Big Blue Swim School founder, Chris DeJong, is a five-time U.S. National Champion swimmer and a former American record holder. He was captain of the University of Michigan Men’s Swimming and Diving Team and alongside Michael Phelps for the four years leading up to the Beijing Olympics. He has an impressive swimming background, so it’s hard to believe his first swim lesson was anything less than amazing. In fact, for the 5-year-old DeJong, it was far from fun. He remembers clinging to the side of the pool, frightened for his life while his teeth chattered uncontrollably.
When DeJong launched his own swim school in 2009, he was inspired by his experience as a child, and was determined to completely rewrite the script for learning to swim.
He’s done that with Big Blue Swim School and the concept he created is quickly becoming one of the nation’s fastest growing swim school franchises. In January of 2017, Big Blue’s innovative concept caught the eye of the multi-unit CorePower Yoga franchisee and private equity group Level 5 Capital Partners, who acquired a stake in the company to support the brand’s growth through franchising to 150 schools by 2021.
Big Blue has already signed multi-unit deals in key growth markets including New Jersey, Raleigh, Florida,Georgia,Texas, Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, and Illinois. With best-in-class consumer offerings, a proprietary technology, a strong real estate team, leadership support and a recession-resistant business model, the swim school franchise is uniquely positioned to become a strong segment leader.
Best-in-Class Consumer Proposition
Since day one, Big Blue has worked hard to be the very best at what they do. “One of the first things we did was commit to employing full-time, highly trained swim associates, which truly sets us apart from most kids concepts,” said DeJong.
At Big Blue, children are taught by caring, highly-trained professionals who are more easily retained than a part time employee. The school’s turnover is very low which helps maintain consistency as a child builds trust with their instructor. “Our swim associates are passionate about what they do because it’s their career,” said DeJong.
Other features differentiating the school include the facility design, which maximizes comfort for both children and parents. “With 90 degree, ultra-clean water we provide a very different experience from the neighborhood YMCA or community pool,” said DeJong. “Plus our comfortable viewing area manages for cleanliness and sound, our anti-bacterial, no-slip flooring makes our space safe for kids during transitions, and we create a comfortable and relaxing environment for parents.”
But the feature parents like best is the technology they can use to conveniently schedule and reschedule lessons. “Big Blue’s proprietary technology, LessonBuddy,™ makes it easy for parents to fit swim lessons into their lives, not the other way around,” said DeJong. “Parents can schedule and reschedule classes at anytime, and multi-kid families can all swim during the same 30-45 minute window.”
LessonBuddy™ Technology Optimizes Lesson Planning
A great tool for parents, LessonBuddy is also a valuable enterprise system that is technologically superior to the competition. The cloud-based platform is designed so fitness franchise partners can operate successful pools without needing a daily presence. “Lesson Buddy presents franchisees with a turnkey approach to operations and revenue potential by tapping into Big Blue’s data and analytics,” said Scott Tompson, Big Blue’s Chief Development Officer.
Lesson Buddy allows education franchise partners to manage their business through dashboards and KPIs all the way down to the shift level. They can track costs and efficiencies so they have total transparency in terms of ROI and health of the business. “This technology is light years ahead of the competition and it’s been a major draw for our franchise partners,” said Thompson.
Leveraging Data-Driven Real Estate Assessment for Growth
While competitors in the swim school space typically connect new franchise owners to local real estate brokers, Big Blue has a full team of real estate pros to assist in securing prime locations, negotiating lease agreements, and overseeing construction and facility management.
“Big Blue has a tested, proactive, data-driven real estate strategy designed to place a location in the path of least resistance,” said DeJong. “This means we select locations that fall within our customer’s existing daily and weekly habits, rather than placing schools in locations that require parents to alter their current driving patterns.”
Once a school location is secured and negotiated, Big Blue’s in-house construction management team oversees the build-out and has a perfect record of completing pools on time and within budget.
Exceptional Leadership Expertise and Franchisee Support
DeJong’s leadership team includes an impressive roster of industry experts, all committed to excellence. The team includes Chris Kenny, CEO, Brooke Mallick, VP of Marketing, Justin Waltz, VP of Franchise Operations, Michael Chin, President of L-5 Real Estate Services and many more.
“When a children’s franchise partner signs with Big Blue, we don’t just give them a guide book and send them on their way,” said Thompson. “We tap into our collective experience to provide all the critical services a franchisee requires to open and operate a successful school. Doing this allows our best fitness franchise partners to focus entirely on creating a positive and memorable customer experience.”
The Big Blue team also leads an aggressive new pool opening program, executed for the franchisee, that allows for a fast ramp-up. “We have an established and proven weekly process in place that ensures each location will operate on Day 1 like it is Year 5,” said DeJong.
The program includes a robust pre-opening marketing strategy to generate brand buzz and pre-opening membership sales. A corporate launch team continues to support franchisees for their first 12 months of business by implementing a strategic marketing plan that charts metrics so partners know where their customers are located, how they are learning about Big Blue, and what’s most likely to keep them engaged with the company.
Strong, Semi-Absentee Investment Opportunity with Recession-Resistant Model
The Big Blue investment opportunity and proven business model is ideal for multi-unit and semi-absentee franchise partners looking to maximize their time and their capital. The company’s cloud-based platform is designed so child education franchise partners can operate successful pools without needing a daily presence. “This has been a lead selling point for all of our current multi-unit partners,” said Thompson. “They need to know a strong program is in place so they can operate multiple locations simultaneously, regardless of where they are located.”
“Coupling our semi-absentee business model with the fact that the learn to swim space is recession-resistant, makes Big Blue a no-brainer for anyone looking to invest in a passion project,” said Thomposn. “Since swim schools provide a critical life skill, there will always be a need for quality swim lessons. Parents are willing to invest in their child’s safety and as a result, swim schools are now a $3B industry.”
Most importantly, the swim school industry isn’t a fad and the Big Blue team is confident the concept is here to stay. “Swim lessons fill a vital need for safety and cannot be outsourced or automated,” said DeJong. “Our experiential services can’t be replaced by an online offering, therefore swim lessons are impervious to Amazon. In fact, the Amazon Effect actually means we have more prime real estate to choose from. Landlords love Big Blue’s experiential retail because we bring moms and families to the shopping centers and we typically operate during off-peak hours.”
The gross revenue for a Big Blue location in operation for five years as of the end of the 2018 fiscal year, report EBITDA between 23% to 36%*, with an average EBITDA per location of nearly 30%, according to the brand’s 2019 FDD.
Investors looking for their next big moment may want to dive in to learn more about this underserved market segment.
Multi-unit franchise opportunities are available for qualified candidates looking for their next big franchise opportunity, and veterans can receive a 10 percent discount on the $75,000 franchise fee. The total investment for one Big Blue Swim School ranges from $1,825,500 to $3,687,000 (see item 7 in the FDD). To learn more or inquire about Big Blue Swim School most profitable franchises.