Michael Wagner Of Pool Scouts On 5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Successful Service Based Business

January 22, 2023

An Interview With Jake Frankel

a part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Wagner.

Michael Wagner was born in California but grew up a military brat who lived in many spots and traveled around the world. Michael graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with degrees in Economics and Spanish. Prior to Pool Scouts he worked as the Corporate Sales Officer for Chartway Federal Credit Union. Before Chartway, Michael was the Global Client Services Leader for DuPont Sustainable Solutions. He held multiple senior leadership roles for Coastal Training Technologies Corporation (acquired by DuPont) over a 19-year career. As the President of Pool Scouts, Michael oversees the business and works to drive growth and ensure franchisee support. When not working hard to set new benchmarks for the pool cleaning and maintenance business, he enjoys traveling around the east coast with his family for soccer games and training sessions. He also enjoys soccer, surfing and time at his own pool with the family.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’d be happy to. I’m fortunate to have been here at Buzz Franchise Brands since 2015 when I came on board to start our second brand as a company. Prior to that, I had a few different careers. My first formidable career was with a small company that had 45 people based in Virginia Beach. It was a budding, growing, fast company. I worked there for 19 years, and I was fortunate enough to open offices, wholly-owned subsidiaries, around the world. It wasn’t franchising — it was establishing a unit economic model of business and then replicating that in many places. That company ended up being sold to Dupont, so the last three years that I worked there were with Dupont. We went from 45 people to 77,000 people. It became quite a different environment. It wasn’t the same kind of decision-making and entrepreneurial spirit that I had really come to enjoy. I had a stint working in a large credit union and learned a lot there. It was a different business, but we followed a similar unit economic model.

Over the years, I stayed in touch with Kevin Wilson, who is the CEO and founder of Buzz Franchise Brands. I then had the opportunity to join the company in 2015 and start its second brand, Pool Scouts. The decision had been made to go into the swimming pool cleaning and maintenance space, which was a very fragmented and unprofessional industry. I got to join a spectacular group of people here and then help build the team with Pool Scouts folks. We launched officially in January 2016. Our first franchisee came on board in August 2016, and we’ve been sailing along since then.

It’s been a ton of fun, and we have a great group of people and the support to build a brand that is around the country in 18 different states.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Having known Kevin for a long period of time and knowing his background and business acumen, I was always intrigued by him. When we started talking, it seemed like a great entrepreneurial opportunity where I was also able to come in and help build something, which I had done before and loved. Once I got to meet the team of people that Kevin had assembled, it was an “aha moment” when I realized it was a perfect opportunity.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Our business is not a sexy business. We’re out in people’s backyards maintaining their swimming pools. The lifeblood of our business is our technicians, who are out in the field, servicing anywhere between eight and 14 pools per day. Across our whole franchise system and in our local businesses that we own and operate, we’ve had to hire a lot of technicians to do the job. Early on, in our local business, I was out cleaning pools with our local team, and one technician was standing six or eight feet away from the pool, trying to scrub it. I told him, “You won’t be able to do a good job if you can’t see the bottom of the pool.” I found out quickly that he didn’t know how to swim. We then added that to our list of requirements to work as a technician.

Another story involved one of our franchisees hiring his first technician, a very nice person. In our work, we often carry big bags of salt that weigh 40 pounds each. Unfortunately, this person wasn’t capable of lifting these bags of salt. We quickly added that to our list of candidate requirements.

What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?

At a higher level, we’re making sure that we’re delivering value to our customers by doing what we say we’re going to do and providing our employees across the franchise system with the right tools to do the work. That notion of a premium service means that we’re high quality, professional, legitimate, and we’re not cheap — we provide that premium service. As far as onboarding new team members, Buzz Franchise Brands has five core values that we live by: Lead with integrity, be curious and innovate, have fun, empower and serve, and act with purpose. You’ll notice that “have fun” is in there because, culturally, having a great place to work helps us recruit and retain great people. It’s important for franchisees to create a culture where their technicians want to work with them. I always use the analogy, “Do you want to be on the bus with them?” Culture is something that we are always talking about and acting on, and then we try to communicate and celebrate successes across our franchise system.

Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

When our franchisees and technicians have challenges, which we all do, are we approaching them from a “reasonable person” standard? This involves putting yourself in the customers’ shoes and coming to a reasonable conclusion.

Next, as I mentioned earlier, a critical value of the company is to act with purpose. What I mean by that is bringing data to the table. It involves making decisions based on data points rather than making gut-based decisions. Analytics must be a part of our process and then apply those standards of being reasonable and listening to the customer.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I never thought of giving up. I have always felt, from day one, that this is an unbelievable opportunity. That is a testament to our leadership team at Buzz Franchise Brands, as well as the data, analytics, preparation and planning that we have done as a company to ensure our success.

Challenges, of course, have happened on multiple occasions. One that comes to mind is when you’re a new franchise system, you’re looking for what we call ‘early adopters.’ These people are those who are willing to take a chance on you just like you are willing to take a chance on them. We were fortunate that our first franchisee has turned out to be our most successful franchisee — she is a fabulous owner based in Raleigh. She has stretched the unit economic model and is so easy to work with. But, early on, we had another franchisee who was in business for only four months before calling and saying, “I can’t do this anymore, and I need to shut down next week.” I remember that clearly because it hurt, and we were so excited to have that person. But something had come up in his personal life, and he just couldn’t continue for his own reasons.

So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?

First off, we have 49 franchisees across 18 different states. 115 territories are represented by those 49 franchisees. We serviced over 11,000 customers this year, and next year, that number will be more than 20,000 customers across the country. It’s going well — we have franchisees that are making good money. We were also really fortunate during COVID — while so many other companies were shutting down, we saw robust growth as an essential service. People have invested more in pools and pool construction in the past couple of years than they ever have. Growth numbers were off the charts. That led to really great opportunities from a franchise growth perspective for us, so we have a lot of momentum as a brand. I like to boast that our net promoter score as a franchise system is 79 as of today, which is pretty exceptional. This means to me that our customers love us, and they are referral partners for us.

Sometimes it is hard as a business leader to step back and celebrate, but we try to do that and encourage our franchisees to recognize those milestones and successes. Discussing this with you has been an opportunity for me to reflect and recognize that we have done some really great things.

The goal moving forward is to continue to grow the brand across the country and continue to enable people to realize their business ownership dreams.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business? Please share a story or an example for each.

With home services in general, more often than not, they are crowded spaces that are fragmented markets. The first thing is to differentiate through quality and not through price. In home services, there is always going to be someone who is willing to do it cheaper. The race to the bottom from a price perspective is not a good win. We position ourselves as a premium service provider, all of our technicians across the franchise system are vetted and background-checked. We’re differentiated by delivering a high level of service and remaining consistent.

Second, we set high standards and live up to them. We don’t apologize for being a premium service provider. Set high standards, explain those high standards, and then live up to them. When you don’t deliver on those high standards, which happens, make it right. We have a scout guarantee across our franchise system that guarantees that if we don’t do a good job, we’ll come back out and do it again.

Consistency and communication are paramount to success in the home service industry. In our model, there are standard operating procedures and tools that allow us to communicate with customers. In our case, we text them when we’re on the way there, send them before and after pictures, and communicate all of the readings and everything we’ve done. We are in constant communication with the customer. More generally speaking, we try to be easy to do business with.

Another point, which can be difficult, is to choose the right customer and to keep them. What I mean by that is that we’re a premium service, and we don’t aspire to be cheap. We don’t apologize for that. You wouldn’t walk in expecting to get a Lexus and instead get an economy vehicle with roll-down windows and no air conditioning. You’d expect to get leather interiors and excellent service associated with that. I love the phrase, “The relentless pursuit of perfection,” and that describes our attitude at Pool Scouts. Ultimately, you aren’t going to be able to live up to your values if you choose the wrong customer.

Finally, in the home service industry, there is predictability, and we’re at peoples’ homes an average of 17 times per year. You have to think of the 10-year relationship with the customer. In our case, our agreement with the franchisee is a 10-year agreement, so we’re thinking of that 10-year relationship with our franchisees. The same thought process needs to go into the value of the customer and not losing track of how much value there is in the 10-year relationship, especially when it comes to the opportunity for referrals.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve been fortunate enough in my professional life to have a few people who I would consider mentors. First, Paul Michaels was the CEO and founder of a company called Coastal Training Technologies that I worked for. I started fresh out of college and worked there for 19 years. I was afforded the opportunity to work around the world. Paul is a visionary and was well ahead of his time. I am grateful to Paul for everything he taught me.

Kevin Wilson is our CEO and founder here at Buzz Franchise Brands and is someone I have always had tremendous respect for. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him, and I also see him as a visionary

Brian Garrison is the COO and President of Buzz Franchise Brands. He is a brilliant guy, a Naval pilot, a Naval Academy graduate, and has management consulting experience. He brings a wealth of knowledge and leadership to our company. With these leaders, I continue to learn every single day on the job.

I also learn every day from my kids, who are 22 and 19. I’m so grateful to them as well.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I really enjoy watching businesses being created and this notion of entrepreneurial spirit. Having traveled around the globe, I’ve watched how we have such a unique culture in America where people encourage you when you say you want to start a business. They help you. That’s not the case in so many countries. I believe Americans are some of the most creative people, and we encourage that risk-taking attitude that is out there. I’d like to foster that notion of taking chances, being creative, and going out there and making things happen. I’d love to help drive that in any way I can.

Read the full Authority Magazine article here.