Michael Clark is the Business Development Director at Swimming Nature, the largest provider of premium swimming lessons in the UK. Michael has over 25 years of experience within the sector, which include senior positions at Living Well and Leisure Connection (1Life), and two years spent at Fitness First heading up innovation and development. With experience in creating the ultimate customer experience, he is the driving force behind Swimming Nature’s business growth.
We spoke to Michael about:
- Why some locations shy away from offering swimming tuition in their pools
- How swimming tuition can be customised for any facility
- How outsourcing swimming tuition can be an effective revenue stream
Are swimming lessons standard for all pools?
No, but they certainly should be. Activities offered in a pool haven’t changed all that much since the 1980s. You basically have three options: people swimming lengths, aqua aerobics and lessons. Lessons, or swimming tuition, is the only one of these activities that really brings in meaningful revenue.
Many high-end facilities are reluctant to offer swimming tuition due to a concern that it will aggravate other swimmers. There is a perception that swimming tuition is only possible in large groups of children.
Why is this the case?
It’s largely due to a lack of awareness about the different options available. There are so many ways in which a person can learn to swim. Yes, that could be in a large group of children as is often the case at your local authority leisure centre, but both adults and children can also learn one-on-one or one-on-two with more of a personal training approach in the pool. Both are a form of swimming lessons. A lot of operators don’t realise they have this breadth of choice. Awareness of the different options is the first step in determining how you can use your pool to deliver something commercially lucrative.
There is also the perception that offering swimming lessons is high maintenance. While the operational challenges of lessons cannot be overlooked, swimming tuition is different. People assume that more children in the lesson equals more money, but the reality is, swimming tuition that is 1:1 or 1:2 can be much more profitable and far lower maintenance.
Are there multiple forms of swimming lessons? How customisable are they?
Yes, there are several options available to operators. For high-end pools, the best solution is a swimming tuition model that is 1:1 or 1:2. We know it is the best investment. For starters, this model does not require much space, so if it needs to fit in around existing pool-based activity, it can easily do that without interrupting the timetable. Equally, you can offer different products tailored to specific types of members. While you can teach children to swim, you can also teach adults, and help strong swimmers become better through elite programming.
As operators get more savvy, they are embracing the fact that consumers are seeking an experience. Often, what happens in the pool lags behind that of the rest of the facilities, so if you are an ambitious, ground-breaking operator, you need to have a swim experience that matches that.
What is the best way for a pool to introduce swimming tuition and market it?
The best way to launch swimming tuition is to choose a provider who has experience in PR, marketing and strong local knowledge to help you raise awareness and market your offering. This gives your facility additional exposure at no additional cost. Also, partner with a supplier who guarantees rental. Some companies only charge rental based on participation. In my opinion, operators need to be more bullish. Put the onus on the supplier to find students.
Get as much information as you can about the different options available and create an offering that makes sense for your members. Understand the revenue opportunity, the maintenance required and the experience you want to offer and then find a supplier that meets that criteria. Franchises and independent instructors are also an option, but make sure you understand the pros and cons.
Finally, don’t limit yourself to targeting members only. Ideally, you want non-members for swimming tuition. If you only talk to your own database, you’re fishing in a small pond. Let non-members come in for swimming tuition even if your facility is members-only.
Is outsourcing lessons an effective revenue stream for pools? How profitable can it be?
Yes. Outsourcing lessons can be very profitable. At Swimming Nature, we offer guaranteed income. Think about the revenue per square meter. We take up little space and drive revenue similar to large groups that take up half the pool. While it varies from pool to pool, we could offer £1,000’s per month for the use of a single lane. Some central London/prime locations should be able to generate £150,000 – £250,000 per lane per year.
While there is the option to profit share with a supplier, I would advocate for a fixed rental to guarantee revenue month over month.
The real opportunity is swimming tuition for children. Locations that drive the most revenue are the ones that make the water available to children. While it is possible to have a profitable swimming tuition offering with adults only, the occupancy is substantially less. If your rules and regulations allow it, the best option is to offer swimming tuition to babies, children and adults in a controlled location.
Finally, I don’t think clubs do enough to engage with parents who come in for their child’s tuition. This is a prime membership opportunity. For high end pools, you are attracting the perfect demographic for membership and this can become a real acquisition opportunity if you capitalise on it.