Up next in our series of franchise profiles, Business Advice hears from swim school franchise Swimtime.
It’s been an interesting few weeks for Linda Price, founder and director of national children’s swim school franchise, Swimtime. Alongside running her business, supporting 26 franchisees, managing Swimtime media appearances on Radio 2 and ITV and presenting at North West Women’s Enterprise day, she also jetted overseas following the birth of her first grandchild.
As if that wasn’t enough, she chaired an event partnering Swimtime with Global Entrepreneurship Week to raise awareness of franchising amongst the wider business community, and appeared as a ‘Dragon’ judge and business mentor at a Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) business competition.
It’s all par for the course for one of the most vocal advocates of women and young people in franchising.
Q&A subject: Linda Price, founder of Swimtime
Franchised since: 2004
Number of franchisees: 26
Typical startup cost: £18,000 + VAT growth last year (24 per cent)
Network performance: Franchisees are meeting their targets
(1) What’s the story of Swimtime and what led you to franchise your business?
Swimtime – we save lives! Swimtime is in its nineteenth year. We’ve taught over 70,000 people to swim and it all started on our kitchen table! Well, the admin side anyway. Swimtime was providing swimming lessons from around 40 sites. It was all managed from our flat in Sale and the phones never stopped – we had simply reached our human capacity.
We wanted to keep growing to build Swimtime into a nationally-based organisation. We didn’t see a Swimtime chain of swim schools with a corporate headquarters and a whole layer of salaried middle management. We didn’t just see our expanding business operated by managers who would see Swimtime as just a job.
One of our teachers suggested buying a Swimtime franchise so that he could become part of the business. Suddenly, we found ourselves facing the acid test. We believed 100 per cent in our business model, but would others believe in it enough to make rolling out via franchise a viable way forward?
As the textbooks say – would it replicate? There was only one way to find out.
Barry, my husband, went out to five pools in a completely new territory to discuss the idea. Four pools said “yes” and that was enough. Our first franchisee would be able to make a living out of their investment in Swimtime, so we sold. Now we have 26 franchisees working from over 200 pools.
(2) How important are your personal ethos and ethics to the business?
Having strong ethical business principles is a vital ingredient of the Swimtime brand – Swimtime is synonymous with trust. In the first instance, parents trust that we will keep their children safe. Therefore any business dealings must be conducted with the same level of trust and complete transparency. We wanted the Swimtime concept to be offered by others with the same entrepreneurial spirit as us – people as hungry to get it right every time as we are.
For me, honesty in the marketplace, fair pricing, employer-employee relations and environmental issues all play their part in running an ethical business. Practical legal advice plays its part and I am in favour of encouraging individuals to go beyond the requirements of the law and embrace decency and fairness as a guiding principle. I hold a positive attitude towards business and wealth but riches must be acquired honestly and used to help others in need.
(3) Is it critical for a franchisor to have a strong set of values and ethos?
Yes. If I was considering buying into a franchise network I would always investigate the franchisor before signing the franchise agreement. Swimtime is a full member of the British Franchise Association (BFA) and has regular checks on its business processes.
(4) Who are your franchisees?
The majority of our franchisees aren’t actually swimming teachers, they hire others to do that. Our franchisees have a whole range of different abilities and experience. Some run their Swimtime franchise as individual sole traders; others are partnerships and often limited companies.
What unites them is a passion to give their customers the very best experience every time. Swimtime is suited to someone with incredible amounts of energy, drive and commitment to the long-term success of their own business.
(5) Is it difficult to support many different personalities at once?
It’s not difficult, but it can be challenging. This is our business and we love it.
Engaging franchisees in your initiatives isn’t all plain sailing. It’s like having lots of children: just like being a parent you’ll need unshakable commitment and energy to keep them moving in the right direction.
You and the people around you have to go on supporting a growing network of franchisees year after year. For example, training franchisees is your responsibility. So is supporting them with marketing, and often with a bespoke software system. They’ll look to you as their ‘headquarters’ so you must deliver. We always aim to be that bit more supportive, inspiring and motivating.
(6) You work tirelessly to inspire more women to consider starting their own business. What are some of your latest initiatives?
I am very grateful to the amazing support team that works at Swimtime central office. They enable me to spread the word about franchising by ensuring our own business is in safe hands.
It is a given statistic that women make good franchisees, therefore to encourage more women into franchising makes sense. It is my intention to break down the barriers which are preventing women from investigating and investing in franchising.
I have taken on two official roles with national franchising organisations: chair of Northern forums for the BFA and regional chair for EWIF (Encouraging Women into Franchising) North. Working closely with the BFA and EWIF has given my campaigning important official recognition.
That helped lead me recently to be a part of North West Women’s Enterprise Day. I was delighted that my “Franchising in a Flash – Don’t Forget to Stretch” was included as an expert workshop. It proved to be a popular choice. My aim was to inform and educate the delegates about the advantages of growing a business through a franchise network.
The motto “don’t forget to stretch” comes from my competitive swimming background. It applies equally as well to business and to life. But it struck me that it’s also pretty good advice for growing a franchise business.
(7) And younger entrepreneurs are also a focus?
As an experienced franchisor I realise the importance of recruiting the very best franchisees. I feel that we are missing out on a huge opportunity if we overlook the skills, energy and passion of the 20-somethings. So we need to keep on finding innovative ways to catch their attention and encourage youngsters and their influencers to understand the franchise model.
At the Innoflux business competition at MMU I was a “Dragon”, advising and then judging the students in the competition. This was a first for me. It was great to have the opportunity to talk to students and their tutors about franchising as a viable business model. It was a valuable networking opportunity for me too. The other Dragons were interested to hear more about franchising and I am hoping to return to the University in the spring.
One of the students then attended the next EWIF North meeting. This was a great result as it is the business students of today who will be influencing peers and colleagues in the future.
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