Coaches' Corner: Q&A with Rita Goldberg

2017 May | By

In this month's Coaches' Corner, we interview Rita Goldberg of British Swim School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Rita shares how British Swim School optimizes pool space to run and expand their learn to swim program, and out-of-the-box ideas to grow your swim business!

Q: What makes British Swim School Unique?

Rita Goldberg: I opened the first swim school in Manchester in 1981. In England we did not teach independent swimming until the age of 5. As a pure business venture, we reduced that to teaching 4 year olds.There was no problem at all so we lowered the age intake to 3 years of age. We noticed that some 3 year olds could pop up for air and some could not. We learned that once they pop up they would stay afloat if they were taught to roll onto their back. We totally redefined the toddler teaching program, and we now have 30 years of being utterly dedicated to back floating with the knowledge that it saves lives. Our program has always been geared towards survival and not to produce competitive swimmers. If it leads onto a champion, well that would be great!

Q: What was your inspiration for developing this business model?

Rita Goldberg: Well I had my own successful Swim Schools and that’s really where I started. I built one in England and then four more of my own in the US. After building the fourth one, I knew I wanted to continue to grow the company but not to build more pools. I had noticed a tremendous amount of water that was not being used. If you look at any fitness center, they have people waiting in line to use the equipment, but the pools are empty. That’s a lot of unproductive water that does not bring money to the owners. I started to put two and two together. Our first franchisee that came from our staff grossed well over one million dollars last year and two others are chasing her numbers. That was the inspiration. 

Q: What is the most innovative part of your business model? 

Rita Goldberg: Absolutely the non-build. We make sure they’re using existing water. We have contracts with 9 different Fitness Organizations and we also partner with Hotel chains like Marriott to use their pools. We make sure that every franchisee has access to at least two pools when they launch. 

Q: How many franchises are there Worldwide?

Rita Goldberg: We have 91 and about to be 95. There are 55 franchisees but some of our original owners have gone on to buy second and third. We’re aiming for 100 more by the end of the year. The growth of my business was initially because I wanted to keep some of the teachers and managers that were working with us. We were at risk of losing some talented people because they could not see a way to borrow a million dollars to start a swim school. I started to put together a partnership with Bally Fitness to use their pools and thought there must be something we can do to keep these instructors and give them their own business. That was the basis for us to start franchising.  One of the funny things is that I went to a conference for franchises and a lady from Dunkin Donuts said, “you’re still an emerging franchisee until you hit 80 franchises”. I never imagined it would end up like this. It’s wonderful! It’s a delight to be part of it. 

Q: How do you select and train your instructors?

Rita Goldberg: It’s quite a long process. The training is very long and we don’t stop there.  We have workshops, we have 400 videos, we have a national trainer and local trainers and we have tests they have to take.  What we are trying to do is make it as efficient and detailed as a University course. We as a company cover every detail of teaching in our courses and we want to be known for that.  We have very finite teaching methods. We aim to do this, it’s not an accident. In the last few months our National Aquatics Director has spent time updating all of our training.  If you go back to how we select our teachers, if they make it through the interview, which is based on personality, they are given test for the next few weeks. If they don’t complete the test they are gone. Their personality, their responsibility, and their ability are what we hire on. 

Q: How do you pass that training method to your franchise owners?

Rita Goldberg: If the franchise owner is from the business world, they must employ an aquatics director who must be a full member of the staff. If the owner is from the swimming world, then they must employ an Operations Manager to help them run their business. Everyone completes three weeks of pre-learning for aquatics and then they all come for complete aquatics training. 

Q: How many franchises are running a Barracudas Swim Team?

Rita Goldberg: There are about 4 and it’s very new and exciting to them.  It hadn’t been part of our business in the past.  Most of the pools we worked out of were less than 30 feet long and were not suitable for swim teams.  Our franchises have grown and we are at more fitness centers, with larger pools.  It’s something that is starting to really take off and in the next few years, it will be a very big part of our program.  I think it will attract more coaches who are interested in owning franchises. 

Q: What do you want your legacy to be?

Rita Goldberg: I think there’s two answers, one is obviously we know that we are saving lives. There are few businesses where you wake up each morning and you know that what you are doing matters. We save lives and we do it in a fun way. We know that the more franchisees we have and the more lessons we have, w we are making a difference. The other part of the answer is with the franchise side which is only 5 years old, It has allowed me to have given an opportunity to people to do the same thing and remain in the Aquatic industry.  I’ve done something my whole life that I’ve adored. I’ve never regretted being in this business, not many people can do what they love for a living. 

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