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British Swim founder inks deal with LA Fitness


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“You have to not take no for an answer,” says Rita Goldberg, CEO of British Swim School, which teaches swimming in under-used pools.

They call Rita Goldberg the ‘British bulldog’ for a reason. She persisted for three years to convince LA Fitness to allow her British Swim School back in their clubs. Now she needs to sell franchises—a lot of them.

“Three years of knocking on doors.” That’s how Rita Goldberg, CEO of British Swim School, managed to land a deal to hold her franchise’s swimming lessons in LA Fitness pools.

British Swim School had access to Bally’s pools until LA Fitness bought Bally’s and ended the arrangement, in November 2011. “Their policy was to have no outside vendors and no children. They said goodbye to us,” Goldberg says.

She got a letter curtly severing the agreement. But she also had an “extremely sympathetic” conversation with a business development exec at LA Fitness, and decided to stay in touch. “I called him every year,” she says.

This spring she called again, and said her system has grown to 14 franchisees with 21 franchises sold, and arrangements with 53 pools to offer swim lessons. This time the chain was ready to do a deal.

British Swim School doesn’t build its own pools; rather, the franchisees use other facilities’ under-utilized pools, like in hotels, golf clubs, schools and fitness centers. A single demographic area costs $29,500 to purchase, and the franchisee’s job is to rent pool time in as many places as possible.

LA Fitness has 650 clubs in the United States and Canada, and now those clubs will be ready-made targets for franchisees. British Swim School will initially focus on selling franchises along the East Coast and in Illinois.

Of course, there are many laps between the agreement with the clubs and actual franchisee sales. “There’s now an urgency that wasn’t there before,” she says. Other players in the category include Goldfish Swim Schools, Aqua-Tots and Swimtastic, all of which differ from British Swim in that owners build their own pools, with initial investment up to $1.5 million for Goldfish, for example.

“You have to keep going,” she says about her persistence in getting a deal, adding her long-time quest to get a deal with LA Fitness, and with Bally’s before that, earned her a nickname. 

When she visited a former Bally’s club after the deal was inked, “one of the Bally’s guys took one look at me, threw his arms around me and then said, ‘Oh my god, you’ve got the British bulldog,’ ” she says with a laugh. 

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