worth, Texas.
Like Stith, Mangin bought his first route through a broker when he
entered the industry eight years ago. One of his priorities was to
tap into a new income stream as soon as possible.
“When you come into this industry and you’re replacing
an income you may not have the option to build a route
slowly,” Mangin says. “You may need immediate
What a broker does
Brokers provide a number of services that include listing routes
for sale, help connecting buyers and sellers, and providing
John Hawke, a broker with SpringBoard Pool Route Brokers , says brokers
also pre-qualify buyers. “Out of 10 calls we might get only
one that is qualified and ready to buy,” he says.
When a buyer and seller meet, they review the name, address,
payment history and monthly billing amount for each account, and
also try to get a feel for whether their personalities mesh.
Once a buyer agrees to purchase a route, escrow is opened and the
route’s details are verified. At the termination of
escrow, 10 percent of the purchase price will be retained —
usually for a period of 90 days — from the seller to assure
that the accounts transfer smoothly to the new owner. If any
accounts are lost during the period, the buyer will be reimbursed
for them unless the accounts are lost because of the buyer’s
The seller also is required to provide training to the buyer if
Going it alone
Pool techs selling a route on their own often advertise online or
at pool supply houses. In a situation like this, buyer and seller
work out the terms on their own, but they often include terms
similar to those used in a brokered sale.
With years of experience in the industry, Mangin says
brokers’ fees are too high. Since buying his first route, he
has assembled and then sold six routes over the years. The last
route he sold was a 40-pool route in California for $38,000. If he
were ever to sell again he said he would likely not use a broker to
avoid paying the fee.
“The broker is connecting a buyer and seller,” Mangin
says. “Sometimes the fee seems a bit excessive for a few
Even though he likes the protection brokers generally offer of a
90-day time period during which any income from customers that drop
out must be replaced, Mangin says it’s possible for a buyer
and seller to work out any such agreement on their own.
“You can usually do the same thing yourself,” he
While a broker’s expertise can be helpful, particularly to a
newcomer to the industry, Mangin says if he were to use a broker
again to sell a route he would try to negotiate a lower fee. If a
seller has ready cash on hand, it might be possible to do this, he
“If you have $50,000, $60,000 or $70,000 in cash you’re
in a better position than most people in this slow economy,”
he says. “Brokers should be willing to
There can be drawbacks to buying a route, as opposed to developing
one from scratch. It’s important to note that the buyer of a
pool route is not only purchasing the potential income stream from
the seller, but also any headaches that a particular pool or client
As such, buyers need to thoroughly investigate what they’re
getting into before they make a purchase. In addition, the training
they receive from the seller is just the beginning of what they
need. It’s important for technicians to continually learn how
to better manage their businesses and market their services.