From independent to franchise
By Sarah Protzman Howlett
Photos by Tom Weinstein
Mark Howard’s neighbors were pool guys. While growing up in Phoenix, during his high school summers and on weekends during the school year, Howard worked for two brothers who lived near him.
After graduating, Howard briefly worked at a print shop but found it insufferable. “I couldn’t stand being cooped up,” he says. So he quit — and went back to work for the neighbors.
Thirty-two years later, Howard, along with his wife Bobbi, is still in the business, having received the 2016 Big Heart award from Pleatco; acting as a mentor to many in the industry; and eyeing expansion in the Phoenix area, where he has operated Poolwerx Union Hills since 2016.
The couple previously ran two independent shops — MEH Pool Services since 1984, and Bobbi’s Pool Supply since 2010. The early days of trial and error were much more work than either anticipated. “We learned quickly that owning a retail store is not just standing in a store waiting for customers to come in,” Mark Howard says.
One day Poolwerx was in town, meeting with pool owners in the area. Mark Howard recalls, “I had heard about their franchise in Australia through a couple of magazine articles.” After thinking on it for a full year, the Howards bought core territories in the Poolwerx franchise system.
“We had never considered it before, but after speaking with them multiple times, Bobbi and I saw the benefits of converting our business,” Mark Howard says. “It’s getting tougher and tougher for an independent to operate. We felt that being part of a larger group would help us in pricing and make our pool business more professional.”
Mark Howard invests heavily in his fellow pool pros both in his store — he has 17 employees — and in the industry at large. Poolwerx’s Dallas training center is about ready to be open, he says, adding that he’s excited to send his service and repair techs there for training. “I like to help everybody I can in the business,” he says. “I help a lot of the different franchise partners because I’ve been in the business so long. My phone is always on.”
Bobbi Howard says her husband is humble — and a trusted source for many. “There are all kinds of pool guys who call him all the time for advice,” she says. “He just understands the technical side of equipment and a lot of people look up to him and call him constantly for advice.“
The Howards want to open other locations in one of Poolwerx’s four territories in Phoenix. Right now, they are looking for a location and hope to open in March 2018. “We’d like a store in each territory,” Mark Howard says.
When they’re not in the store promoting the benefits of being in the water, they still like to be near it: About once a month, the Howards drive five hours to San Diego, where they have a cruiser yacht that functions as a second home.