Find Your Big Blue Ocean

Posted by Pete Gilfillan and Nat Truitt on Apr 21, 2021 9:34:00 AM

Scott Thompson is the first returning guest on our podcast. He is here this week to talk about Big Blue Swim School.

This exciting franchise is expanding quickly and is even finding success during COVID.

Join Pete and Nat to hear the three things that separate them from other swim schools and why it is a great investment.


Pete:                Well, good morning Nat, I'm excited for today's podcast.

Nat:                  I'm excited too. The days are getting a little chillier, so what do you got for us today?

Pete:                Well, I don't know, I don't know if it's anything to warm us. But as we think about this, formerly known as travel. We would go somewhere in the winter, spring break, and stuff like that to get away from these Chicago winters and stuff like that.

So today we're going to talk about something that you're in the water, right? From that standpoint. But this probably doesn't apply to you and I. Although; I probably could have used this in my life as I've almost drowned three times in my life. I've fallen through lakes and fallen out of boats in the middle of lake that kind of stuff. So water and me, I'm just lucky to be alive.

Almost drowned in a hot tub, got sucked into the mechanism that sucks all the water down, the filtration system. So yes, life is when swimming, water, and me. So we're going to have a guest, so we're going to talk a little bit about swimming today. Sean, will you let our guest in, please. Well, welcome back, Scott.

Scott:               Hey Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete:                Well, we were so excited when you told us about big blue that we thought we'd have you back on. You were so much fun before, and I know that with big blue, you are the chief development officer for them. So again involved with level five investments. But big blue, what a cool idea from that standpoint.

Scott:               Yes. Big blue is awesome; it hits home for me. I've got a five-year-old, and he loves swimming, and we actually built the big blue up in John's Creek, Georgia here, and he goes three days a week. And I can just see such a difference in his skills, he's really come a long way.

Pete:                Yes, well, it's a great name. So tell us why did; I mean there's a lot of stuff out there in terms of swim lessons and stuff like that. But what was the big idea to come up with big blue?

Scott:               So big blue, Chris Young was a co-founder of big blue out of Chicago, and he's a world national swimmer. He's on the U.S. national team. He just missed the Olympics twice 04 and 08 by three-tenths of a second. He trained with Michael Phelps and Ryan Locke and all those guys.

And he just wanted to get back to his love and passion for it; I think he lost it. And so helping kids really learn to swim, he started to enjoy it, started to have joy for swimming again. And he did that back in 2010 in Wilmette, Chicago.

But anyway, so the reason why we bought it by level five invested in it after basically Chris Kenney, our managing partner, his brother has five kids, they live in Chicago, and they were looking for a swim school. So they called the local swimming school which is one of our competitors.

And they said yes, we can't get any of your family in there for three months, come back in three months. And so Michael called Chris and said, hey, I think you've got something here, you should really look at this space. I think there's an opportunity here.

And so then that's when they started to dig in a little bit, and they found big blue. And what they loved about being blue is they invested over three million dollars in lesson buddy, which is their technologies and their proprietary systems.

Pete:                Wow, that's amazing. Three million dollars in technology. Okay, let's step back, right? So there's a lot of people playing in the swim lesson space, right?

Scott:               Sure.

Pete:                So if we talk about big blue, right? Came up with the concept, want to get back into the passion of swimming, want to help kids, right? Because I think it's what like 95 percent of kids they need swim lessons, right?

Scott:               Yes, I mean it's like vaccination rates, right? Every parent formalized swim lessons prevents drowning by 88%. And drowning is the number one cause of death between kids.

Pete:                Holy crap.

Scott:               So it's a horrible stat, and it's one of parent's biggest fears, but it's also one of a child's biggest moments. And we always like to say we inspire big moments in kids' lives, because when they learn to swim on their own. Life goes from black and white to color, right? They feel a sense of confidence; they start to think they can do more in life.

Pete:                Got it. So all right, let's talk about, so there's lots of different places I go get swim lessons. But as a parent, let's go through one at a time; what separates big blue? Why should I bring my kid to big blue versus some of the other competitors? What's the first thing?

Scott:               The biggest thing frictionless real estate, right? We put these schools where mom or dad are going every day. They're going to drop a son or daughter off a daycare or school, and then they're going to target, or they're going to whole foods or something like that. And so big blue swim schools are going to be in those same real estate locations.

A lot of our competitors chase real estate deals, so looking for tenant improvement dollars for the landlord, and so they're off the beaten path a little bit. Like if you go into Chicago, and you go on our western Ave location, it's right on Western Ave. Now, so you drive by it, you're going to see it, you're going to come in, you're going to want to learn more.

And so when we put a big blue in a market, we tend to get capture about 50% of the addressable market within that 10-minute drive time. Because of the visibility and where we put the schools. We're not putting them off the beaten path, where you have to drive to as a destination.

Pete:                All right, so it's convenient for me as a parent, okay got it.

Scott:               Yes, ease of access. Number two is our technology. We make it really simple for mom or dad to book a lesson. But not just one lesson, most families have two kids, and they're usually three years apart.

And so the algorithm within the software knows the lesson level of your child, and then it can tell you what times are best suited for your kids. Both kids at the same 30-minute window.

So mom or dad can take the children to the swim lesson, they both are in separate lessons, at different lesson levels and then you can sit in the lobby and have a cup of coffee, relax. Go on Instagram for 30 minutes and just kind of take a deep breath.

Pete:                But other companies have scheduling things; what makes big blues scheduling system so much better?

Scott:               It's the algorithm, right? And so here's the other thing. We build more water, right? So that allows for more. So most schools have what we call 8 to 10 capacity playing lanes in a 10,000 square foot box.

We build 13 capacity planning lanes, okay. And what that extra three-lane does is it allows that five-year-old to ten-year-old to still keep swimming when they've already learned to swim, right? And allows that three-year-old who's just starting to learn to swim to start to learn to swim at the same time the five-year-old is progressing with their skills.

And so your competitors just can't do that; they don't have the capacity to handle that. And so what ends up happening is that five-year-old has to do another activity now. They have to stop continuing to learn and reinforce their skills and go to baseball, softball, whatever, basketball. And so then parents have to split up.

Pete:                All right. So you have a way in which you can kind of provide for all because your facility is designed to do that. I want to touch on the technology because I think one of the things that I believe I heard was earlier, that with the technology, you guys invested a lot of money.

                        And I think that separates the scheduling all that kind of stuff because it's not a shelf product. You guys actually built it from the ground up and spent a lot of money doing it.

Scott:               Yes. So we're not configuring someone else's product; this was thought out based on two swimmers that co-founded this and understanding we have eleven different lesson levels. We have 400 different skills we have to test for. We have all these different kids coming in that might like to only work with a female or a male.

And so, all of these little details make the experience unique. And so the software really allows for mom or dad to really customize their experience when they walk through the door. But not only that, but it also allows them to track, right? So we have sensors in the pool that ultimately can track the distance of the child that they're swimming.

So mom or dad don't, if you say at the other facilities, our competitors, your son or daughter is a dolphin swimmer. What does that mean? Can I go to the lake? Can I go to the ocean? Can I take my eye off my son or daughter? Here, like my son does 200, he did the last week, he did 240 feet crawl stroke by himself, just back and forth, 240 feet, no stopping.

And the five-year-old, that's pretty amazing. I know now he can swim 240 feet without me looking. And so, as a mom or dad, knowing the stamina and the distance that your child can swim is very powerful.

Pete:                Wow, that's pretty cool. All right, what else separates big blue from the competition?

Scott:               Our methodology. Our EDMC principles explain, demonstrate, mimic, correct. We're not teaching a child just to be safe around water, when like a monkey crawl on the wall or anything like that. We're teaching, or how to roll over on their back, we're teaching them breath, propulsion, weight balance, and buoyancy.

And our teachers, if a three-year-old can swim 100 feet with the front crawl effectively, we're not going to keep them at a lower level, we're going to keep progressing that child. So there's no limitations to where they can swim. So I've seen five-year-olds swim 500 feet in the facility.

And to me, that's being safe around water, knowing that my son or daughter can, they get away from the wall or something they can swim back. Not just being able to float on their back in the water. So the methodology is really about propulsion.

Pete:                Yes. When I visited the big blue school here in Chicago, I was amazed when I went into the mechanical room. Can you tell me a little bit? Because I mean, it's like stated; it was very cool.

Scott:               Yes. So as a franchisee, we've thought of everything too. So the technology connects, so lesson buddy connects to all of our pump rooms. So if you're in Aruba, and you go look on your phone, you can see the temperature of the water, you could see the chlorine levels. You can see the PH levels right on your phone.

And if there's an issue, you can increase the PH or decrease the chlorine or whatever it is from your phone. And it allows for that ability. And then, if you walk into a pump room, it's loud, but we have multiple filtration points. So the water in that facility is turned over, the entire pool is turned over four times.

So people are afraid of COVID, chlorine kills COVID, UV kills COVID, so we have UV filtration, plus we have sand filtration. So we filter the water down to 0.04 microns, which nothing can get through essentially.

Pete:                Wow, that's pretty cool. All right, so what else? What else is so special about big blue?

Scott:               We have level x. We've got all these kind of neat things we're doing from a research and development standpoint. When your son or daughter levels up in the pool, immediately on deck, the supervisor clicks in the system, and in the lobby, you're getting a notification that your child did x y or z skill.

Pete:                That's cool. Got to make the kids feel good.

Scott:               Everyone likes to see their name and highlight, so.

Pete:                Absolutely, from that standpoint, cool. And when you come into a market, I would think that everybody kind of knows, I go to this place to get swim lessons, right? So when you guys come in, how do you find the parents? What kind of marketing you guys do to get engaged in the community?

Scott:               So Brooke Malek who's our VP of marketing, she came from Pepsi, she's just pretty awesome. And her team, they're basically putting together an entire digital campaign. We have Salesforce journeys built out. Sarah Tapku who's also on a team she worked at Amazon, found the kindle.

She built the shopping cart process. So it's very simple, mom or dad think about this, doing this swim lessons once a week, right? And so if they're at the stoplight and they fill out a certain portion of the application, they don't lose that information the next time they're at the stoplight, it's the next step in the process.

And we send reminders out on that. But we do a ton of digital marketing, and it's a lot of social marketing. We do a lot of influencers in the market; we tend to launch the pools with eight hundred to a thousand swimmers with our pre-sales.

Pete:                Holy cow, wait, I just want to make sure I understand that correctly. So when they open the doors for the first lesson, they've already got 800 people signed up?

Scott:               Yes. So we opened John Street in COVID, we kind of lowered our expectations because of people being concerned, the consumer not wanting to come. And we opened with over 700 swimming pools.

Pete:                Holy cow, that's amazing, that's great marketing, I got to tell you, congratulations.

Scott:               Yes, it's pretty neat the marketing, I think is one of our sweet spots.

Pete:                And how many open locations do you have now?

Scott:               We have six open, and we have 120 sold. We just sold 35 two days ago to a private equity group here in Atlanta, Atlanta equities. So Woody Alprins, the CEO, they bought Florida. Florida's sold out now; Georgia's sold out. They bought South Carolina; they bought North Carolina; they bought Nashville and then Louisville, Kentucky.

Pete:                Wow.

Scott:               So southeast swim school, really excited about those guys, they're going to go very fast. But we've got 17 pools slated to open next in 2021.

Pete:                Oh, that's awesome. I've heard great things in my candidates that have went through the process. So congratulations. So you know the drill now, I'm going to ask you a couple of random questions, just to get you going. And the first one I would ask is share a productivity hack that you use. So to be really productive, give us a hack that you use.

Scott:               One of the things I do is, are you guys familiar with Calendly?

Pete:                Yes.

Scott:               I hate chasing people to schedule an appointment. I just send them my calendar, and you pick a time that works best for you. That's just one thing I do, so I'm saving time chasing people. I also set up rules in my outlook.

So I get a lot of emails, and I try to really filter them, so I'm only focused on the stuff that's a priority. So definitely, if you're trying to get me, don't email me. Next is probably your best, you bet if you want an answer. And then I do like teams now, we did use slack before, but slack is amazing. Slack's a great tool as well.

Pete:                What is slack? I don't know if I know slack.

Scott:               So rather than emailing somebody, so Microsoft teams has a similar product, but slack has each of our companies, right? So you have a workspace, and then within the workspace, you have channels.

So like if we're working on a project for X like I can add all the people that are working on their project around that channel, and we can quickly communicate. I can drop files in there all for that particular project.

So it's only for that project. And then, if I need to DM somebody, I can DM somebody. And just like we all have these superpower computers in our hands, it's just a great tool for fast communication.

Pete:                Very good, all right. So the last question I'll ask you is how do you create goals for yourself?

Scott:               I use a system called measure what matters, it's called OKRs. Objectives and key results for my team. Google uses that, and we basically, every quarter, we get together, and we review all the learnings from the previous quarter. And then, we set targets and try to have some lead measures or key results that drive those goals, and we focus on that.

Pete:                Awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that. I might have to check that out, too, so very good. Well, it has been a pleasure to have you on today.

Scott:               Well, thanks for having me, Pete and Nat and everybody else for listening.

Nat:                  Awesome, thanks, Scott.

Scott:               Yes.

Pete:                All right, let's rock and roll.

Topics: Insider, Franchise, How To Build Wealth, becoming a franchisee, Podcast

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