An Entrepreneur's Dream

When John O’Brien launched his pool-servicing business 25 years ago, he was never in it for the small time. Here he talks with Smart Company about Poolwerx’ global ambitions, which has just opened it’s 40th store in the US in 40 months.

While O’Brien was starting out he was looking for a “whole of industry, not just an opportunity” to take on and disrupt. He knew he wanted to focus on the service aspect so that the business could attract “a customer for life”. But he was also looking for something with high gross profit margins and, perhaps most importantly, an industry that was poorly organised at the time.

John O'Brien, Founder and CEO of Poolwerx

“That’s like finding a unicorn today,” he says. “It’s an entrepreneur’s absolute dream.”

Now, Poolwerx has hundreds of franchisees in Australia, as well as 580 of its own service vehicles and 160 stores.

John O'Brien Founder and CEO of Poolwerx with city in background

Adapt and thrive

While once it may have been unusual to be both in the retail and servicing space, offering both led to an unexpected win for Poolwerx. Initially a service business, it started opening retail stores to cater to a different kind of customer.  “We found our service business grew exponentially by adding a retail store into our business.”

Specialty Retail is Alive and Well

Effectively, the retail store also became a marketing arm for the service business. Same-store growth is now in the double digits, O’Brien says, and has been for some 19 years. “Some people say retail is dying,” he says. “Specialty retail … done well, is definitely alive and well.”

The right smarts and the right money

Although he hasn’t necessarily been looking, O’Brien says he’s seen “very few” industries that pose as big an opportunity as the pool servicing space did when he started out. “They still exist, but they’re hard to find. We were lucky to be a first mover.”

However, for entrepreneurs hoping to emulate his success, he does have a few words of advice.

It’s all about being well prepared right from the start, he says. Founders should be well capitalised from the beginning, and be sure to “bring in the right consultancies to advise you”, he says. It’s about “having the right smarts and having the right money to deliver on the business plan quickly,” he advises.

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