But the Brisbane-based company’s recent move into the lucrative US market has brought the company face-to- face with something they had never struck before.
“In Florida, we had to extract a baby alligator from one of our customer’s pools,” said Mr O’Brien, the Poolwerx founder and chief executive.
Alligators are not unusual discoveries in Florida swimming pools as the reptiles wander from their traditional home in the state’s wetlands to urban areas.
Fortunately encounters with scaly beasts are not slowing the pool maintenance company’s push into Florida and other sunbelt states such as California, Arizona and Nevada.
“We are targeting the rich and the hot areas, with a five-year plan to have 300 stores in the US,” said Mr O’Brien. “We have 19 outlets in the US now and aim to have 63 by next year.”
From one humble store 25 years ago, Mr O’Brien now manages a $100 million business that is also eyeing other overseas markets.
The company, which operates a chain of franchised stores and a fleet of mobile pool vans, has increased its market share in Australia over the past five years. Recently the company picked up the established franchisor of the year award and field manager award at the Franchise Council of Australia’s annual awards.
Mr O’Brien said that with the US pool maintenance industry largely run by small independent traders, Poolwerx’s franchise model was translating well in the world’s biggest economy.
“The industry is disorganised and there are large opportunities for a company like ours,” he said. “Of the 8000 pool stores in the US, 6000 are probably ‘mom and pop’ independents.”
According to IbisWorld, the US industry was hurt by the recession as homeowners started to clean their own pools and spas or missed pool treatment altogether. As the economy recovered, they now have less time to clean their pools and the industry has recovered.
IbisWorld said the $658 million pool and spa industry in Australia had been hit hard by drought and stringent water restrictions in previous years but was now growing.
Turbulent economic conditions and subdued consumer spending also hit demand during the drought. A typical pool owner spends between $25 and $50 a month on pool chemicals.
Poolwerx has just opened its 100th store in Australia. It’s a number that Mr O’Brien said would give the company a solid base from which to expand further into the domestic market.
“There are over 79,000 franchise stores operating in Australia but few of them are part of a chain of 100 stores or more,” he said. “Achieving this 100-store benchmark propels us into a different league now.”
Mr O’Brien said that during the global financial crisis pool construction in Australia slumped from 40,000 a year to 20,000. “That figure has now returned to about 30,000 a year,” he said.
Mr O’Brien said that with the company now generating more than $100 million in combined revenue globally, other markets were being looked at for expansion.
“We have our sights set on Europe as well as scoping out the market in South Africa and the UAE,” he said.
“Eventually we want to be in 15 countries around the world.”
Originally published by, Glen Norris on The Courier-Mail, on 4 November 2016