Franchise profile: Children’s swim school provider Swimtime
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 wasnt 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. Weve 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 didnt see a Swimtime chain of swim schools with a corporate headquarters and a whole layer of salaried middle management. We didnt 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 arent 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 isnt all plain sailing. it’s like having lots of children: just like being a parent youll need unshakable commitment and energy to keep them moving in the right direction.
Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.
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