Focusing on individual franchisee growth rather than overall company growth has helped turn a one-man company into the first successful pool maintenance franchise in the United States.
Founder and CEO of America’s Swimming Pool Company (ASP) Stewart Vernon has a simple formula for growing the company nationwide and that formula is to give franchisees the support they need to be successful on an individual level and keep the focus on their success.
At ASP’s annual franchisee conference, which the company recently held, Vernon prefers to look at how much the franchises themselves have grown throughout the year rather than how much the company as a whole has grown.
“Those are the metrics that we put first and foremost,” Vernon said during a recent interview from the company’s headquarters in Macon, GA, where Vernon started the franchise back in 2002.
ASP cleans, repairs and renovates swimming pools in 23 states across the country. It began franchising in 2006 and currently has 100 franchise partners in about 250 different territories.
Surprisingly, Vernon credits the success of ASP as a franchise to not really knowing how to create a franchise.
Vernon describes himself as a lifelong entrepreneur. He gave up playing baseball as a 15 year old so he could start a car washing business in his neighborhood. By the time he left for college, he had a multi-vehicle operation going.
In college, the budding entrepreneur knew he didn’t want to attend grad school or get a career in corporate America. He wanted to start a business as soon as possible.
It was almost by accident that Vernon stumbled into pool cleaning. An acquaintance casually mentioned that he should look into it as a business because the local pool cleaning businesses in Macon at the time overcharged people and offered terrible service.
Knowing that all he had to do was offer better service and charge less, Vernon set out at 22 with a single truck, combing Macon for any sign that a home contained a pool in the back yard. Once he identified a home with a pool, he would directly market to that household to gain their business with his promise of superior service for less money.
In just a few years, Vernon had 10 trucks on the road and had cornered the mid-Georgia market for pool maintenance, garnering over one million dollars in revenue.
He knew if he wanted to expand further that he would have to look into franchising, which he started studying in earnest in 2005.
Vernon discovered that a couple of pool maintenance companies had tried to franchise their model, but had failed. So, he knew he had an amazing opportunity, but also a daunting task ahead of him.
“Being young and ignorant as hell and being a hard worker, I dug in and we put in our first location,” the ASP founder recalled.
That first location was sold to a banker friend in Charleston, SC who hated his job and who envied Vernon for making more money than him while also doing something he enjoyed for a living.
It didn’t take long for the former banker to start making good money with his franchise and that led to Vernon recruiting his brother-in-law — who also hated his job — as ASP’s second franchisee.
Vernon says it was after getting his second franchisee that he realized just how many people out there loathe what they do for a living and are just waiting for a low-risk, high reward business opportunity to help them get unstuck from their corporate lives.
Making the Model
With this epiphany of just how many people were looking to get out of the rat race and into their own business, Vernon specifically designed the business model to have low barriers to entry. To get started, he explained, there is no need to hire anyone or lease a building. Everything can be done out of a franchisee’s home.
Making the business this easy to start, Vernon explained, enables ASP to bypass the two main fears of new would-be entrepreneurs: hiring people and leasing a building.
“The beauty of the business is from day one, you can start it with one man, one truck. Low overhead, low risk,” he said.
Once most franchisees get the hang of running the business and start to get more trucks on the road, they do tend to get themselves a building, Vernon noted.
After 2006, the ASP CEO had seven franchise owners who were all much happier with what they were doing with their lives.
Now, Vernon targets these kind of white collar workers who have become miserable in their corporate jobs and who want to start their own business, but who don’t know how.
Rather than looking for people who have experience in the pool trade, Vernon noted, he wants well capitalized entrepreneurs.
Most franchisees when they start have never cleaned a pool, he said, but that doesn’t matter because ASP has Pool School.
Pool School is a campus at the ASP headquarters in Macon that has 12 different pools on it for the purposes of showing new franchisees how to clean and renovate pools.
As long as franchisees are hard working and willing to learn, getting the hang of the business is easy.
To make things even easier for franchisees, ASP has created its own proprietary software called Pool Ops, which helps franchisees digitally run their businesses.
And that business is all about offering homeowners a hands-off experience with their swimming pools, so they don’t have to clean the pool or balance the chemicals or bother going to the pool store.
“We try to be the one stop shop for homeowners who have a pool in their back yard,” he said.
About one quarter of franchisees’ revenue comes from renovating pools that are nearing the end of their lifespans, which involves redoing the interior shell and fixing up the exterior and equipment of the pool.
By focusing on individual franchisee success, Vernon has grown ASP into possibly the easiest way for would-be entrepreneurs to become real entrepreneurs.