At Goldfish Swim School It's All About People and Team, Part 2
This is part 2 of our Q&A profile of Chris McCuiston. Part 1 told the story of his journey from the baseball diamond to co-founder and CEO of Goldfish Swim School. Part 1 covered leadership and management. Here he discusses operations, the bottom line, and answers some questions about himself. For the full interview, see the digital edition of our Q4 issue of Franchise Update magazine.
What trends are you seeing with consumer spending habits in your business? Fortunately, we are a more recession-resistant business. Because we teach a life skill, parents continue to prioritize helping their children become safer.
How is the economy driving consumer behavior in your system? Through the rise in wages comes the ability for parents to continue to afford swim lessons for their children. With the talk of a recession, parents will consider cutting other “non-essential” expenses, while keeping safety-focused activities—like swim lessons—a part of their weekly routine.
What are you expecting from your market in the next 12 months? We currently have a strong pipeline of schools in development and are on track to open 35 to 40 schools over the next 12 months.
Are your franchisees bullish or bearish about growth and adding units? The majority of our system is bullish on our swim school industry. And the bullish franchisees are growing at a faster pace than ever.
Are commodity/supplies costs any cause for concern in your system? Yes. Our buildouts are already a sizable investment, so anytime you have the cost of construction increase, that’s a concern. Additionally, some of the in-water teaching tools that we use come from outside the U.S., so delays can cause us to have to move fast to find suitable alternatives.
In what ways are political/global issues impacting the market and your brand? Global issues will always affect the sourcing of the best products to run our business. As far as politics, we are always concerned with taking good care of our people and franchisees, and sometimes politics can get in the way of running a successful small business. Labor issues and how employees are defined in a franchise organization can sometimes be muddied.
What time do you like to be at your desk? I arrive at my desk around 8:30 or 9 a.m., after dropping our four sons off at school.
Exercise in the morning? Wine with lunch? I exercise after work while the kids are at swim practice, and I have wine with dinner. Wine at lunch is for the weekends or during vacation for me. During the week, it’s all business!
Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office? Yes, but mainly after quarterly planning sessions, team-building activities, or at conferences.
Last two books read: The Advantage and Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.
What technology do you take on the road? Everything Apple: iPhone, MacBook Pro, iPad Pro.
How do you relax/balance life and work? A mix between family time, golf, time at the lake, and date nights with my wife!
Favorite vacation destination: Maui, Hawaii.
Favorite occasions to send employees notes: Birthdays and work anniversaries. Birthdays are always a special day for someone, and I like to recognize years of service. We are grateful for the team that we have, and I want to acknowledge their commitment to the brand.
Favorite company product/service: Our parent/tot mini-lessons. Not only is it amazing to see these young children and parents bond in the water, these classes are the foundation for the learn-to-swim process and the backbone of our business. The more success we have with the youngest age group lessons, the safer children will be, and the more successful we will be toward our mission.
What are your long-term goals for the company? We hope to have 260 schools operating by the end of 2024, as well as more of an international presence. We currently have two locations in Ontario, Canada, and I believe that we can increase that number dramatically.
How has the economy changed your goals for your company? The economy hasn’t changed the goals for our company as far as the total quantity of locations is concerned. It has just helped us become more realistic about how quickly we can open up schools.
Where can capital be found these days? We have a strong network and mix of local and big banks, as well as ApplePie Capital and the SBA supporting our franchisees.
How do you measure success? By the number of existing franchisees adding schools to their portfolios, as well as by new franchisees coming into our brand from other reputable franchise brands much larger than ours. If you have a good model and a good reputation for supporting franchisees, you’ll attract quality franchisees.
What has been your greatest success? Starting a business and a family with my wife. She has been my rock. I call her my “oracle” because she has always had such a clear vision for this brand, and she is incredibly wise. She is also the CEO of our household and does a wonderful job being a leader to our four young boys.
Any regrets? No regrets. Everything works out how it should and we are here by the grace of God. It’s easy to look back and wish I had made different decisions along the way, but I’m very thankful for where I’m at, and I take nothing for granted.
What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months? We plan to open more than 70 schools over the next 12 to 24 months and continue to remain committed to our vision of opening more than 260 schools by 2024. The only changes you’ll see are different annual goals, but we will continue to live by our core values, build a cohesive team, and nurture an amazing culture with our franchisees.
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