Well good morning. It is a privilege to be able to introduce Bill Schalz here as the next speaker. It is interesting to me that probably one of the most important and significant business aspects of developing a team, which is your lesson program, would not be attended by a lot of people. Certainly you are interested, and you have got a great speaker to speak to this. He has built a business – a business that is much better than many, many, many of the swim teams out there. With that said, I give you Mr. Bill Schalz on Swim America.
Thanks Rick. I want to thank John Leonard for having me here. I also want to thank him for scheduling Bob Gillett outside at the pool at the same time and drawing everybody away from my talk! We do have a small group here, but I am going to go through the talk. If you have questions, please feel free to jump in at any time. I am excited to talk about Swim America. I started our program back in 1992. I know there are some faces in here that were here when I talked on Tuesday, so there is going to be a little bit of repetition. I started my career as a YMCA coach back in 1985, and I used to walk back and forth between the pools. Occasionally – I had to run into the main building of the Y, and that is where they ran the lessons. They ran lousy lessons at the Y, and my little 2 year old daughter took lessons there. She had a little baby fat, so she could float on her own, but they still slapped on the float belt, and they gave her little dumbbells with the little pole. She really didn’t learn how to swim, and then we went on vacation. Every day during our vacation, my daughter wanted a life jacket, and it was so frustrating! I could not get my daughter into the pool without a life jacket. Finally, at the end of the week, I told her that they ran out of them. They didn’t have any more. After about ten minutes, she got sick of sitting on the edge of the pool and finally got in. At that moment I made the decision that my wife and I who were both coaching together at the time, were going to start a lesson program.
In 1992, we started a lesson program at one of the local high schools. I am coaching over here at the Y which was a little awkward at first, but the two facilities were far enough apart that we really didn’t compete that much with each other. In 1994 I left the Y. It was a parent-run team, and I don’t do well with parent-run teams, so I started my own swim club. I coached at Marmion Academy which is an all boy’s Catholic high school, and they made me the Aquatic Director. In 1992 I started a lesson program, and in 1994, I started the Academy Bullets Swim Club. My wife and I came over, and we started that venture together.
When we first started the lesson program everybody told me that lessons print money, and it is awesome, and I said, oh that’s great! So the first year we had our registration set up, and I think we did about $4,000 in total registrations, and I think we probably did about half of that on the first day. Not printing as much money as I thought, our program has grown substantially since then, and I will talk a little bit more about that. We were able to break even in the first year, and we were able to pay my program director fees to enroll in Swim America. We paid our rent, insurance, paid off our employees and at the end of the day we actually broke even in the first year, so I was pretty excited that while we didn’t make the money I thought we would, we were able to pay off our debts in the first year. A Swim America program is extremely inexpensive to operate or to start up.
We are still at Marmion Academy, and our first year we ran one pool for six weeks for 8 hours a week, so we were on lessons four days a week, two hours a day, and that was it. We are now running lessons out of two pools. Both of those pools are running year ‘round. Our hospital just opened a Wellness Center, and we are in that pool, and we are in the Marmion pool just in the winter on the weekends. It is a high school team, and we have a lot of high school and club activities going on after school. At Provena there is a 4 lane, 25 yard pool that is a lap pool set at about 80-82 degrees. There is also a two lane therapy pool that is set at 90 degrees with warm water rocks. It is awesome. It is unbelievable how much having that 90 degree pool has made an impact on our lesson program. We are now trying to figure out how I can sneak a little 20 foot by 20 foot pool on deck at Marmion, so we can have warm water there too. We run all of our Level I to III stuff there, and we run some programs for 3 year olds also. We do all that stuff in an area that is no bigger than 15 x 20, and we will probably make more money in that 15 x 20 space than we will make in an 8 lane 25 yard pool at Marmion. It is comfortable for the kids and the parents. They all love it. We are planning to start parent/tot programs tomorrow for the first time, and having that warm water really has helped us to expand and grow our program.
So, why should you invest in Swim America? When I first got the topic, my temptation was going to just talk about making money and then walk off the stage. That is one of the reasons why we started. I also started the program because I was really frustrated with my daughter’s lessons; however, this has grown into much more. When I talk to coaches about this, I really talk. I talk a lot about the money aspect which is going to be a lot of what we talk about today. I think many coaches are underpaid. In my last talk, I talked a little bit about time and how we as coaches sometimes undervalue our time. The Swim America Program and swim lessons in general are a great way to supplement your income. We have sent out flyers and things like that.
I was talking to a coach, and he said that he had done all these flyers for swim camps, but he didn’t get a big turnout. Well, it makes more sense to do flyers for swim lessons than it does for swim camps, because everyone needs swim lessons. Not everybody needs to do a swim camp. In our community, we have a river running right through the middle of it, and every year somewhere in one of those towns along the river, we have a couple of drownings. We had a swimmer who had just registered for our program. I think he only took one or two classes. He went to Lake Michigan and drowned. That kind of hit us a little bit closer to home. Over the next year, we will try to develop some drowning prevention tips to incorporate into the lessons. If your community is by a lake or by an ocean or river, it is extremely important to offer these life-saving skills to families.
It is a great source of income for the program director. As a director, in a swim lesson program, you can make 35 to 40% profit on your program. However, that does depend on how much you are willing to work and how much you have to pay to rent pool space. I talked to a coach who said he didn’t have to pay for pool rental. There are some schools, some public schools where the coaches do not pay any pool rent at all for their lesson programs, so that is how you can get those numbers driven up over the 30% mark. I have a daughter who is a senior in high school and a three- sport athlete. She is not a swimmer, and I like to go to a lot of her sporting events, so because she is not a swimmer, we do not go to swim meets together. Therefore, I don’t spend a lot of time at my lessons any more. When I started I was there every day, and as I have gotten away from lessons and hired more and more people to do the work, our profit margin has dropped. Since we have paid more people to do the stuff that I used to do, we make less profit. However, there is still a great profit potential and a great opportunity to supplement your income. We have a small program and do about $200,000 a year in revenue. I think we are going to get close to that this year, so if you can have a 35% return, you could earn upwards of $70,000 as a program director. I think that is a high end number.
Our goal for our lesson program is to get to a million dollar point. If I am receiving a 20% return where I have a 20% profit and that is what I get paid, then that is $200,000 extra that I could be earning each year. I do not think that a million dollars for what we are doing in our set-up is unreasonable.
There is a guy in Minnesota that is probably doing 6-7 million dollars a year in multiple facilities. There is a coach in California that between the swim team and the swim lessons does over 2 million dollars a year. He is making over $300,000! There are ways to do it, and if you can get control of the water, there is some tremendous profit potential. It is a tremendous source of income for your coaching staff. Kyle, one of the high school swimmers who was a teacher in our program, started out as an instructor. He went to college, came back, and we got him signed up as a site supervisor through ASCA. When he came back, he became a site supervisor for me. Now, just this year, I have turned over a lot of the program director duties to him. He is now in charge setting up our employees and things like that. He really loves to coach, but he also likes to not live at home with his parents. He makes more money doing Swim America than he does coaching for me. By doing both and by being able to pay him to do both, I have a really good coach, and I have a really good director who can do a lot of our stuff. I would say within a year, he will probably be running a lot of the day-to-day work like setting up classes and all the employee stuff. Right now we are working on a lot of that stuff together, but I would think within a year, he will be doing probably 90% of that work for me.
We have another girl who coaches our 8 and unders. She makes more money as a site supervisor and helping us with our lessons than she does in coaching. She couldn’t afford just to coach with us, and she probably couldn’t afford just to run swim lessons. By putting those two together, she can now do that. She does not make a ton of money doing it, and she is right now going to school. She wants to become a teacher, and she is in her last year of school of education and is going to start her student teaching next semester. I am hoping that she can get a job in the area, and she will still be able to do some of our after school and weekend stuff. It is a great opportunity to get better coaches if they are willing to do a little bit of extra work and do some other things. You can actually make it feasible for your part-time staff to do that. We have even had some of our younger coaches that were actually still teachers to implement it that way. It is a great experience for the current athletes on the team. Most of our instructors are kids who currently swim on our club team or our high school teams. For kids who a lot of time say “I can’t come to afternoon practice because I have to get a job life-guarding” or something like that, it is a good source of income with a schedule that can work around their own swim training. We pay kids per lesson, and so even though we do not do a lot of lessons, our high school kids start at $6.50 or $6.75 for a half-hour lesson. They can teach two lessons and make $13.00-$14.00 dollars. They cannot make that money life-guarding. They may only teach 4 lessons between their practices, because we don’t want them teaching 8-10 lessons and then be too fried to go into that afternoon practice. A lot of our swimmers are upper middle-class kids. They really do not need the work, but it gives them some extra spending money. They also learn a lot about our Federal tax system when they get their paycheck, and it is not as big as they thought. It also helps them to understand what coaching is like. I think one of the funniest things is when I talk to our instructors and they complain about swimmers not following directions, or this kid screwing around, kids splashing, etc. I just say, “Welcome to my world. I’ve dealt with this every day with you guys.” It turns it back on them, and it really helps them to understand that maybe they could be a better swimmer. It is not a hard and fast rule that it works, but at least it gets them thinking that way.
They learn by teaching. I have had parents that tell me well, I don’t want a high school kid to do a private lesson. You have high school kids teaching lessons? I say absolutely. These kids are experts. They spend five hours a day training to become Swim America instructors. Because every day they are learning how to swim better, and every day they are getting in better shape, they are learning how to teach at the same time. These kids are absolute experts, and we really tout that in our program. When those kids are in the water teaching, it is difficult to talk about streamlining and not have something click in your brain that you should streamline in practice too. When you are talking about strokes, it really gets you thinking about the stroke, and it is really hard to do freestyle every day and explain it to people without demonstrating it yourself. It is kind of like trying to teach someone how to tie their shoes without demonstrating it. It is really good for them to reinforce some of the stuff that they are doing in their swimming.
Our lesson program has been a tremendous farm system for our swim team. One of the first things we ask when we spot a good little swimmer is how old are you? When is your birthday? We want to know what their age-up date is, and we start looking closely at those kids. The next question we ask is where is your mom, so we can get them on the swim team. We are bringing more and more kids into our program that way. We have also used the upper levels of our lesson program – levels 7, 8, 9, and 10 – to create a program called “take your mark.” I would love to take credit for this creation, but I got that idea from Jim Wood who coaches Berkeley Aquatics out in New Jersey and is now president of USA Swimming. I heard Jim talk at the “Build a Pool” Conference, and he was talking about this “take your mark” program which is basically a pre-team program. I have talked to coaches this week who say that they cannot run the lesson program because their facility already has that. I told them to start a “take your mark” program in order to get those top level lesson kids into their program where they are going to be better coached. The parents are going to be happier, and you will have a better chance to bring those kids on to your swim team. Even if you can’t run a lesson program in your home pool, there is a way to get some of those top end lesson kids. At the Y, they would have two little high school life guards who didn’t know anything about swimming trying to teach the upper levels a lesson. We were working really hard to get those kids into our pre-team which is a much better program. If you can get 2% of your lesson program to join your team, and I don’t know if that is quite the right figure, and you have got only 100 kids in your program, if you can get two more swimmers on your team, there’s a few more thousand dollars. If you have 1,000 kids in your program, and we have a little bit over a thousand kids and you can pick up 2% and get twenty more swimmers on your team that is 20,000 dollars that you are bringing into your program each year. If you can get those numbers every year, and even if you only get 10 kids, well that is another 10 grand onto your team. You probably do not even have to hire another coach for ten more swimmers. Therefore, you can keep those kids.
We have a joke. We started a Masters team, so we kind of joke that our goal is cradle to grave. We want to get these kids all the way from our lesson program to our Masters program. When you are running a lesson program, you can really raise awareness for swimming in your area, not only as swimming in general but also as the professional. You can reach far more families in swim lessons, and you can really help raise awareness for your swim team by running lessons because now you have all these parents out there that are taking lessons. They may be reading an article about your swim team that you put out – we put out newsletters and things like that or we will do an E-newsletter and we will talk about what our swimmers are doing. They recognize their swimming teacher who is in the article. You can also do educational articles. When we do our Email blasts, we will try to throw some little educational things in there. We are in the process of redesigning our website, and when we do that, we are going to have a greatly improved email system with our families. We will be able to get that word out, and it really raises you, the coach, as the professional and rightly so, in the community. I think that it helps promote your swim team.
So why invest in Swim America specifically? I am trying to go through this kind of quickly because I hope you guys have some questions, and we can talk a little bit more. The first thing is the Swim America progression. A lot of lesson programs do what I call “dabbling,” and this is how I explain it to parents. This is also the way our Y program used to be. I started my program in 1992, and I really investigated what all the lesson programs were doing before I selected Swim America. Before I selected Swim America, what I noticed about almost every lesson program back in the early 90’s, and I know that some of these programs have changed how they run their lessons a little bit, but almost every one has a sheet with 10 skills listed on each sheet. In order to pass from one level to the next level you have to get a check mark in all ten boxes, okay? So, at the beginning of the class, you are in the minnows, for example, and you go through your whole session. Your child goes through the session, and let’s says he gets five check marks. Well, now he goes back for the next session, and the instructor spends the entire session working on the same five things that your child already knows! I hated that about those lesson programs; you are doing a little Level I – well, let’s do a little backstroke – let’s do a little freestyle – let’s do a little turning – lets go and pick up some sticks off the bottom of the pool. Let’s do all different things instead of having an actual progression, and then we will just do a little more of each thing in the next level.
Swim America has two to three advancement goals per level. In fact, in the first six levels, there are only ten advancement goals total. Level 1 – you go under water – you blow bubbles – you do that ten times – you go to Level 2. Level 2 is front and back glides for five seconds. Level 3 is front and back kicks for five yards. Level 4 is freestyle workout breathing. Level 5 is freestyle with breathing. That is basically the first 5 levels of Swim America, and so there is an absolute, simple progression and every day when the kid shows up, they know that if they are in Level 1, they are going to do “bobs.” We may do some other little fun stuff to keep them warm and things like that, but they are going to focus on bobs. In level 2, we will warm up with some bobs, and then they are going to go right into glides? They know that they are not going to pass until that happens. The other nice thing about that is that if you have an instructor that gets sick and another instructor comes in no one has to worry about which of these ten things were worked on yesterday. We are going to work on those same things every day, and there is consistency every single day. The parent, the swimmer, and the teacher all know what is going to be worked on each and every day. The other nice thing is that it is a progression right to the swim team.
In Level 10, one of the things that must be accomplished in order to pass is to do a 100 IM. We try to get kids on the swim team before they are at Level 10, but we do have kids go all the way through the program and can do the four competitive strokes. We have had parents who prefer that their child not go into competitive swimming. We are fine with that, but you need your child to be an efficient swimmer, and competitive swimming strokes are the most efficient strokes you can learn. There is the side stroke and things like that, but if you fall off a boat in the middle of a lake, or your dad throws you off a boat in the middle of the lake, you want to be able to swim back. It would be nice to do a little breaststroke in there or do a little freestyle. The competitive swimming strokes are to me the most efficient strokes and the best way to get kids to be able to sustain themselves in the water environment.
Supervisors: Supervisors really help. Our supervisors have three jobs: #1 – They do all the testing, and these are all straight up Swim America things. They do all the testing and if a teacher says I have a swimmer that is ready to pass, and this can be in the middle of a class, the supervisor can test the swimmer right then and there. Most other programs only test at the end of the session. They go through and they can request to test the swimmer if they appear ready to pass. So the supervisor goes over and tests him, and if he passes, he takes the swimmer out of the water and moves him right to the next level. If he isn’t ready to pass, then the supervisor will let the instructor know what the swimmer did wrong. It is consistent. You don’t have every instructor making up his own rules about what it takes to get a swimmer from one level to the next. When we get to Level 6, 7 and 8, we are trying to teach freestyle, and we want a kid to streamline kick off a wall. They learned how to streamline in Level 2. They learned how to kick in Level 3, so this should not be a problem in Level 4 or 5 since they all know how to do it.
Our supervisors also help prevent “turf wars.” I was walking back and forth between the pools at the Y one day, and when I was going to the bathroom, I walked through there and the teachers were all arguing about where they are going to be. I go to the bathroom and come back and they are still arguing! I said listen, you need to go lengths of the pool. You go in lane 4 and stay there, alright? You need to do widths, or you need to be over here, so you stand with your back to lane 4, and your swimmers will swim into you. Push them back and send them back that way, and the kids in lane 4 might hit you or splash you, but don’t worry about it. Just deal with it, and then tomorrow I will take (one pool is 25 meters and of course the other is 25 yards) a 25 meter – an extra old lane rope that we have and cut it to 25 yards. I will bring it in here, and then you guys will have that lane, and you won’t have to worry about it. They did not have a supervisor on deck. They turned over the lessons to a bunch of high school kids. They were probably life guards, but I am not even sure about that, and so in a 30 minute lesson, they were going to spend 10-15 minutes arguing about who was going to do what. Because they didn’t have supervisors, the kids would sit on the edge of the pool. They wouldn’t get in and do it. That is what our teachers do. This is your area. This is your area. This is your area. This is where you go and get in the water and teach and make sure that they are doing their job. Because of that, we run much better lessons.
Our supervisors also talk to our parents afterwards. We do not want the parents going up and complaining to a high school kid. It is important that those high school kids know that they work for the supervisors and that the supervisors kind of run interference for the teachers. In case there is a problem, usually a problem would be something like my kid only got one turn and everybody else got four turns. We just make sure that everything stays even. Sometimes a teacher gets really close to passing a kid, and they spend twenty minutes working on them. As a supervisor, we tell them that they have to go on to the next swimmer, keep it even. That is probably the biggest complaint that we get.
The organization and the training of Swim America are consistent across the country. We have had swimmers that are moving, and we can tell them where to find a Swim America program in the area they are moving to. I have had kids come from the Red Cross and they say they are a level 3. I don’t know what that means, so we need to test them. If they come from another Swim America program, I know what Level 3 means, and we can put them in our Level 3 level. There is nationwide consistency. Even the site supervisors get trained by Swim America, and one of the great things about Swim America is that you do not have to go to Lauderdale and do it. We are in the Chicago-land area, and every year there is a clinic in May. They do full program director and site supervisor training, and Julie can probably tell you – she is in the back of the room – that they probably do it. I know that they have other site supervisors and program director training across the country, so you do not necessarily have to come down here to do it. They actually had – I think you had one the other day, right Julie? And you have another one Sunday? So you know – it is easy to get that training done. A nice thing too is when our site supervisors come back from training, they bring stuff to us. That was one of the great things about the Swim America conference that was held on the first day of this convention. As you know, we just had a full day of just Swim America meetings. All we talked about was just swim lessons and different strategies and what people do – everything from how you set up your stations to marketing and everything in between. A lot of great ideas get bounced back and forth. When ASCA first started Swim America, it was kind of there. They didn’t have all the support stuff that they have now, and you know, I can say – especially with Julie being on board, that the support level for Swim America has gone up dramatically, and I can see where they are moving forward with this and getting more and more support for the program, and that is another big plus too. Just having that day when you can come in and just talk swim lessons.
The awards program with Swim America is awesome. I think it is brilliant in simplicity. First you have a certificate, and it is made out of a laminate paper. It is waterproof. It has got kind of an American flag kind of drawing on the front of it, and it has got little spots for stickers. Every time a swimmer passes a level, they get a little gold sticker. Because the certificates are laminate and waterproof, they are tear proof. They are not wrinkle proof – that’s for sure. Some parents will actually put them in plastic sleeves or put them in file folders, and they hang onto them and try to keep them as neat as possible. You know if the kids trash them, we will give them another one. That is not a big deal. On the back of the certificate, it lists the advancement goals for each level, so the swimmer, the coach, and the parent all know what is going on. The parent can sit there and read it and understand the criteria. It is a great award for them. The kids love getting the stickers, and so they love their awards.
It is a nationally certified program. We compete against the Red Cross and the YMCA’s and other lesson programs. It is great to be able to say that our program is a program that was created by the American Swimming Coaches Association. Some people will say that they are not looking for a swim team. That is fine, but having a National Organization back your lesson program gives credibility. People ask me why I don’t start my own program. I say, why would I start my own program when it is right here all set up for me? All I had to do was go to two days of meetings. Back then, I think it was about $1,500 or something like that. Now I believe it is $3,200 to become a Swim America Program Director, so for $3,200 you can start a business that can make you hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. It is just so cheap and easy to set up.
We do have parents research the program. They find out that we are running Swim America, and they go online, and they want to know what that means. Having that National Certification behind us is a big bonus. I know that there are people who have been successful running their own lesson programs. I didn’t have the time or the energy to reinvent that wheel, so we went with Swim America. Swim America is a true bargain. Swim America is $3,200 to become a program director. I believe it is $300 for the site supervisor. When we started our lesson program, I was a program director. We didn’t have a site supervisor, so I was my own site supervisor, and I was on deck all the time. We had a small program. Our program has grown from one to two pools. We have separate site supervisors at each facility. In fact, we have two supervisors at each facility now. At Marmion we may have 50-60 kids in the water for some of our summer lessons in our 8 lane pool, so we have three supervisors on deck, and they kind of cover different zones. We are at a point with our program now that I kind of mentioned earlier, that I am on deck. This year it was a lot because we started a new pool, and I wanted to be there. It was a Wellness Center, and I wanted to make sure that we were doing everything right. I didn’t want to get kicked out in the first month, so I was there a lot. I was probably there about 15-20% of the time. At Marmion I am there about 2% of the time, because I have Kyle. He and I are on the exact same page. Usually if I am at the lessons, I am there just at the beginning because I need to talk to a supervisor or talk to somebody, or we need to just see where we are and make sure we have enough instructors. I just like to make sure that Kyle and I are on the same page. I spend very little time at my lesson program; like I said, we are going to do probably $200,000 this year and even at 20%, that is still $40,000 coming to me, and I don’t do a lot of work for that money. I am busy doing my other stuff with the swim teams and the high school teams and being the Aquatic Director for the facilities, so I can make sure that we keep those pools for lessons.
I am the Aquatic Director of both pools that we run our lessons in, so we have control of the water. I have control of all the programming, and if you do not control the water that you are running your swim team or swim lesson program out of, then your business is very, very vulnerable. We had a situation with a high school swimmer a couple of years ago where the swimmer quit the team. I had no problem with that, but I wouldn’t let him back on. I was thinking about it when we were getting ready to meet with the parents and the Athletic Director and assuming it was going to go to the principal. I worried that it might get to a, “You let this kid on the team or else!” kind of thing. I thought, would I say no? I didn’t want to let this kid on the team, but then I didn’t want to get fired and then lose a $200,000 dollar a year business. It made me really kind of stop and pause. It never got to that point, but you know it made me really think, do I really have as much control over this as I thought? The situation worked out fine and we had no problems with our pools, but it does make you think. Even though I am an Aquatic Director, and I have great control, there are a lot of people that don’t have that much control of their pools. It is really important to get solid contracts on your pools.
A lot of Swim America programs use Risk Management for their insurance. It used to be the Insurer with USA Swimming, and I think they still have some things in common. It is around $4.00 a swimmer. It is not $4.00 per swimmer per lesson. It is $4.00 per swimmer, so once a swimmer signs up, and he takes 10 sets of lessons throughout the year, he is only paying that $4.00 once. That $4.00 covers the insurance, and I believe it is a two million dollar liability. There is also insurance to cover loss from injury/death and those kinds of things. You also have the cost of insurance for your instructors. Your fixed cost is $3200 to start the program, and that is a one-time thing.
Another question somebody asked me earlier in the week was how much do you pay Swim America every year, and I said nothing. We buy our certificates through them. We buy our stickers through them. They do some promotional things, and there are some other things that you can buy from Swim America, but the bulk that we do is our stickers and our certificates. I think the certificates are around a dollar apiece. Whereas other lesson programs may require a $300 a year membership, if you have multiple sites, or if your program is deemed a big program, you may be required to pay up to $1,000 a year. That isn’t very cost effective. We therefore, pay it up front with Swim America as a one-time deal. As I said, it is really inexpensive, and we have seen growth in virtually every year that we’ve been running our lesson program. For this year, we are already ahead. We are starting our September/October session tomorrow, and we will run another session in November/December. We are already probably 10 or 15% ahead of where we finished last year.
Now that we are in this new Westside facility, even in the first year, every one of our classes is filled for September/October. Most of the classes have about 12 kids in them, but next year we will add more classes and we will fill them. I want the classes to fill because I want people to have a little bit of a sense of urgency to come and sign up for our classes and get in early. We have one or two classes that are not full right now.
The Wellness Center has about 9,000 members or something like that, so we have had growth, and I am happy with our growth. I think that we can grow faster, but like I said, I want to get to a million dollar program, and I think we can do that. If we can get to that point, we will probably be looking at other facilities. We are always looking for more pools. We are going to hire a Marketing Firm, and I am going to meet with the guy, and we are going to meet again next week to try to even grow the program faster. When I first started the lesson program, my wife would always ask me why I would always tell people my secrets of doing business? Why do I tell people so much? Why do I tell people how to do this? I say that it doesn’t really matter. They are not going to do it anyway. I think in the first ten years of telling people how to run a Swim America program and showing them how much money I am making and showing them what we do, they just didn’t do it.
My final thought is if you are thinking about starting a program now, I know Mark Schubert, or one of the Olympic Coaches said he doesn’t like the Nike slogan, “Just Do It”, well in this situation I do. Get out there and just do it. My catch phrase is, “Pull the Trigger.” You can sit there and talk about how hard it is. I don’t know if I want to run a lesson program, and there is a lot of risk in that. I think a lot of coaches have an employee mentality. I used to have a bit of an employee mentality myself. The employee mentality is that owning a business is risky, and I could not disagree with that more. I think being an employee is risky. I have two pools. If one of my pool owners says I cannot be in here, and I can’t run my pool lessons in that pool anymore, then the next day, all my employees are going to be out of a job. I am going to still have a job. I won’t make as much money, but I am still going to have a job. Kyle, who just called me, is probably going to lose his job, or he is going to have his salary cut way back, or we are going to figure out a way to get those people put into another facility. So, I firmly believe that being an employee is risky.
We have a club in our area where the CEO is the head coach. It is a parent-run club. He went on vacation to Arizona and when he got back the club had dissolved. The president of the board, or rather the ex-president of the club dissolved the board. He didn’t follow their by-laws, and there are going to be a ton of lawsuits over this. The bottom line is that those two employees do not have a job – even though they were doing a good job – it didn’t matter. There were a couple of parents who wanted to torpedo the program and move over here so that they could get their kids on a better team. I just think being an employee is very risky, I went to the Swim America Conference, and I was telling Sue Nelson about this. I read a book called, “From the Rich Dad/Poor Dad” series. The author is Robert Keosocki, and he has a series of books called “Rich Dad/Poor Dad”, and one of them was “Retire Young/Retire Rich”, and it talks about the difference between an employer and an employee. I am a firm believer in owning your own programs. I used to work at a Y and as I said before, if I had stayed at that Y for two or three more years…. my dad was a developer. He owned an Ace Hardware. My brother built two more Ace Hardwares….I would be running an Ace Hardware today, and I would not be standing here talking to you, because I would not have stayed in that environment. Therefore, I am a huge advocate of owning your own swim lesson program; owning your own team; being your own boss; doing it your way, and if you are doing a good job, and you treat people well, then you are going to find that your business is going to be successful.
When we first started the team, people couldn’t believe how much guts we had, and I was nervous. I didn’t know if people were going to want to swim for a coach-owned program. We now have so many parents on our team that were Presidents of other teams and on the boards of other teams, and they hated the politics so much that they are now flocking to our club which is at 200 kids. I don’t think we could take another swimmer unless we used shoe horns to get them in the pool. That is how crowded we are. We are always looking for more water so that we can continue to expand our program. My final advice to people is to “Pull the Trigger” and do it. You are not going to make a ton of money in the first year. You need to build the name. We get growth because we have parents who love our lesson program and go out and tell all their friends. If I am having a bad day or I am just not in a good mood, I go stand by the door of our swim lessons. When the parents come in and out, they just tell me how great my lesson program is and how great I am and how awesome this is. It is the biggest ego booster you can get! They love it because their kids are being taught well. My daughter is a softball pitcher and her pitching coach has her kids in our lesson program now, and every time I see her at a pitching lesson, I hear how much Ian loved his lessons. Now he wants to be on the swim team, and that is all they talk about. We spend the first ten minutes of her lesson talking about swimming, and it drives my daughter nuts. We spend a lot of time talking about lots of things like that, so I just can’t stress enough to “Pull the Trigger” and to get out there and get the ball rolling on this. If I had waited and waited and waited, I would be talking about a $75,000 lesson program – not a $200,000 lesson program. I just can’t stress that enough.
Questions? When I said 12 kids, I meant 12 kids in one lesson. We have three or four instructors for those 12 kids. One of the big things that we do is have our average class size at 3.75 kids per instructor. That is our average size and in our preschool program, we guarantee a 3:1 ratio. I pray to God that all my instructors show up every day because we guarantee it, and so we will have typically – like at Provena we run 12 kids per class, but we only have 9 kids in our preschool classes because that way we can have three instructors all the way through and you know – some classes we have 10 or 11 kids in it, but our average class size in our regular school age program – at Marmion we will put 40 or 50 kids in the water, and I think in the fall right now, our class size is around 30 kids, so we will have 11 or 12 instructors so that we can run all 10 levels and keep the balance. At Provena, because we only have two lanes at a time, we run a level 1-3 class. We run a level 4-6 class and then we run our “take your mark” program and those are three separate classes.
Q/A: I do it all myself. I use Quick Books. I just switched to a Mac this year from Windows and I absolutely love my Macintosh Computer except for Quick Books, because in a windows environment Quick Books has a payroll tax table which is all within the program. In the Mac environment maybe Windows couldn’t figure it out or Quick Books couldn’t figure it out, or they figured they could make more money if they charged a separate service, so the payroll is a little bit trickier, but we do payroll. We take taxes out. Atrix is the payroll software that we use, and if you put in the hours, they know the alogrithms and all the taxes and everything like that. It automatically comes out. I just put the hours in and print the tax. We also have some salaried employees. They get direct deposit. My hourly ones do not, because it is too much of a hassle to change those direct deposit numbers every week. It is much easier to write the checks and give them to the kids that way, but we do all of that. At the end of each quarter and each month I pay my payroll taxes back to the Federal Government, and if you are going to start a business, get a lawyer and get an accountant right away, and make sure the payroll is very simple to run. It is very easy to do, but if you make a mistake – especially when you pay your own payroll, you are an Agent of the IRS. When you withhold that money from your employees to go to pay the taxes, you are now a collection agency for the IRS, so you have to pay that money back to the IRS, and you can do it online.
They have this EFTPS system – Federal Tax payment system, but if you are one day late, it is a 20% fine on the total amount of the payroll. It is ridiculous, and so my advice is don’t be late. It cost me two or three thousand dollars my first year in the business because instead of our reporting being quarterly, it had to be monthly, and so we ended up paying penalties. I have an accountant who looks over all my stuff, and he does all my quarterly reporting, and then he gives it back to me, and I send everything out. That just gives me a second set of eyes. I do know that there are coaches that pay kids under the table. I know that there are directors who pay people in cash. It is a great money saver, but if you get caught, you will go to jail. It is just that simple. If you get caught not taking payroll taxes out and running a business like that, you cannot even imagine the fines, and I would imagine that if some kid got hurt in your lesson program, it would be the wrath of God coming down on you. I just can’t imagine dealing with that. I pay it. I didn’t want to pay the site supervisors and then have them do it for one summer and leave, but you know, our business slate is $300 out of $200,000, and it is not enough for me to worry about. We just go and hire somebody else and deal with it. We try to hire good people up front and hope that they are loyal. Most of the people that work for me are kids that swam for me. As we expand, we are doing school day lessons; we are starting to hire more and more people other than former swimmers.
Q/A: It depends on the size of the class. In those classes in the summertime at Marmion, we have 50-60 kids on deck. We will have at least two – depending. We used to be as high as 80 kids, but this year when we went to the two sites we dropped the Marmion site back down to about 60, and then we had a lot of kids that were over by the Provena Pool that I knew were going to go over there and take those lessons, so you know, some of those kids moved over. Even with 60 kids, we had three supervisors on deck. At Provena with 12-15 kids, we only had one supervisor on deck. Right now we go five days a week. We are new at Provena, so we are only running Monday.
Q/A: They do it. The kids do the tests and everything, but we do not sign them up. They are high school kids, so we do not sign them up as Swim America coaches and that kind of stuff. We do not do the levels like that, and we get kids for one or two years, and it is out there if they want to do it. That is just not something we really use.
Q/A: I am sorry; how often do I have a meeting with Julie or with the swimmer? Well, when I am not turning my stuff in for the Clinic, I am talking to Julie every week. I probably talk to Julie three or four times a year. We do get correspondence from Julie and emails and things like that so maybe just because I have been doing it for almost 15 years we are kind of in a rhythm with it. It is interesting coming here this weekend. I have been coaching since 1985, and that talk last night that was poolside had so much good information, and then on Tuesday the Swim America conference. You read about stuff in emails, but then you see it live. You can see how this might work in our program or how we could add some things or do some thing differently.
Q/A: Oh my site supervisors….we meet, but, we very rarely sit down and have a meeting. Because we are at two different sites – I am not a meeting kind of guy really. I am not that formal with it, and when we do training and things like that, I like to let my supervisors do things the way they want to do them. They still have to follow our parameters and still follow the lesson program, but if they would rather stand on the side of the pool than the end of the pool, I am just using a random example, that’s fine. If they want to hand out the certificates at the front table, that’s fine. If they would rather have the teachers hand them out – those kinds of things – as long as it gets done – I really don’t care how they do it. There are certain things that we want to get done and there are certain attitudes that we want to have and there is certain conduct that we want to have, so I make sure that we are doing that. We do hire good people, and they are people I have known for a long time, so that tends not to be a problem. I will usually meet with a site or the staff -usually the lead staff of a site. If we are having problems with one or two employees, I will meet with them personally. I don’t mind being the bad guy. Because of that, my supervisors don’t have to come down and always be the hammer on everything. At the hospital that I work at, every Monday we have a meeting at 2:00 and at 2:15 the meeting starts, and we go through the same inane stuff every single week, and it is just like splinters in your eyes to me. There are cases when we have to sit down and have a meeting and make sure we are all on the same pages – especially with Provena when the hospital was getting started. I have contact with them, and I am deeply involved in my business, but we don’t just do meetings like that all that much.
Q/A: We do a classroom session, and then we do the pool session. In the classroom session, we spend a lot of time talking about everything. We talk about the skills they are going to teach. We spend more time talking about how they are going to teach those skills. We talk a lot about the difference between visual demonstration versus oral instruction and things like that. There are a hundred ways to say good job, and there are words that I never want to hear out of my instructor’s mouths. Do it again and that kind of stuff. First of all, you probably do not want them to do the same thing. You want them to do it right. We want constant instruction. We talk a lot about body language. I tell my instructors, if you are standing like this saying oh good job, good job, you are doing great, you are doing awesome. Do you know what the parents are thinking? You could be standing out there like this and not saying a word, and the parents are going to think that you are doing a better job. Your body position, and how you portray yourself, and how you stand over a swimmer like this and are talking to him like that and you need to get down to their level and talk to them so you are not this intimidating force above him. We talk a lot about how to teach swimmers how to communicate. There is a sender and a receiver. It doesn’t matter how hard the sender is working if the receiver is not getting the message. There is then no communication. We talk a lot about safety, obviously. We talk about situations where we have benches that we put in the water. In our old pool, the jets were on the side, and they had the diverters on the jets, so the water did not come out a hundred miles an hour. One of the diverters had broken and the water was coming out super, super hard, and we had a situation where the swimmer got blown right off the bench. It was a level 2 class, and here is the bench, but where is the teacher? The teacher is over here like this with her back to her kids. We really tell all of our instructors that they need to be aware of what all the kids on the bench are doing. Don’t just get so locked into your three or four swimmers. Know your situational awareness. This instructor had a kid, and she lets this kid go. She puts the kid on the bench, turns around and grabs the other swimmer. Unfortunately, she put the kid on the bench directly in front of the jet. Boom! The kid pops off again, and it never got to a point that we had a near-drowning situation. However, this is an example that we give every year, because this is one of the most dramatic ones that we have ever had, so we spend a lot of time speaking about safety. You can never take your eyes off your group. You have got to keep your group together.
Q/A: No. Marmion is not. It is 82 degrees at the high school pool. I am the aquatic director and most high school pools are 80. I keep ours at 82 just so I can piss everybody off. The swimmers think it is too hot. The lesson kids think it is too cold, so at least everyone is equally unhappy with me. It is interesting. I have talked to two college coaches recently about Swim America, and I have had a couple of people say well, we don’t have warm water. I asked if they had a diving team. They said they did, and I told them to get a hot tub. What gave me the idea was the University of Minnesota. They have got this monster hot tub at that pool. I said to set it for 90 degrees. You don’t have to turn the jets on or anything. Just keep the water cycling through it. If you can tell your diving coach to get a hot tub, and then just don’t schedule your warm water lessons during diving, you could make a mountain of money in that little pool. We have a 15 X 15 foot area that we run probably 80% of our levels 1-3 preschool program at the hospital. That is two lanes to the backstroke flags. That is where our area is. You may not have the room, but even if you could do a 10’ by 20’ hot tub or a 10’ by 15’ hot tub with benches on it, your kids can stand on there. Mecklenburg Aquatic Club has a three or four lane, three foot deep pool, and it is their warm-down pool for their big meets. Jeff Gaeckle had said that it is a warm-water pool for them. He said that little pool pays for the big pool – the 50 meter competition pool. They make all their money on the little pool which is the warm-water pool. I don’t have a diving team, so I don’t know how I am going to explain the hot tub on my pool deck. Yeah exactly! Let the other coaches come in too. I will have the football coaches get turned onto the idea and then let the boosters pay for it. Boosters are all about football at our school.
Q/A: We started out with the advertising flyers and getting the messages out to all the elementary schools, etc. How many times do we have to do that? When we first started off, we were only a summer program, so we did it in the spring, and we tried to get it done right before spring break. In Aurora and North around Batavia, there are three towns that really make up our lesson program. They just got a new Superintendent in Batavia this year, so I got really, really nervous. However, I wrote a letter to his guy and sent him my flyer, and two days later he said okay. In Aurora, every single principal has to okay the flyers, and it is a colossal pain. You have to constantly hound the principals. It is not important to them, so it makes it much more difficult. One of my coaches teaches at one of the schools, and so if I don’t hear back from that school, I tell my coach to go talk to him, so that is how we do that. We do it once a year. Even though we are year-round, we still only do it once a year. I am just nervous to do it twice a year. I am just afraid that if we try to double that, it might become just a little bit obtrusive, and they might say well, wait a minute. We are not going to support your program all year around.
Q/A: We price our own. When I started my program, it was $55.00 for eight lessons, and I quickly realized that that was not going to work. We now charge by the lesson. When I first started we went four days a week for two weeks, and then we had four sessions like that, so eight weeks. Everything fit in a nice little box, and we went Monday through Thursday because all of my instructors swim at meets on the weekends. If the 4th of July falls on a Wednesday, well that week we do a Friday lesson and now we are running lessons year around. We might have a seven week session because Thanksgiving is in there or something like that, so we now price by the lesson. We charge $11.00 per lesson for our school age program, and we charge $13.00 for our preschool program. The difference is that we guarantee the 3:1 ratio for the school age program. We have the most expensive swim lessons in the area and usually when you tell people the price, the first thing is dead silence. I just come right back at them and I challenge them to find more expensive lessons. We have the best lessons, and I guarantee that when they come to our lessons, they are going to find that they are getting more in our 8 lessons than they can get in 30 lessons someplace else. That is the value of our lessons. There are lesson programs out there that charge more. In Michigan, I saw a former swimmer, who used to be really competitive against a couple of our swimmers, start a lesson program in the Detroit area. I think she charges $18.00 for a group lesson per lesson, so I mean the prices can vary around the country. Do we collect that $11.00 every day? No. We do online registration, and I cannot stress enough how valuable online registration is. We set the classes up. Except for our “take your mark” program which meets twice a week for a total of 16 classes, all of our classes are 8 class sessions. We set that up on line, and they click on it. They register. They pay $88.00 for those classes. I believe the cost of the other classes is $104.00. We used to do the registration by hand, and we always did it as sets of lessons. There are other lesson programs out there, and I think Jack Nelson used to do it this way in Lauderdale, where you would buy 10 lessons at a time. You would then receive a punch card. Every time you show up, you punch out. You can show up whenever you want. Now I have no idea how you set up that. I can’t imagine that, but the thing with Jack was if you lost the card, then you were out of luck. I am sure they had some sort of a system there. You used the punch card when you wanted to. He said many people would misplace the card or they would get done at the end of the session and still have three or four lessons left. They would lose the card and then buy a new card the next year. You end up collecting a lot of money for lessons that you were not actually giving.
Q/A: Because I know which classes for us fill the quickest, and which ones take a little bit longer to fill up, I can price it however I want. Everybody wants to come to that 9 o’clock class. Nobody wants to come to the 2 pm class on a Saturday. Some people only do private lessons or small semi-private lessons. We charge $11 per student for a group lesson. We charge $35 for a private or semi-private lesson. What you are paying for is that instructor’s time and that pool space for a half an hour. If you want to do a semi-private lesson that is fine. Go and find a friend, but you will pay me $35.00. We typically block private lessons in blocks of 4. You can do more if you want, but I do not want to do one or two lessons. We are constantly rescheduling the instructor and trying to get this to work. We set up a time. We block it typically at 4 at a time, because now you are paying like $140.00. There are people out there that charge $350.00 for a block of 8 private lessons. We try to do it a little bit differently. If you want to do a semiprivate lesson here, it is $35.00. One person is going to register online for it. The rest of you guys are going to do it your own way, so if you want to bring a friend, that’s fine, and that way if one person does not show up and the instructor shows up, we don’t get paid half. We get the whole money all the time.