Making a Splash in the Franchise World - Goldfish Swim School
By Chris McCuiston, CEO & Co-Founder, Goldfish Swim School Franchising
When my wife, Jenny, and I decided to start our own learn-to-swim business, we never imagined how following her passion to create a better way to teach children to swim would change our lives and evolve into what it is today. As a life-long swimmer with a degree in early childhood development and family studies, Jenny realized a need for quality swim lessons focused solely on children in a family-friendly environment.
After years of research and development, Goldfish Swim School was born. We created a premier learn-to-swim facility that teaches children ages four months through 12 years to swim and be safer in and around the water. We opened the doors to our first location in Birmingham, Michigan in 2006 with 510 students and 25 employees. Today, our franchise network teaches more than48,000 students and employs roughly 1,000 staff members.
We decided to franchise when we were approached by friends who love the Goldfish model and were interested in starting a business of their own. Knowing the impact we had been able to make in our community with just one location, it was exciting to think about growing our business and reaching more families.
While getting into franchising was not our original intention, we really liked the idea that it would allow us to grow Goldfish faster than we could on our own. We built a scalable system that allows us to provide training and support to individual franchisees in other areas, which increases our ability to educate families about water safety.
When the local owner has a vested interest, it’s comforting to know that they have the same level of commitment that we do.
Our expansion didn’t happen as quickly as we would have liked in the early years, but, in retrospect, that allowed us to strengthen our systems to properly build a stable foundation for growth. We found that tweaking our systems while we only had a few schools operating helped us make better decisions and be better prepared for the aggressive growth we are currently experiencing.
Today, we have 55 locations open or in development in 17 states and, potentially, internationally. We are growing faster than ever before, adding 12 franchises in 2016 and 5 thus far in 2017.
Franchising has provided both excitement and challenges. One of biggest challenges we always face is finding the right talent to help us succeed as a high touch, service-based business. Our people are the rocks of our foundation, so we don’t take hiring or bringing a new franchisee into our system lightly. When we were first launching the franchise company, Jenny, my brother Andrew, and I had our hands in everything. As we started to grow, we had to adapt our leadership and management style to accommodate the expansion and to ensure we were making the right decisions for the business. We are all still heavily involved in the day-to-day of the business, but by finding the right people to add to our team, we have been able to not only offer all of the support necessary for our franchisees, but to also continue to elevate the Goldfish brand.
One of the most important things I think someone who is considering joining the franchise world needs to understand is that if you like doing things completely by yourself, you shouldn’t franchise. Franchising is great for people who love to create systems, train people on those systems, and watch those people implement those systems. If you have a strong brand, a unique niche, and scalability, franchising might be right for you. However, I can’t stress enough how important it is to take your time researching the industry – don’t just jump in. We spent years researching and fine-tuning the things that became the foundation of what Goldfish Swim School is now. Make sure you do all of the necessary due diligence, and take the time the ensure that your initial franchisees are rock stars. They will be crucial in helping the growth of your company!
When we opened the doors of our first location, we never imagined the success we would have in just 10 short years. Jumping into franchising at a young age was a big risk, but it is one of the best decisions we have ever made.