Bringing Dreams to Life

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-By Claire Suttles

Narellan Pools doesn’t just sell a product. “We bring dreams to life,” managing director Chris Meyer insists. “That is our vision.” The company welcomes blissful summer days to backyards everywhere “by building the world’s best and most loved pools.”

Founded in 1971, the pool manufacturing business was initially run out of a chicken shed by “a person who really didn’t have great ideas or plans for the company,” Mr Meyer remembers. The original owner named the company after the nearest suburb, and Mr Meyer believes that was as far as his vision went. But, when Mr Chris Meyer’s father, Peter Meyer, purchased the nearly bankrupt company in 1989, he had much bigger plans. They wanted their modest, family owned and run operation to go global. The father and son team quickly accomplished that goal, and today Narellan Pools exports to 15 different countries including New Zealand, New Caledonia, Reunion islands, Mauritius, Sweden, Russia, Iran, the UAE, Oman, and India. “So from humble beginnings as a chicken shed manufacturer,” laughs Mr Meyer, “we are now Australia’s largest single brand pool installer.” The company boasts two manufacturing locations and two distribution yards spread over four states, and 27 franchisees operating throughout Queensland, New South Wales, ACT, Victoria, and South Australia.

Narellan Pools owes much of its success to a unique franchising model. “Dad actually pioneered [it],” Mr Meyer reports. “We are the only true [pool] franchise distribution business, not only in Australia but, I believe, in the world.” Franchisees take care of sales, contracts, and installation of the pools, as well as any approvals needed, and can even organise landscaping. “So we really take our clients from concept all the way through to completion,” Mr Meyer reports.

“Franchising has offered us so many opportunities,” he continues. “It really has given us an edge over our competitors.” The business model promotes professionalism across the company because “our franchisees are representing a brand. So they have a lot of responsibility, not only to themselves and their own families, but also to the community that is Narellan Pools.” The emphasis on branding, along with a commitment to training, ensures that clients can trust franchisees because of the solid reputation that the Narellan name carries.
“Unfortunately,” Mr Meyer admits, “there are a few rogues in this industry,” so brand recognition is vital to assure customers that they can count on a quality product at a reasonable price.

When franchisees join the Narellan team, they become part of a strong company culture. “We have a community focus,” Mr Meyer reports. “I feel that our company has a community responsibility, and that’s to be a positive and contributing member to the communities that we operate in.” This idea of community also applies within the Narellan Pools organisation. “It’s very much a family culture,” Mr Meyer explains. “Within our franchisees we’ve created friendships. It’s not just about doing business.” The company culture doesn’t stop there, however. “It’s important to have a performance based culture as well,” Mr Meyer adds. “Franchisees know that we hold them accountable. But equally I expect them to hold us accountable as their manufacturer and their franchisor. So it flows both ways.”

Narellan Pools is prepared to deal with any customer satisfaction issues that might arise between a franchisee and a client. “We offer a full time, dedicated, specialised customer support,” Mr Meyer explains. “So that if there is ever a problem – and there are very, very few of them, but we are in the construction industry – our customers actually have someone to go to that’s not just the builder. It actually comes to the franchisor. We actually help the client and the franchisees facilitate resolution.”

To handle both franchising and manufacturing, Mr Meyer and his father divided the business into two separate divisions. Mr Meyer explains that they “didn’t want one business type that tries to do everything. [We] wanted to ensure that each of the entities that we own has a very singular focus on what its responsibility was.” Narellan Pools manufactures the fibreglass product and Narellan Franchise focuses on the franchising details including recruitment, training, and development. Narellan Franchise also works to increase profitability and the performance of the franchisees.

Narellan Pools manufactures fibreglass pools – another feature that sets the company apart. Because the fiberglass pools are made in its own facility, the team has far greater quality control than with traditional concrete pools. And, even though they are premade, fibreglass pools are available in a wide range of colours, shapes, and sizes, so clients can easily find one that fits their individual needs. Fibreglass pools are also free of the difficulties and delays typically associated with concrete pool construction, particularly those caused by adverse weather conditions. Because of this advantage, the installation process is quite short. A Narellan pool is ready for swimming in as little as two to four weeks, whereas concrete pools can take at least three months to complete. “We’re not interrupting [clients’] lives or their lifestyle,” Mr Meyer points out. “And, they are swimming sooner, which is particularly important.”

Narellan Pools takes the quality of its pools very seriously. “We consider fibreglass the benchmark of the industry,” Mr Meyer explains. “And we’ve never compromised on our material selection. [We have always] been Australian made and Australian owned.” Mr Meyer believes that buying exclusively from Australian manufacturers is necessary to ensure that clients receive the best possible pool. “Many of our fibreglass competitors actually import their resins and other [materials]. We don’t because there is no compromise in terms of our material selection.”

The quality and reliability of Narellan fibreglass pools is enjoyed not only in Australia, but around the world as well. The team began exporting their product around 15 years ago, but it wasn’t until four years ago that Mr Meyer stepped in and implemented a new strategy for international expansion. Since then, exports have skyrocketed. The original plan was to emphasise the superior quality and convenience of a fibreglass pool, but the new focus is on selling the Narellan brand, rather than just the fibreglass construction. “And that change of focus – not just focusing on selling the highest quality product in the pool [industry] but really selling the brand, and all the things behind the brand – has been the significant reason for why we’ve tripled our sales in challenging times,” Mr Meyer reports.

And times certainly have been challenging. The pool industry has been declining steadily since its peak a little less than a decade ago. “The industry is from all accounts the worst it’s ever been in recorded history,” Mr Meyer reports. “It’s been tough. I think anybody that says otherwise in my industry – I think in any industry – would be trying to fool themselves.” The initial drop in sales was due to the drought and associated water restrictions. The GFC has, of course, been the more recent culprit. “Sales have come off a little bit,” Mr Meyer admits. But, in spite of the difficult economic situation, “We have actually managed to grow our market share,” he adds. “We’ve kept our network focused on the future and profitable.”

Overall, Narellan Pools has been able to keep its franchisees stable even during the tough times. “That’s because of the work we’ve done in terms of helping our franchisees understand the importance of good business management and financial diligence,” Mr Meyer reports. “That’s something we offer our franchisees. Rather than just a model whereby we sell them a [fibreglass pool], we also offer them a huge amount of training and support to make sure they are profitable and very viable for the future.” Franchisees have also been able to rely on the close knit Narellan Pools community. “And that culture of unity is stronger than ever,” Mr Meyer adds.

Mr Meyer reports that the team will continue to work together while “focusing on what will be a much better year this coming year.” He points out that the company has done tremendously well in spite of the worst global economy in recent memory. “We are selling a luxury good,” Mr Meyer explains. “We are not selling a commodity. We are selling something that people aspire to. And against all of the odds we’ve tripled our sales. I am very, very proud of that.” And the team doesn’t intend to stop there. “That’s only the beginning of where we are going.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 27, 2021, 3:01 PM AEST