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An Accidental Overstock Launched My Family's Pool Supply Franchise

John Thomas, president and CEO of Pinch A Penny

Pinch A Penny Pool Patio and Spa is the world's largest retail pool, patio and spa franchise, offering a full line of products, as well as residential cleaning and repair services. We pride ourselves on offering our customers a one-stop shop for all of their pool and spa supply needs with one of the most complete lines of pool chemicals, maintenance equipment, as well as parts and accessories available anywhere.

In 1974, the company was founded by my father, Fred Thomas. While working as an independent sales representative, he placed a large order of pool chemicals and supplies for a customer that changed his mind after the order had been placed. With no other customer to take the merchandise and my family unable to pay the manufacturers for what was already shipped, my father opened up the merchandise warehouse to the public on the weekends. He ran classified newspaper ads in the local paper promoting pool chemicals and supplies at "wholesale" prices direct to the public. As a family, we turned the warehouse into a store.

Local pool owners responded favorably, and within a year it became a full-time pool supply store. Eventually, my father needed to walk away from his sales business to meet the increasing demand for his time at the store. By the second year, my father wanted to open more stores, but the banks would not loan him the money needed, so he turned to franchising. Little did he know, that customer who had changed his mind coupled with banks' refusal to lend him money would lead Pinch A Penny down the path to success.

The next generation

I grew up in the business helping to build out the first store at the age of 8, working almost every weekend and every summer in the stores, the warehouse and the office through high school. After completing my formal education, I returned to Pinch A Penny in a full-time capacity. By 1994, my father promoted me to president, paving the way for a second-generation transition.

Our business is about family. Our stores are owned and operated by families within the communities they serve. Our customers are families that trust us to provide expert advice on how to properly care for their swimming pool, how to do it right the first time while saving money and making the most out of their backyards. It's all about the people. While it is important for us to have quality products at fair prices, that is not the only reason we are successful. Our success is rooted in finding the right franchisees, and our franchisees hiring the right associates to help them serve their friends and neighbors. We find that having franchisees and associates that believe in doing what is right for the customer, and providing them with the pool care knowledge they need to do so, allows us to not worry so much about the cash register. It seems to take care of itself when you have great people taking care of great customers, you are able to build a very loyal customer base that grows every year.

We constantly look for ways to better care for our customers and their pools, and we constantly search for families that share our values and want to own a business – families that want to raise their kids in a family-business environment where everyone is home for dinner. Most of our stores close by 6 p.m. to help make that happen. Most of our franchisees have multiple family members helping in the store, the service department, and/or with the office work. And as we look for ways to improve our system, we're finding new families that want to join our growing franchise network.

Having led the organization for the past 27 years, I am blessed to have been part of accidental and humble beginnings, and fortunate to have helped build a thriving system of more than 235 locations in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. Our phenomenal associates and franchisees have built an incredible organization. Even more exciting, however, is that we have barely scratched the surface. We have tremendous growth opportunities throughout the Southeast and beyond.

I don't believe in challenges; I believe in opportunities to do things better tomorrow than what we did yesterday. Too often business leaders rest on the laurels of what they do well and focus solely on what they perceive is a weakness. We prefer to look at all aspects of our business including those aspects for which we are already unrivaled. Being the best at something doesn't mean you can't be better. And we can certainly be better at everything we do, even though it is not always easy to admit it. By having that philosophy, it allows us to remain grounded and continue to grow.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Nicole Fallon.

Image Credit: Pinch A Penny