Private swim schools occupy a large percentage of the learn to swim market, especially for baby swimming, but for those who want to expand their business and are reliant on hiring pools, it can be challenging to find a pool, one with the right temperature, or find pool space at a time that suits young customers.
As a result, even prior to the pandemic and the energy crisis, STA is seeing more and more swim schools start to build and have control over their own pools – but they are not all being built in places you might think are obvious. They are being built in units on industrial estates, on farms, on the high street or in disused pubs in the heart of communities – to inspire swim schools who are thinking about taking the plunge, we will be featuring over the coming months a few case study examples to show what is possible.
Swimming to a high street near you
The first in this ‘swim schools – do you want to build a swimming pool’ series is from one Puddle Ducks franchise, who built a swimming pool on the high street in Northwich. Rachel Bateson, Franchise Manager at Puddle Ducks shares here why building a swimming pool in Barons Quay Shopping Centre in Northwich made perfect sense.
Even in ‘normal’ times pools are a big investment, but in these uncertain times, how have you found it in Northwich?
There hasn’t been a ‘certain’ period since pre-covid. Having navigated the time when we couldn’t swim at all during the pandemic, whilst simultaneously building the pool at Barons Quay, we found ourselves re-opening our business in a very favourable environment a) we had retained a huge % of our customers due to the trust in the brand, plus we were launching a new, state-of-the-art pool at a time of unprecedented demand for lessons. Children had missed out on swimming lessons for up to 18 months in some cases, and parents were desperate for them to catch up on this essential life skill. By having complete control over our own pool and the temperatures, we were uniquely positioned to be able to cope with this increase in demand.
A high street location is unusual, what would you say are the key benefits?
From our perspective the footfall from the high-street, brings us high-visibility – at Barons Quay 1,000 people a week walk from one end of the shopping area to where we are located. Convenience is also definitely a benefit – parking is plentiful and close by with lift access for those with buggies/prams. Customers are also able to combine their swimming lesson with other retail activities, either pleasure or essential day-to-day jobs.
What would you recommend to a swim school wanting to do similar?
Expertise is key and we had a specialist team on board from the beginning, including a property consultant, legal team, architect, structural engineer and a commercial pool specialist, as well as a full-time project manager. Being in a strong financial position is crucial. A detailed plan that’s well costed and tightly managed is essential and build costs will change as you progress so have a contingency in place. Running a swim school is challenging, but operating a swimming pool and the associated facilities 24/7 is complex. Pool plant training with STA early on was crucial so we could gain the experience and knowledge required to manage both pool operations and facilities management.
What were the key aspects of the pool design?
Twenty years in the swimming industry has given us a unique insight into what our customers value and what makes a good venue. From a customer perspective the building ‘flows’; everything from the reception and buggy park, to the individual changing rooms all with change tables and underfloor heating, to the viewing gallery, down to the child friendly poolside bathroom, everything was designed with our customers in mind. The pool and plant design were equally important, because we wanted the highest pool water and air quality, along with energy efficiency that’s reliable and easy to manage.
Were there any unique hurdles?
Early on the biggest hurdle was finding a suitable location, then just as we took the keys to start the build, Covid-19 hit and we had to find a way to continue the build with strict social distancing measures in place and regular isolation of contractors. We also struggled with access to some materials and cost increases caused by covid delays and overall, the build was delayed by about 8 weeks as a result. We still managed to open to the public in August 2021 having started the build in December 2019.
- Swimming Teaching