The former surveyor and rugby ace saw a national need to make such lessons more accessible. Now 54,000 clients a week are taught the life-saving skills, building confidence and the capacity to enjoy the pleasures only being in the water can bring. Over the years Water Babies has been at the forefront of a social change that has seen a growth in activities for younger children and recognition of the benefits by parents that outweigh financial pressures they may also be coping with. Today the network has a £25 million turnover and over 70 franchises within its fold in seven countries from Canada to China. These teach little ones – from as young as a day old up to five years – how to swim by focussing on breathing control to avoid water inhalation and using play techniques such as blowing bubbles.
Its 800 teachers are the only ones globally whose training qualification and Water Babies’ diploma are part of their government’s education programme.
It takes some £30,000 to start a franchise from scratch. Lessons, costing from £15 with 10 usually needed, are the prime source of income, but Water Babies photography services, including high-resolution underwater portraits, some 250,000 images are captured every year, have also proved a popular draw for customers.
“We have never had a franchise fail, a tremendous record for our industry,” observes Thompson, based in Devon. “Our family-centric approach and strong recruitment system prioritise the right people not money.
“Water Babies is run like a mini PLC with a three-year strategic plan with a 10 per cent growth target that we have beaten.”
The majority of online inquiries come from mobiles and a digital transformation to make the website mobile-first with online booking is underway.
It was a move into China that required the business to build its own aquatic centres.
“This has fundamentally changed our future direction. With this proof of concept we’re now intent on building them in every franchise territory,” says Thompson currently putting the finishing touches to a multi-million-pound external funding package.
A partnership with Olympic Games supplier Myrtha Pools will see an aquatic centre in Stirling next year and another in Germany and further sites earmarked in Exeter and Bristol.
The plan is the premium facilities will also house aquanatal classes run by sister company WaterBumps.
HSBC supported Water Babies and provides “services to many Water Babies’ franchisees operating successfully in the UK and overseas,” says Andrew Brattesani, the bank’s UK head of franchising.
“It’s possible to franchise almost any business and companies should examine this option as a third way to growth to complement organic expansion and acquisition. Water Babies is a fantastic example of a company taking a simple idea globally.”
The growing awareness of physical and mental health and bonding with your children are boxes that Water Babies uniquely ticks,” adds Thompson, “and all within a single class.”
Published at Thu, 05 Sep 2019 12:10:00 +0000