America’s Swimming Pool Company
America’s Swimming Pool Company supports its franchisees
with training and technology.
By Chris Kelsch
America’s Swimming Pool (ASP) Company founder Stewart Vernon has an entrepreneurial spirit. He started cleaning swimming pools in college and founded ASP before he graduated in 2002. That business quickly grew into a million-dollar entity with 10 trucks servicing its customers in Macon, Ga., and the surrounding areas.
Ironically, though, the idea of franchising his business was not on his radar, though expansion certainly was. “The franchising model wasn’t originally on my mind,” Vernon says. “But I did have some contacts who told me they would be very interested in doing what I was doing.”
Eventually, two other ASP pool service businesses were started, and Vernon adopted a franchise model in 2005 with strong early results. “What I found was people were very interested in having a business ready to be placed in front of them, complete with a roadmap to success,” Vernon notes. “My first two franchisees got what they paid for, and slowly started to make it.”
Those first two successful franchises led to the growth ASP throughout the Southeastern U.S., and the company has grown to 100 franchise locations canvasing 400 cities in 23 states in a little more than a decade.
For that type of growth to occur, some challenges had to be overcome. “If one were to look at the pool industry when we started, you would find most pool maintenance companies were mom-and-pop operations,” Vernon recalls. “There were very low amounts of information and capital in the industry.” And that’s where Vernon seized the opportunity.
He realized that, with enough support, franchisees could thrive in an industry that really hasn’t been approached on a large-scale basis. Vernon estimates the industry to be roughly $15 billion, and he would like to see ASP capture 10 percent of that market.
Roadmap to Success
Vernon says it normally takes the typical franchisee 24 months to reach profitability. The crucial first step for any franchisee is of course training, and that involves a two-week orientation at the company’s Macon campus called “Pool School.” This is where franchisees learn the ins and outs of pool maintenance, including changing filters and pumps. The training facility features two outdoor pools, two indoor pools and classroom space.
Moreover, there is extensive training on the running of the business. ASP provides marketing strategies to ensure that franchises thrive, plus ongoing support in accounting and bookkeeping. There are also manager training programs, regional roundtable meetings, annual owners meetings, and a support team for technical support, marketing and public relations.
The second core component to success is support via technology. Franchisees are trained to use the company’s software, an all-inclusive platform called “Pool Ops” that Vernon says makes it very easy to run a franchise. “Essentially, it’s integrated to run the entire business,” he says. That includes keeping track of customers, sending customers e -mail alerts to know when its time for a cleaning or maintenance appointment. “Essentially, a franchisee can handle all of the maintenance in one click.”
In addition, revenue incentive programs keep franchises competitive. Awards are announced and presented at annual owners meetings for highest sales, best new start, franchise of the year, and Founders Club (a group of top earners).
For Vernon, the overall concept behind ASP remains simple: The idea is to generate as much recurring revenue for franchisees possible. And that is achieved in three ways:
* Regularly scheduled pool service such as cleaning and general maintenance. Customers are offered a flat fee for this service so they don’t see bills spike in the summer;
* Repair and replacement visits, which can involve cleaning and replacement of filters; and
* Renovations, which are a major source of revenue for franchisees.
“In many parts of the country, pool service revenue is seasonal [and so] our renovation service really becomes key in the offseason,” Vernon says. “February and March are actually our two biggest revenue months.”
No matter what time of year it is, Vernon knows a positive brand image is important. He makes sure company vehicles have a clean, consistent look, and all employees wear uniforms.
“Like anything else, our system has been refined throughout the years, with more sophistication then before,” Vernon says. “But franchisees now get off to a much better start because of these methods.”
Room for growth
With those building blocks in place, Vernon is optimistic about the business. ASP remains one of the few choices in the pool franchise industry, and there is still plenty of territory yet to be covered. “We’d really like to see some growth throughout Texas and the Mid-South region of the U.S., as there are plenty of pool owners within that region,” he notes.
ASP’s growth depends on its ability to find quality people. Prospects usually visit ASP’s website, and contact the company to learn more. “We’re not looking for someone who wants to be a pool cleaner; we’re looking for someone who wants to be a leader,” Vernon says. A leader can be quickly identified during the sales process. Phone conversations and/or meeting the corporate team during the prospect’s “Meet the Team” day can quickly determine who makes a good fit as an ASP franchisee.
ASP’s efforts to find and support the best people continue to pay off. The company expanded its headquarters campus in 2014 with a total of 140,000 square feet of office and warehouse space on two acres. Nevertheless, Vernon does not want to ASP expand too rapidly. “It’s important that our growth at the corporate level matches the growth of the franchises,” Vernon says. And despite that growth, the mission remains to bring a systematic process of cleaning and maintenance to pool owners. “We want to change the way the pool service is being viewed,” he says.