Episode #23


How to Grow a Franchise by Partnering Private Equity with Chris DeJong of Big Blue Swim School

If you have a passion for swimming then you’re in the same lane as the founder of the Big Blue Swim School franchise! He knew there had to be a better solution than renting pool time for swim lessons. His business was born out of a desire to offer better customer experience and a better learning environment for his students.

Chris DeJong grew up in the world of competitive swimming. After barely missing qualifying for the Olympics in 2004 and 2008, he knew it was time to move forward. So he took his passion for swimming and turned it into a thriving business. Listen to the full episode of Franchise Secrets for his story and how he believes you should properly operate a franchise.

Outline of This Episode

  • [0:35] I introduce my guest, Chris DeJong.
  • [2:45] What competitive swimmers go through
  • [6:20] Where the Big Blue Swim School started
  • [9:10] What sets them apart from the competition?
  • [13:35] Why Chris chose the route of franchising
  • [16:10] Building a relationship with his franchisees
  • [21:00] Bringing in Level 5 Capital Partners
  • [26:10] Advice for a new franchisor
  • [30:50] Last pieces of advice

The Big Blue Swim School franchise humble beginnings

Growing up, Chris spent his days between the beach or a pool. As he began swimming competitively, he’d spend 4+ hours a day swimming plus a land-based workout. He was the captain of the University of Michigan swim team and competed on the US National team for 9 years. He narrowly missed making the Olympics multiple times.

The lowest point in his life was when he made one of the best decisions of his life. He started teaching.

Starting his business was the passion that grew out of his disappointment. A saying that he loves is “It’s okay to give up 1,000 times as long as your feet never stop moving”. Take a step back, recover and gain perspective, and forge ahead. So he and his wife rented out pool time and began offering lessons. They built their weekly lesson base to over 600 kids a week—taking whatever pool time “scraps” they could get. Yet they were still gaining traction. After a lot of meetings with investors and hard work, they opened their own facility—jumping to 2200 students in the space of a week.

What sets Big Blue apart from the competition?

Chris wanted to build a business that served his students. A comfortable place to learn and grow that was family friendly. When you rent time at a pool you have no control over variables such as pool temperature, chemicals used, and the schedule available. He wanted to create a model where he got to control the variables.

Chris knew that understanding his customers was the key to repeat customers.

So they built out their facilities. They keep their pools at 91 degrees, offering comfortable water for kids to swim in. They take families into account and have an air-conditioned viewing room for parents. With individual showers and changing rooms, they are setting the bar high for the competition. Keep listening to find out what else makes them truly unique.

How Chris supports and encourages his franchisees

Chris decided to become a franchisor because he wanted to partner with people just as passionate about swimming as he is. He’s been fortunate enough to pull in franchisees with experience working in Orange Theory and Planet Fitness. They truly understand that space that he’s in. He loves that he gets to benefit from the expertise of everyone that becomes part of the team.

None of us is smarter than all of us, right?

His goal as a franchisor is to build mutually beneficial relationships with his franchisees. His franchise wants to anticipate problems and help overcome them. They’re part of the site selection, construction, marketing and so much more from day one. He believes you’re failing as a franchisor if you’re letting your brand new franchisees fend for themselves.

Partnering with Level 5 Capital Partners

Big Blue began working with Level 5 Capital Partners to begin building out their franchise model. It’s been a decision that has significantly impacted them for the better on a day-to-day level. They are data-driven and have their system down to a science. The sales and operation experience they bring to the table has helped Big Blue Swim School explode.

The swim school has now sold 45 franchise locations

With the expertise of Level 5 Capital Partners, Chris is confident in the direction they’re taking. He’s also confident in his product—the ability to swim is something that cannot be replaced. It is valuable across the country and is recession-resistant. Chris took a healthy economic model and paired it with expertise and passion—and now the sky's the limit.

Looking for more details and advice? Listen to the whole episode with Chris DeJong now!

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Chris DeJong

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