Owning a business is one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs in the world. Finding a balance between these is a huge part of an owner’s responsibilities. Rob Jacobsen and I started Chicago Swim School in an apartment complex. In 7 years, the business has grown to a 6200 sq ft building with an average of 500 people walking through the doors a day.
Every swim school operates differently, but if I had to pick, these are three big challenges that I have faced over the years that may relate to you.
Locker Room Space
Because Chicago Swim School is land locked, we can’t add anymore locker room space for customers. So, we had to get creative.
First, we started staggering classes as much as possible to eliminate classes getting out at the same time. When 45 children get out of their lesson at 4:30, they all need to change out of their suits before they go outside. The locker rooms are in high demand at 4:30, but what about during the lesson? If there isn’t another group of students coming in and using that space, the locker rooms are empty. Right now, there are 6 changing areas and 4 bathrooms in this space. Staggering classes to begin every 10 minutes helped the high traffic to the locker room and was no extra cost to the business.
Next, we installed changing seats that have a 3-point harness to hold the baby while the parent changes their clothes. This was a relatively low cost to the business and allowed more changing spots. Parents with babies like these because their child is safe in the seat and not just sitting on the floor or on a bench. This is safe and a great way to separate the babies from the toddlers running around.
Another creative idea for organizing and making more space was to add coat racks and boot trays. Chicago is a pretty chilly area and a good part of the year, people are wearing multiple layers and boots. Having one location for all of this extra clothing to go was a huge advantage.
Connecting with Parents
Chicago Swim School started in an apartment complex and was really easy to talk to each parent and child that came in the door. Because this space was rented, the administrative work was completed at home. So when the staff were at the pool, 100% of the focus was directed to the customers. Moving from 1500 sq ft to 6200, you can imagine how hard it is to keep up with the 500 people who are entering the school on a daily basis now.
The front desk staff are responsible for the customer service side of the business. They are there to answer any questions. These employees also greet every person who walks through the door. While it is hard to know each one of them individually, this at least gives each person a warm welcome. One great thing about the front desk staff is that most of them have taught swim lessons as well. They recognize their past students and have a strong connection with those families.
A deck leader also plays an important part in the communication with parents. This employee is responsible for talking to parents and share what the student is doing well and areas for improvement. Student skills are tracked by instructors and deck leaders each week and are recorded in Jackrabbit. This way, students, parents and staff can know exactly what skills are needed to progress throughout the level and onto the next.
Another thing we do to communicate with parents is host a Parent Feedback Week. For the last 5 minutes of the lesson, parents can get feedback during this week. There are three ‘official’ opportunities during a session for parents to chat with the swim instructor. Other than that, the parents can always ask questions about how their child is doing but it helps having this week to remind them.
Addressing parent concerns first
Making sure customers are happy is at the top of my list. My staff and I want to do everything we can to be proactive with any concerns parents may have and contact them before they come to us. For example when student has been in a particular level for a while and isn’t moving up, the parent is usually concerned whether they’ve said so or not. Using Jackrabbit, we can see how long a student has been at that level. Now, we can contact the parent and say they realize the student has been in this level and explain how they are going to get them out of that level.
Another position Chicago Swim School has is a ‘site leader.’ This employee is constantly looking for anyone or anything that needs help. They will approach customers who look upset and check up on them to be proactive. If necessary, this employee will follow up with the parent.
Registration is a difficult area of the business for Rob and I. Offering classes at the right time, day, and size is a chess game. We have been very open to new ideas and strategies. Overall, the main challenge is classes filling up too quickly and customers not happy about the classes leftover.
No matter what business you’re in, there will be challenges. How you adapt to those is where the success factor comes into play! What challenges have you faced? How have you handled them? Share your story in the comments.