So, suppose you are a leader in the Gymnastics industry for 38+ years, and you want to offer a learn-to-swim program for your customers and beyond? What would you do?
If you are the Barron Family, you would dive in (no pun intended) headfirst, learn from the best in the industry, and build the best possible swim school for your clients. Here is a quick recap of the process, the story, and the results.
The Journey - Knowing what you don't know.
Step 1, assemble a team.
The Barron Family had 38 years of leading edge experience with gymnastics, but quite frankly knew nothing about pools. They said so during our first meeting. But they weren't really starting from scratch, as building a top-flight gymnastics school requires many of the same processes and procedures with staff and customers alike -- so they knew how to build a kid-centric business, but not a pool.
They had high goals, and knew they were starting from the bottom. But Joe and Diane Barron, and their kids Scott and Julie would not take no for an answer.... especially when one swim school owner told them that "they would never make it". Later, pool veteran Jack Young joined the Barrons to help round out a winning team.
They took some quick steps toward success, and adopted a team concept. The team included:
- Third Level Design, Frank Sahlein, President
- Versatile business coaches that provide complete feasibility studies, demographic analysis, etc,
- SwimConsultant.com Andy Broido, President
- 35-year Swim School industry veteran in operations, curriculum, teacher training, etc.
- CES, Alvaro Mendoza, President
- Mechanical Systems, Pool Water Treatment, Dehumidification System
- Westport Pools, Jim Bastian, Preisdent
- Engineering, Pool Construction, on-site service center support for major mechanical components
- Leading Swim School owners
This type of collaboration gave the Barrons the answers they needed from folks that they trusted, and allowed them to develop a good game plan right out of the gate.
The process: Hit the Road Jack.
Step 2: Formulate a game plan
It took 3 years.... but the Barron Family paid their dues and did their research. All in all, they visited over 50 swim schools and attended 5 swim professional conferences all over the US and even travelled to Australia. They consulted with their primary consultants above and worked with other experts in the field to develop their facility, curriculum, procedures, class management and teaching techniques.
Then there were thousands of questions and emails, and as many phone calls and meetings.
The result? The best of the best.
The state of the art facility was designed to teach from 6 months and up, from beginners to swim teams. It was designed to get young children comfortable with the water at an early age, and guide them all the way through to adult life and even competitive swimming. They can take swimming as far as they want to go. But no matter what, they will be safe, and will enjoy and respect the water.
According to the Barrons: "Our end goal for students who complete all of our levels is for them to be able to safely and fully participate in water activities for the rest of their life. They will be able to go on a family vacation and swim in the ocean, to surf or ski, to scuba or snorkel, to join a competitive swim team, or to go to the pool with friends and be able to swim in the deep end and jump off the diving board."
Step 3: Put on your hard hat
Built for comfort - for the long term
Sure it looks great now, but converting a former grocery store to a top flight swim school was no easy task, and filled with tremendous challenges. Some say that "construction" is a short name for "are you kidding me??", and Scott mentioned that one of the valuable lessons they learned was that (even with a great team) the pool owner NEEDS to be at the construction site on a consistent basis, keeping an eye on the progress, and resolving any issues. This hands-on approach saved the Barrons time and money
The pool is definitely the focal point of the facility and it looks great. It is fully surrounded by full glass walls that helps keep children and spectators safely off of the deck but fully engaged in the action. The pool area air is a perfect 86-87F with 58% relative humidity, and water is a warm 91F with special care to remove any irritants.
This allows students to be comfortable in and out of the water; and there's no shivering at Barrons Swim School. The 30’x60’ pool is 4’ deep to maximize teaching area, but deep enough that students can swim without touching the bottom.
Similar schools have built great facilities but didn't have the space for creature comforts. The Barrons' oversized locker room was made for families so adults can assist children of any gender at all times. Within the locker room are fully enclosed toilets, showers and changing rooms to protect privacy when needed. The common area has baby changing counters, cubbies for storing clothing and towels, plugs for hairdryers and benches.
There is even a row of on-deck showers between the pool and locker room so students can rinse off after their class while still in their swimsuits. A glass wall protects the parents who want to stay dry when the children get out of the pool.
Step 4: Provide the best atmosphere for learning
Water and air quality is important for the health and safety of students and teachers.
Under the hood, there is a lot of substance behind the pretty face.
The perfect pool environment, pleasing to the kids and parents alike, was no accident. The perfect pool air environment and temperature is the result of a state of the art dehumidification system - literally the size of a freight train -- which was a major investment in the facility, but an easy decision according to Joe.
The crystal clear irritant free water was no accident as the CES permanent media drinking water-grade filtration system completely processes ALL of the pool water every 90-min so that patrons, teachers, and guests are always swimming in perfectly pure fresh water. The system has some redundancy to plan for any eventuality, and backwashes in only 3 minutes with a simple throw of a lever, so there is little down time.
The Barrons chose a traditional Pulsar tablet chlorinations system -- but you hardly know it is there, as there are no offensive chlorine odors, and they are protecting both facility and bathers with perfect water balance of calcium, alkalinity, and pH.
The pool is equipped with a high-power UV system that not only kills germs, but provides drinking quality water helps remove eye and skin irritation. This system is validated by the EPA to inactivate 99.9% of Cryptosporidium in a single pass, another way to help ensure the safety of bathers and teachers alike.
The CES control system takes direct control of all major parameters, and monitors all vital signs.
- It monitors and controls Chlorine, ORP, and pH to precise levels to avoid irritation.
- It monitors the filter system and alerts operators as to the perfect time to backwash
- It monitors and controls the circulation pump to assure rapid turnover, while saving energy
- It maintains water level and counts how much water is being used, to save valuable resources
- It monitors all chemistry and water quality mechanical parameters and instantaneously alerts the team if any parameter falls outside an ideal level.
The pool is monitored 24/7 by CES and the Barrons, both from our PC's, but also from our smart phones and tablets. In case of an out of range condition. the system literally blows up phones with texts and emails until the issue is corrected -- well before it even becomes an issue.
Sure, the Barrons were told they would "never make it", but we knew all knew differently. While the fun formally began when Joe called and said "let's do this thing", the preparation extended years before.
This degree of preparation, not only detailed above, even included them renting a pool many months in advance to fully train their instructors and fine tune their swimming curriculum before opening the doors. Sure that was an added expense, but a no-brainer for the Barrons.
The Barrons learned on the fly but they are pool novices no more. Diane and Julie were both invited to speak at the 2016 United States Swim School Association (USSSA) national swim conference and were able to share and teach other swim experts about staff hiring and training as well as office procedures and customer service.
They have been open for a few months now, and are rapidly gaining a following, and are on a collision course with great success. If you're ever in St. Louis, make sure you take a look for yourself.
According to the Roman philosopher Seneca, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity", and you can bet on the Barrons being lucky for years to come.
It couldn't happen to a nicer family.