Lee Kantor: Lee Kantor here. Another episode of Franchise Marketing Radio. And this is going to be a good one. Today, we have with us Brian Garrison with British Swim School. Welcome, Brian.
Brian Garrison: Hey, thanks so much for having me, Lee. Great to be here today.
Lee Kantor: Well, I'm excited to learn what you're up to. Tell us a little bit about British Swim School.
Brian Garrison: Absolutely. So, British Swim School is a learn-to-swim provider. We cover kind of all aspects of the swim school industry. So, by that, I mean think of kind of a learning how to survive or water survival for young children as young as three to six months, all the way through stroke development for your basic strokes and kind of recreational swim teams into the teens. And of course, we offer adult lessons and special abilities type offering.
Brian Garrison: So, kind of a full scale but really focused in on those kind of preteen ages and in just a great business model where we partner with locally available commercial pools in the territories of our franchise owner. So, there's not a big capital investment, not a big time horizon to get a dedicated facility built. We're partnering with fitness clubs and hotels and the like. So, really compelling business model, a kind of rapid time to open and pretty easy to scale. So, very exciting.
Lee Kantor: Now, did it start as kind of a mom and pop, and then evolved into a franchise, or was it built to be franchised?
Brian Garrison: So, great question. It's the former. And so, in fact, the name stems from the founder, who was actually a competitive swimmer in the UK by the name of Rita Goldberg. And she actually founded the swim school in Manchester, England when she retired from competitive swimming. And that was back in 1981. So, we're actually celebrating our 40th year as a swim school business this summer. But she brought it to the US - Southern Florida, specifically - in the mid-90s when she came over, ran a number of corporate locations in New York, Chicago, DC, Florida, started franchising about 10 years ago. So, now, we're 10 years into this as a franchising concept. We're about 75 owners, about 115 open territories across 23 states. So, pretty exciting.
Lee Kantor: Now, how did the franchise do during COVID?
Brian Garrison: Yeah. So, great question. We were definitely impacted. And as you can imagine, it's kind of a retail, close-contact service business. So, we were basically shut down from the first week of March until about the first week in June, and then started reopening over the course of 2020, kind of depending on the local conditions. So, we're in the US and Canada. I should have mentioned that. And depending on the state, and even down to the city or county, we reopened at certain times over the course of the year and really had a strong rebound.
Brian Garrison: And now, we're basically 100 percent open. We have a few owners. Our Canadian owners are still kind of working through the latest kind of lockdown mandate up there. And then, we have two or three owners in the US who have kind of unique issues where they're not able to open yet. But other than that, fully reopen. And I really feel like the reopening phase of the last year set the stage for really a strong recovery this year. Happy to provide some detail on that, if that's helpful or-
Lee Kantor: Yeah. Let's dive into that a little bit. And what were you doing that enabled you to kind of get this kind of momentum?
Brian Garrison: Absolutely. So, we were having a pretty strong year in January-February last year. We're growing about 35% year over year, which is kind of right on our budget forecast. And then, of course, everything came to kind of a screeching halt in March, as I mentioned. So, we think of three main drivers to what allowed us to reopen and rebound so quickly. And so, one was we really kind of doubled down from a franchising perspective. Our corporate team here, we immediately kind of stopped all financial requirements for our franchisees. We deferred fees back into February. Basically wanted to make them feel comfortable that they could manage themselves through the crisis from a cash perspective. So, I think that was very well received.
Brian Garrison: The second is we really focused on helping them make the right decisions. I say them, I mean, our franchise owners, of course. Helping them make the right decisions as far as furloughing their teams, negotiating with their local vendors, thinking to kind of keeping them focused on the long term. And then, the third is that we worked pretty hard, especially through our National Director of Aquatics, Melissa McGarvey, who really got involved with the US Swim School Association, with various local charities and governments to really make the case that we could deliver our service into the swim school business in a very COVID safe environment. So, we kind of reimagined what that meant. We reduced some of our class ratios. We introduced face shields. We worked with our pool partners to kind of minimize the flow of people into and out of the pool and pool deck area.
Brian Garrison: And so, we invested a lot of time in communication energy, if you will, making the case state by state, sometimes even writing letters to to the governors and whatnot, to let us reopen sooner rather than later. So, throughout the course of the summer, when a lot of the retail businesses were still shut down, we were starting to reopen, worked through the process, make sure our families were comfortable to come back to the service and to the schools. And it really kind of gave us, I would say, a head start heading into the fall. And now, 2021 has been supercharged for us.
Lee Kantor: Now, what does that kind of ideal franchisee look like? Is there kind of a profile you developed over the years?
Brian Garrison: I would say yes. I think the key differentiator, certainly, you want some management experience, preferably maybe some marketing experience or, at least, an understanding of running a small business, but the differentiator is something where they want the independence of being a small business owner, the opportunity to grow wealth. But really, do you have a passion for making a difference in their communities, right? So, that could be maybe they come from an early childhood development background, maybe they have an aquatics background, or maybe they're just at a point in their lives that they should have done very well and want the flexibility of being a small business owner, but I want to do something that's really purpose driven. And so, that's what we look for.
Brian Garrison: Certainly, we see a fair number of corporate transactions. We do see kind of husband/wife, or business partner, or some other duo where one person wants to be kind of the face of the business, and the marketing, and sales and brand development. The other wants to kind of run the aquatics team. So, there's got to be that one piece of passion around the purpose-driven nature of the business, I would say.
Lee Kantor: Now, is an ideal franchisee somebody who is getting in the pool, or is this something that you can just manage a bunch of people and build the team?
Brian Garrison: So, great question. I would say, can be either one. There's just a little bit different org structure. If I think of our top five to eight business owners, that top 20 percent, most of them are doing well over a million dollars in revenue. We have two or three of them that still like to get in the pool that kind of came up as a true owner/operator and bootstrapped it in the water. And then, the remainder are really more corporate or other professional services types who came in with an eye towards, "I'm going to build a team. I'm going to know what the aquatics program should look like at its best and be able to provide better quality control than an owner needs to do, but I have no intention of getting in the water."
Brian Garrison: So, it really works both ways. And we coach and advise our owners on, "Okay, if you want to go down this path, your hiring profile and the team you want to build looks like this. If you want to go down the path of being never in the water, then we need to kind of think through a little differently. Who's leading your aquatics team and making sure we're finding the right person?"
Lee Kantor: Now, does this franchise work best in kind of the warm weather cities or is can it work in the kind of north, in the Midwest, in the upper states in the top of the country?
Brian Garrison: Yeah, sure. Great question. So, it works all over. I say we're in 23 states. We have a real nice density in the northeast. So Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. We started as corporate locations in Florida. So, we have Florida, Georgia, South Carolina. And then, of course - not, of course, but then we have a handful in the California and Arizona market, as well as up in Seattle. So, because we're largely call it 85% plus in indoor pools, the weather and the seasonality really doesn't matter. We do operate or have opportunities to work in outdoor pools, but that's where it becomes more southern state or southwest state versus the north.
Lee Kantor: Now, in your growth, are you looking for that kind of person that wants to have their own business with their spouse and is looking just kind of have that second act maybe in their career? Are you looking for more empire builders that are either using this as a complementary business, and they have a portfolio of franchises that are just trying to add this to a portfolio, and they're kind of take over the world mentality or is it kind of a lifestyle/business, build my wealth for my family business?
Brian Garrison: Sure. So, we see a little bit of both. We definitely have some empire builders that are either complementing it with other, like I said - not like I said, I guess I didn't mention, but early childhood, whether it's like an early childhood development center, or a tutoring business, or something of that respect, or maybe they have one of the two. If it's a couple, one of them works in a school system. So, they really understand the community and the people, but they want to build three, four, five, six territories. When I say territory, we're looking at a unique set of zip codes that have at least are up to 35,000 kids under the age of 10. So, really focusing in that target market and being able to develop the brand around that group.
Brian Garrison: So, we have people with three, four or five, up to six territories who are looking to build an empire, maybe in conjunction with other businesses, but we also have those who feel like they can do very well with one or two territories. And as you said, there are a different point in their careers where they want something that's a little more lifestyle and more meaningful, but still can be scaled. And the scale is all-in offering, more days of the lessons at more pools. Basically, it's a very simple model, the scale, and it's truly a recurring revenue model because you're building by the lesson or you're invoicing on a monthly basis in advance. So, the last week of June will bill for the month of July, etc.
Lee Kantor: Now, what's kind of the growth outlook for you guys? Are you looking pretty bullish now where the pandemic's kind of behind us, at least in the US?
Brian Garrison: We are definitely very, very enthused, very bullish right now. We're on track to exceed what we did in 2019. So, when we first reopened in June of last year, our mindset was we powered through the worst of this, but it's probably a two-year time horizon to rebound. And I think we probably cut that in half almost. And so, at some high level numbers, close to 65% of our owners are operating within 90% or higher of what they were doing in 2019. So, there's a lot of enthusiasm there.
Brian Garrison: And then, on the franchise development side, part of the reason that our parent company, both franchise and branch, part of the reason we acquired British Swim School with the aquatics program is second to none, but we have a really strong marketing component. And so, when we looked at the ability to scale existing franchisees, move more of the base towards the top performers in terms of customers and revenue, and then 300 to 400 unopened territories across the US and Canada, we really were pretty excited about the opportunity. And what I would say even better than the rebound of our existing base is really the interest from franchise candidates, the number of multiunit deals we've been able to to bring on in the first four or five months - I guess, now, the year - has been very exciting and gives us really great confidence that 2022 is going to be even better than 2021.
Lee Kantor: Now, are you finding that a lot of folks out there are looking towards franchising to kind of maintain or grow their family's wealth because of a lot of people getting displaced or maybe frustrated with the corporate world?
Brian Garrison: Sure. When I think of the group of owners we've brought on so far in 2021, it's about half and half. I would say half of them are pretty successful, pretty senior corporate types who either voluntarily left or, unfortunately, lost their positions because of the pandemic and felt like they're not going to go back to an uncertain corporate environment when they had the opportunity to get into something different, more compelling. And then, we have some people who are using it more as, "I'm going to grow this. My wife and I or my husband and I are going to grow this over the next two to three years, even as I continue with my corporate job, with the intent of stepping away in the future." So, I think that's probably pretty common, I would say, across franchising right now, but it's definitely been our experience with British Swim School.
Lee Kantor: And if somebody wanted to learn more, have more substantive conversation with you or somebody on the team, is there a website for prospective franchisee?
Brian Garrison: Absolutely, britishswimschoolfranchising.com, that's where to find us. And we do a lot of the one-on-one calls with franchise owners or myself with interested candidates. And I've got a great franchise development team led by Timothy Holadia and Dave Warn. So, they love talking to people and sharing the British Swim School story.
Lee Kantor: Good stuff. Well, Brian, congratulations on all the success and thank you so much for sharing your story today.
Brian Garrison: Lee, we really appreciate the time and appreciate all your listeners out there. So, thanks so much for the opportunity.
Lee Kantor: You got it. All right. This Lee Kantor. We'll see you all next time on Franchise Marketing Radio.