Facing Challenges As A Swim School Owner

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.

Juggling the Business AND Family

Moms are often the ones “responsible” for taking care of the family although the instances of men in this role is trending higher.  What also are growing are the number of businesses owned by women.

And so the two worlds collide.

There is a way to manage this and it’s proven. There are many Mom/Business Owners out there who are enjoying a healthy work-life balance. But they’ve done it by “taking the bull by the horns” so to speak, in a few areas of their lives to manage the expectation they (and others) have.

Is it believable that by sticking to a schedule, learning to delegate and getting organized you keep your sanity while being the Mom/Business Owner? recently published an article by Holly Hurd that shares more about this juggling act. Please enjoy the article.

Image Credit: Passive Income

20 Ideas for Great Customer Service Volume 3

The last two weeks I emailed you 40 ideas for great customer service. This list makes a total of 60 ideas! I hope you got a few new customer service concepts to put into your gym. Some readers have emailed and asked me specifics on some of the ideas. All the ideas are discussed in detail in DVD #152 and I show samples in the accompanying book. Click below to check them out. Let me here from you if you were able to use some of these.
  1. Preschool parent exchange- At the end of a Parent & Tot Class, sit around and ask parents to share their ideas on various parenting topics such as toilet training, etc.
  2. Holiday cards in mail
  3. Thank you notes
  4. Get well cards
  5. Offer babysitting for siblings during parent and tot classes
  6. Give DVDs of their class for Christmas to the Parent and Tot Class
  7. PapaBear Night-a special open gym just for the kids and the Dads
  8. Mothers’ Day appreciation week (flowers, chocolates, candy, or cards)
  9. Speakers at your gym (policeman, fireman, nutritionist)
  10. Photos you take in class-e-mail to parents
  11. Business card bulletin board for members only
  12. $5 off appreciation coupon/send at least 20 per month to various customers
  13. List of moms and children’s names to class members (no phone numbers)
  14. Use their names in class
  15. Notice new hair style, nice outfit, new car
  16. Send baby cards, sympathy, thinking of you, etc
  17. Under promise and over deliver
  18. Backs and cushions on bleachers—make it comfortable for parents to stay and watch
  19. Clean bathrooms with diaper changing table, extra toilet paper, tampon container
  20. Air fresheners throughout the gym
  • Think relationships!
  • It’s in the details when running a business. The smallest effort sometimes can bring the biggest reward.
  • Dissect each move a parent and child makes in your business. How can you improve each of those experiences?These ideas are part of #152 Unbeatable Customer Service and are all explained in complete detail. Click here to purchase as an instant download. Prefer hard copy? Click here

Ideas for Successful Registration

67 Creative and Effective Ways To Get Students to Register For Dance Class

One of our most awesome friends, Suzanne Blake-Gerety, has posted a list on her website ( that will help you fill your classes! The title – “67 Creative and Effective Ways To Get Students to Register For Dance Class”doesn’t lie. There are 67 GREAT ideas provided in this list. Suzanne has wisely broken the list into categories to help you find the ones that will fit your studio best.

Categories include: Gifts, Dancewear and Give Away Items , Open House Events, Community outreach, Registration Incentive: Waive Fees, Registration Incentive: Before the end of the season, Registration Incentive: Priority status, Recital ticket incentive, Online Registration, Tuition Discounts, Flyers, Postal Mail, Advertisements, Email and Phone Calls, Free Trial Classes, Bring/Refer a Friend and (the general but always necessary) Additional Ideas.

Please read Suzanne’s article for the details, after all, nobody does dance studio owner ideas better!