Subway. 7-Eleven. Dunkin’ Donuts. Hertz. These brands sit at the top of the U.S. franchise world, and are part of a category containing nearly one million similar companies throughout the country.
Yet despite more than 5 million existing pools in the U.S., the
industry’s service sector is all but absent from the list of
However, that might be changing. A notable shift in the background
of proprietors, a low barrier to entry and a focus on new
technology have combined to create the ideal climate for the
formulation of service franchises.
“Service franchises are increasing in general,” says
Susan Kezios, president of the Chicago-based American Franchisee
Association. “People’s lives are getting busier. They
don’t have time to stop and do things, even those they like
to do. So it doesn’t surprise me that cleaning, repairing and
remodeling services have entered the market.”
As such, she says, the industry is ripe for the business model.
Power to the people
While the trend is still in its infancy, a new breed of business
owner is entering the pool and spa service sector by way of
franchising. Take VivoPools for example. The Monrovia, Calif.-based
firm began operating in 2010 and functions in its home state, as
well as Florida, Arizona and Nevada. It established its first
franchises in the summer of 2012 and in a few short months now has
six throughout California and Arizona.
Like the owners of VivoPools themselves, half of the new
franchisees do not have previous experience in the pool
“We’re attracting people in civil service, as well
as veterans,” says CEO Willan Johnson. “It’s a
broad mix of folks.”
Following some of the basic principles of franchising, VivoPools
provides a training program they claim can turn even novices into
successful service technicians. Other firms have also purposefully
targeted those with little-to-no prior pool knowledge.
In fact, Stewart Vernon has built his company on this very premise.
The CEO of Macon, Ga.-based America’s Swimming Pool Co.
founded the company in 2001 and started franchising in 2005. It has
since grown to 110 territories in 12 states. This year alone, the
firm entered Arizona, Virginia, Iowa and Mississippi. Ninety
percent of these business owners did not have a background in pool service.
“That was our model, to bring business-minded folks with
the intent of being self-employed to the industry,” he says
noting that his company has yet to tap into the large conversion
market, companies who already exist as a service firm but may lack
the know-how to succeed and grow independently.
Time for technology
Compared to many franchises, a pool service company has a low
barrier to entry, making it an affordable alternative for
entrepreneurs interested in launching their own business. For
starters, having a dedicated location isn’t necessary to
function which eliminates many of the expenses.
In addition, before the advent of smart technology, a technician
who wanted to check a price for a customer would have to follow
numerous steps, including calling the office and manufacturer to
work up a quote. By using handheld tools in the field that
interface with the latest software, one can determine a quote in
minutes and show it to the client with little effort, explains Dan
Rubenstein, managing partner of ZipWorks, a pool service firm based
in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Started in April 2012 by a group of technology professionals and
entrepreneurs, ZipWorks joins ASP and VivoPools by gearing up to
launch proprietary software in 2013 that will enable their
businesses to streamline operations. The tools will become
essential as franchisees seek more ways to eliminate overhead,
reduce time in the field and reduce staff, all perks that
Rubenstein deems as serious selling points for the franchise model.
Vernon also plans to release a new program for his franchisees
early next year. “It will automate a lot of the things our
franchisees have been doing manually and will increase efficiency
of routing and streamline the communication process for technicians
and homeowners,” he says.
Firms that have expertise in service, but lack the knowledge to
create and update their websites or establish a strong presence
online also are turning to these tech-savvy franchisors for
guidance and support. These days, franchisors are providing the
latest technology to help with everything from creating web portals
and increasing a franchisee’s search engine optimization to
managing social media accounts and assisting with online customer
“Think about all the time and effort it takes to set up
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube. Those are things we are doing now so
that our franchisees don’t have to do it,” says
Rubenstein. “We would rather have them out in the field
managing customers and employees and new customers instead of
handling their twitter account. There are so many moving items and
variables right now if someone who specializes in technology
doesn’t handle all of those things, in today’s
competitive environment, you are going to be dead in the water and
lose that business.”
Potential for prospects
As a franchisee, an owner can benefit from the training and
technology provided to them, but brand recognition sits at the core
of the business model’s success. Franchisees are able to
capitalize on this and take advantage of opportunities that may not
have otherwise been afforded to them. Such is the case with
commercial work, which has seen a dramatic uptick in the last two
years, says Vernon.
ASP recognized the increased demand for reliable service and
remodeling management and began marketing more heavily to hotels,
motels, property management associations and other commercial
accounts. A number of these corporations have signed on with the
company and the firm has, in turn, been able to pass those
maintenance, repair and remodeling jobs down to its
Without the brand backing the service companies, Vernon says
there is less likelihood that the firm would have landed the routes
The same holds true for VivoPools. Its roster comprises 15 percent
of commercial vendors. Thirty percent of the franchisors’
overall revenue stems from these accounts, five of which are with
top management companies in the country, Johnson says.
Experts believe commercial properties rely more heavily on
companies with a brand because franchisees uphold a certain level
of customer service and knowledge, which is crucial when dealing
with the many safety codes and policies pertaining to public facilities.
“Properties are looking for someone they can count on and
lower overall risk,” he adds.