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Advice from Seasoned Multi-Location Owners

Are you thinking of opening another location?

There are more challenges than you can name in accomplishing this feat. From contracting negotiations, to hiring, to financial organization, to simply keeping up with another entire group of students, multiple locations can escalate activities and responsibilities.

The best way to approach expansion is with knowledge. And knowledge from others who have faced these same challenges is the best of all.

We’ve gathered some input from some of your fellow swim school owners who have already experienced expansion. There may be some advice in their comments that fit your situation and may help you in your decision making.

Here are my questions and the answers I received:

As an owner operating more than one facility, you probably have challenges similar to when you were operating one facility as well as ones that are totally unique to the multi-facility situation.

What are the top challenges that are similar?

  • Maintaining company culture.
  • Keeping consistency in teaching/curriculum.
  • Staffing ad training is a battle regardless of how many facilities you have.
  • Implementing system is complex across one location or more.

What are the top challenges that are unique to managing multiple locations?

  • Figuring out an organizational chart that works for all locations. We are refining this as we grow and learn.
  • Keeping equality across the facilities. Older facilities shouldn’t feel neglected because they have a shiny new sister.
  • Moving into a new facility is like moving into a new home. It takes time to get used to things ad iron out the wrinkles.
  • You have more of everything to do.

What role does your management software (Jackrabbit) play in helping you to overcome these challenges?

It keeps us organized – which is a challenge the bigger you get.

We have access to data wherever we are. Many of our managers work at more than one location. The software enables them to do their administrative tasks without being physically in that facility. It also helps that the software looks the same wherever they are using it. It also allows me (the owner) to pull reports and help in managing each location. I go between locations but with an internet connection, I can check in from anywhere.

What were the reasons that drove your decision to expand to more than one location?

  • Ability to grow. Prime class times were filled at established locations.
  • Opening a new location a comfortable distance from the other(s), allows us to reach out to a new set of families (i.e., provides the opportunity to gain more market share)
  • Not enough room at old facility.

What is the most important “Don’t ever …” advice you would give someone planning on opening a second facility?

  • Don’t do it just to be bigger. Bigger is not always better. Make sure you are ready for it or you will get your butt kicked!
  • Don’t ever think it will be easy to open the second location.
  • Keep a keen eye on your culture and curriculum.
  • Don’t believe that your systems will survive unscathed.
  • Always better. Make sure you are ready for it or you will get your butt kicked!

Thank you David Tait (EVO Swim Schools) and John Kirk (Little Otter Swim Schools) for your sage advice. Read about Barron Swim School’s expansion experience.

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