British Swim operator stays in lane
Why did you make the jump from working at the franchisor to becoming a franchisee?
It’s very easy to sort of lose the big picture when you’re sitting in an office or don’t see the end results of all that hard work. I’m a firm believer that I like to be on site with my customers and with my staff, which is really why I left corporate initially. I was losing the passion for what I did. I love it, I come alive when I can see all the fruits of our labors.
And you were a unique financing case, right?
I didn’t have any financing to start with at all. I had a stake in the franchising side and I was a part owner in the Chicago area, which was corporate. So I exchanged my shares on the corporate side to the location side.
How can others keep their staff as you have?
We create a culture of trust and autonomy with staff, so people know their roles, know what’s expected of them, I don’t micromanage every day. Right away, we make people feel like a part of the team. That’s something we worked on really, really hard, to make people feel like they’re part of something bigger.
What works for younger staff and swimming instructors, especially in today’s labor climate?
The workforce is changing and we’re having to change what we give to employees. We decided to give part-timers PTO, paid time off, which is great for staffers. That I think has kept a lot of people with us. We give staff referral rewards, we invest a lot of time with the team and stay involved in the business.
So the operation went through some growing pains recently, what happened?
I had a huge period of growth a few years ago. We opened several new locations and did very well. Then we steadied off, and learned that we had gone a little too far. We had jumped on a new location in Milwaukee and it was taking all my focus. And ultimately after six months of hard work I had to pull the plug on it. It was losing a lot of money.
Staff writer Nicholas Upton asks what makes multi-unit operators tick—and presents their slightly edited answers in this column in each issue. To suggest a subject, email email@example.com.
That ultimately proved to be a good lesson.
That was a turning point that got me to say, we need to look at everything to see where we can cut back but also make much more mindful decisions. I think that’s given us the ability to look at something realistically instead of jumping at every opportunity.
It’s a case of having your infrastructure set up right. Our rapid growth period was great but we didn’t have our staff infrastructure there and we floundered. Now we have something that can work on seven schools or 12 schools and the core people are still responsible.
It also got you to focus on profitability more closely.
I’m not a financial person, my passion is operations. I came to a point where I really had to face finances. We were heading down a road of not financial ruin, but we started questioning whether we should give all this money away. We just approached it head on. My core team just sat down and asked what we need to do and looked at every line item.
You said it was cutting the dead wood from the company. What were the results?
Our income has grown 18 to 20 percent over the last year, but our numbers have stayed almost exactly the same. So we know we’re doing something right. The last six months have been a real exercise for us all to make us far more profitable, increase our revenue and drive efficiency.