Poolwerx, the Australian retailer and service firm that this year planted roots on U.S. soil, has signed its first franchisees. All are located in the Phoenix area. So far, three have officially signed, and a fourth was anticipated in early December. Combined, the four will cover 13 franchise territories and bring six stores, and 20 service vans, with more to come, said Poolwerx CEO John O’Brien.

Last March, the 22-year-old firm based in Brisbane, Queensland, acquired the assets of Phoenix-area pool and spa retailer Cactus Valley Pools, which included 16 stores and nine service trucks. Six months later, the company entered two more key Sunbelt states – Florida and California – when it purchased the retail and residential servicing and maintenance division of VivoPools, a fellow franchiser based in Monrovia, Calif. That transaction carried the Poolwerx name into San Clemente, Calif.; Hernando, Fla.; and Tucson, Ariz.

But those were all integrated as corporate-owned locations. Poolwerx’ strategy was to set up home base in key states to serve as a headquarters from which to branch out with franchisees – some being existing companies that would take on the Poolwerx name, which the company calls conversions; and others being industry outsiders looking for a new franchise opportunity.

“It’s all right on track,” O’Brien said. “It’s been three stages for us – first to get the Cactus Valley business acquired and get our feet under the table in the U.S. and start fine-tuning our business. The second one was … to expand across the Sunbelt with California and Florida and get expeirence in micro markets to make sure we tested our model right across the Sunbelt. And now we’re ready to start the third stage, which is our conversion stage…”

The first to sign was Mike Rabine of Desert View Pool Supply and Service, based in Gilbert, Ariz. His franchise agreement includes two locations – one in Gilbert, the other in Chandler, Ariz.

Joe Remblance of Estrella Mountain Pools now will hold two franchises in the Phoenix suburbs – one in Litchfield Park, and the other in Avondale.

Jason and Michelle White, who previously held three locations of Beyond Pools, have taken four Poolwerx territories in the Phoenix area – two in Mesa; one in Gilbert; and one in Queen Creek.

The Whites did not own all locations of Beyond Pools. The other stores will remain with the Beyond Pools brand.

All new franchisees will attend a two-week course at Poolwerx’ Brisbane headquarters to learn how the company works, as well as cover technical issues such as chemistry and hydraulics, as well as business subjects such as administration, finance, sales and marketing.

After they return to the States, they will undertake a 12-month field training program called Forming Good Habits, with the instruction of a local business development manager. “It’s 12 months to take [the franchisee] through all the seasons in the industry, which all present different opportunities and challenges,” O’Brien said.

Remblance and the Whites are expected to start as Poolwerx on Jan. 1, 2016, after attending their training.

“Our head office [in Phoenix] is the best place for us to start our first batch of conversions, because we can support them so well,” O’Brien said. “But we have managers now in California, Tucson and Florida, so we could well handle conversions in those markets, too.”

These transactions bring the current total Poolwerx U.S. stores to 23. The company’s goal is to have 50 by the end of 2016. Its five-year plan sees 300 U.S. stores bearing the distinct aqua and red branding.

O’Brien has said in the past that his company has its sights on entering the Texas market in the near future, but those plans have not been finalized at this stage, he said. In the four territories it has already entered, the company is exploring 18 active leads that it received at the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in Las Vegas in November.

Poolwerx also is reporting continued growth in its Australia operation, in terms of both coverage and scope. This likely will impact its U.S. operations.

It added six stores in 12 weeks for a total of 92 stores. “We’ll have Store 100 opened, we expect, by Easter of next year,” O’Brien said.

Additionally, the Australian operation is delving more deeply into commercial service and renovation, both of which are incorporated into the existing locations of those franchisees who choose it. The company has focused on increasing its commercial accounts for the past five years. Now, this specialty accounts for about one-third of the Aussie business and comprises the fastest-growing part.

The newest push in Australia is to begin including renovation services. “We spent the last 12 months working up the renovation/remodel business model, and then we went to our network and said, ‘Okay, who would be interested in taking this on top of their existing business?’” O’Brien said. “It’s not for everyody but some people really get excited by it. They need to do certain training and invest in certain equipment. We’ve got our first batch of franchisees that are going through investing in the remodel and the training for that.”

About 10 percent of the franchisees are pursuing this specialty.

The company plans on branching out into commercial and renovation in the U.S. as well. While renovations are probably about two years out, commercial work should begin relatively soon, O’Brien said.

He insists the company will not take on new construction. “It’s an area that we just don’t touch,” he says. “We’ve stayed away from it now for 25 years. It’s the line in the sand. We’re an aftermarket company, so once the pool is built we look to be a one-stop solution for the pool owner, but we don’t build. I think that’s a unique skill and it’s one we don’t have.”

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