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Brian Garrison is President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Buzz Franchise Brands (BFB), parent company of home service franchise brands Pool Scouts and Home Clean Heroes, and President of British Swim School, acquired by BFB in April 2019.
He joined Buzz Franchise Brands in 2015 and served also as the COO of Mosquito Joe until it was sold to Neighborly in 2018. He previously worked as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company in Washington, D.C.
He is a Boston-area native who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and The Wharton School, and served over 20 years as a Naval officer in various leadership roles in naval aviation, including command of an F-18 squadron.
Follow British Swim School on Facebook.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- About British Swim School
- How BSS rebounded in 2021
- The integration of Buzz Franchise Brands and British Swim School
- Long-term outlook for BFB and BSS
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:07] Welcome to Franchise Marketing Radio, brought to you by SEOSamba, comprehensive, high performing marketing solutions for mature and emerging franchise brands to supercharge your franchise marketing, go to seosamba.com. That’s seosamba.com
Lee Kantor: [00:00:31] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Franchise Marketing Radio, and this is going to be a good one. Today we have with us Brian Garrison with British Swim School. Welcome, Brian.
Brian Garrison: [00:00:41] Hey, thanks so much for having me. Great to be here today.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:44] Well, I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about British swim school.
Brian Garrison: [00:00:49] Absolutely so, British Swim school is a learn to swim provider, we cover kind of all aspects of the swim school industry. So by that I mean think of kind of a learning how to survive or water survival for young children as young as three to six months, all the way through stroke development for your basic strokes and kind of recreational swim teams into the teens. And of course, we offer adult lessons and special abilities type offering. So kind of a full scale but really focused in on those kind of preteen ages and in just a great business model where we partner with locally available commercial pools in the territories of our franchise owner. So there’s not a big capital investment, not a big time horizon to get a dedicated facility built. We’re partnering with fitness clubs and hotels and the like. So really compelling business model, a kind of rapid time to open and pretty easy to scale. So very exciting.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:46] How did it start as kind of a mom and pop and then evolved into a franchise or was it built to be franchised?
Brian Garrison: [00:01:53] So great question, it’s the former, and so in fact, the name stems from the founder was actually a competitive swimmer in the U.K., but the name of Rita Goldberg, and she actually founded the swim school in Manchester, England, when she retired from competitive swimming, and that was back in nineteen eighty one. So we’re actually celebrating our fortieth year as a swim school business this summer. But she brought it to the US southern Florida, specifically in the mid 90s when she came over, ran a number of corporate locations in New York, Chicago, D.C., Florida, started franchising about 10 years ago. So now we’re 10 years into this as a franchising concept. We’re about seventy five owners, about one hundred fifteen open territories across twenty three states. So pretty exciting.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:41] Now, how did the franchise do during covid?
Brian Garrison: [00:02:47] Yes, a great question. We were definitely impacted and as you can imagine, it’s kind of a retail, you know, close contact service business. So we we were basically shut down from the first week in March until about the first week in June and then started reopening over the course of twenty twenty, kind of depending on the local conditions. So we’re in the US and Canada. I should have mentioned that. And depending on the state and even down to the city or county, you know, we reopened at certain times over the course of the year and really had a strong rebound. And now we’re basically 100 percent open. We have a few owners. Our Canadian owners are still kind of working through the latest kind of lock down mandate up there. And we have two or three owners in the US who have kind of unique issues where they’re not able to open yet, but than that fully reopen. And I really feel like the reopening phase of the last year set the stage for really a strong recovery this year. Happy to provide some detail on that, if that’s helpful.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:51] Yeah, yeah. Let’s dove into that a little bit. And what were you doing that enabled you to kind of get this kind of momentum?
Brian Garrison: [00:04:00] Absolutely, so we were having a pretty strong year in January, February last year, we’re growing about thirty five percent year over year, which is kind of right on our budget forecast. And then, of course, everything came to kind of a screeching halt in in March, as I mentioned. So, you know, we think of three main drivers to what allowed us to reopen and rebound so quickly. And so one was we really kind of doubled down from a franchising perspective. Our corporate team here, we immediately kind of stopped all financial requirements for our franchisees. We deferred fees back into February, basically wanted to make them feel comfortable that they could manage themselves through the crisis from a cash perspective. So I think that was very well received. The second is we we really focused on helping them make the right decisions. I say to them, I mean, our franchise owners, of course, helping them make the right decisions as far as furloughing their teams, negotiating with their local vendors, thinking to kind of keeping them focused on the long term. And then the third is that we we worked pretty hard, especially through our national director of aquatics, Melissa McGarvie, really got involved with the US Swim School Association, with various local charities and governments to really make the case that we could deliver our service into the swim school business in a very covid safe environment.
Brian Garrison: [00:05:33] So we we kind of reimagine what that meant. We reduced some of our class ratios. We introduced face shields. We worked with our pool partners to kind of minimize the flow of people onto, into and out of the pool and pool deck area. And so we invested a lot of time and communication, energy, if you will, making the case know state by state, sometimes even writing letters to to the governors and whatnot to let us reopen sooner rather than later. So throughout the course of the summer, when a lot of the retail businesses were still shut down, we were starting to reopen work through the process, make sure our families were comfortable to come back to the service and to the schools. And it really kind of gave us a head start heading into the fall. And now twenty, twenty one has been supercharged for us.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:20] Now, what does that kind of ideal franchisee look like? Is there kind of a profile you develop over the years?
Brian Garrison: [00:06:29] I would say yes, I think the key differentiator, certainly you want some management experience, preferably maybe some marketing experience or at least an understanding of running a small business. But, you know, the differentiator is something where they want the independence of being a small business owner, the opportunity to grow wealth. But really, do you have a passion for making a difference in their communities? Right. So that could be maybe they come from an early childhood development background. Maybe they have an aquatics background or maybe they’re just at a point in their lives that they should have done very well. I want the flexibility of being a small business owner, but I want to do something that’s really purpose driven. And so that’s what we look for. Certainly we see a fair number of corporate transactions. We do see kind of husband, wife or business partner or some other duo where one person wants to be kind of the face of the business and the marketing and sales and brand development. The other wants to kind of run the aquatics team. So there’s got to be that one that one piece of passion around the purpose driven nature of the business.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:39] Now now is an ideal franchisee, somebody who is getting in the pool, or is this something that you can just manage a bunch of people and build the team?
Brian Garrison: [00:07:49] So great question, I would say, can be either one, there’s just a little bit different org structure. If I think of our top five to eight business owners, that top 20 percent, most of them are doing well over a million dollars in revenue. We have two or three of them that still like to get in the pool. That kind of came up as a true owner operator and bootstrapped it in the water. And then the remainder are really more corporate or other professional services types who came in with an eye towards I’m going to build a team, I’m going to know what the aquatics program should look like at its best and be able to provide better quality control than an owner needs to do. But I have no intention of getting in the water. So it really works both ways. And we coach and advise our owners on, OK, if you want to go down this path, your hiring profile and the team you want to build looks like this. You want to go down the path of being never in the water that we need to kind of think through a little differently. Who’s leading your aquatics team and making sure we’re finding the right person.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:58] Now, does this franchise work best in kind of the warm weather cities or is can it work in the, you know, kind of north in the Midwest and the upper states in the top of the country?
Brian Garrison: [00:09:10] Yeah, sure. Great question. So it works all over. And I say we’re in twenty three states. We have a real nice density in the northeast. So Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. We started as corporate locations in Florida. So we have Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and then of course not, of course, but then we have a handful in the California and Arizona market as well as up in Seattle. So because we’re largely call it eighty five percent plus in indoor pools, the weather and the seasonality really doesn’t matter. We do operate or have opportunities to work in outdoor pools, but that’s really kind of that’s where it becomes more southern state or southwest state, the north.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:59] Now, in your growth, are you looking for that kind of person, they want to have their own business with their spouse and is looking just kind of have that second act maybe in their career? Are you looking for more empire builders that are either using this as a complementary business and they have a portfolio of franchises that are just trying to add this to a portfolio and they’re, you know, kind of take over the world mentality or is it kind of, you know, a lifestyle slash business, build my wealth for my family business?
Brian Garrison: [00:10:32] Sure. So we see a little bit of both. We definitely have some empire builders that are either complementing it with other, like I said, or I guess I didn’t mention, but early childhood, whether it’s like a, you know, an early childhood development center or a tutoring business or something of that respect, or maybe they have one of the two. If it’s a couple, one of them works in a school system. So they really understand the community and the people, but they want to build, you know, three, four, five, six territories. When I say territory, we’re looking at a unique set of zip codes that have at least are up to thirty five thousand kids under the age of 10. So really focusing in that target market and being able to develop the brand around that group. So we have people with three, four or five of the six territories who are looking to build an empire, maybe in conjunction with other businesses. But we also have those who feel like they can do very well with one or two territories. And as you said, there are a different point in their careers where they want something that’s a little more lifestyle and more meaningful, but still can be scaled. It in the scale is all in offering, you know, more days of the lessons that more pools. Basically, it’s a very simple model, the scale, and it’s truly a recurring revenue model because you’re building by the lesson or your invoicing on a monthly basis in advance. So, you know, the last week of June will bill for the month of July, etc..
Lee Kantor: [00:12:04] So now what what’s kind of the growth outlook for you guys? Are you looking pretty bullish now that we’re the pandemic’s kind of behind us, at least in the US?
Brian Garrison: [00:12:16] We are definitely very, very enthused, very bullish right now, we’re you know, we’re on track to exceed what we did in twenty nineteen. So when we first reopened in June of last year, our mindset was we powered through the worst of this. But there’s going to be you know, it’s probably a two year time horizon to rebound. And I think we probably cut that in half almost. And so at some high level numbers, close to sixty five percent of our owners are operating, you know, within 90 percent or higher of what they were doing in twenty nineteen. So there’s a lot of enthusiasm there. And then on the franchise development side, part of the reason that our parent company, both franchise and branch, part of the reason we acquire British film school with the aquatics program is is second to none. With Buzz. We have a really strong marketing component. And so when we looked at the ability to scale existing franchises to move more of the base towards the top performers in terms of customers and revenue and then three to four hundred unopened territories across the US and Canada, we really were pretty excited about the opportunity and what I would say even better than the rebound of our existing base is really the interest from from franchise candidates, the number of multiunit deals we’ve been able to to bring on in the first four or five months. I guess now the year has been very exciting and gives us really great confidence that twenty, twenty two is going to be even better than twenty twenty one.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:52] Now, are you finding that a lot of folks out there are looking towards franchising to kind of maintain or grow their family’s wealth because of a lot of people getting displaced or maybe frustrated with the corporate world?
Brian Garrison: [00:14:09] Sure, when I think of the group of owners we’ve brought on so far in twenty twenty one there, it’s about half and half, I would say half of them are pretty successful, pretty senior corporate types who either voluntarily left or unfortunately lost their positions because of the pandemic and felt like they’re not going to go back to an uncertain corporate environment when they had the opportunity to get into something different, more compelling. And then we have some people who are using it more as I’m going to grow this as my wife and I or my husband and I are going to grow this over the next two to three years, even as I continue with my corporate job, with the intent of stepping away in the future. So I think that’s probably pretty common, I would say, across franchising right now. But it’s definitely been our experience with British one school.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:03] And if somebody wanted to learn more, have more substantive conversation with you or somebody on the team, is there a website for prospective franchisee?
Brian Garrison: [00:15:12] Absolutely, Bruce. When school franchising dotcom, that’s where to find us. And we do a lot of the one on one calls with franchise owners or myself with interested candidates. And I’ve got a great franchise development team led by Timothy Holiday and Dave Warren. So they love talking to people and sharing the British home school story.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:34] Good stuff. Well, Brian, congratulations on all the success and thank you so much for sharing your story today.
Brian Garrison: [00:15:41] We really appreciate the time and appreciate all your listeners out there, so thanks so much for the opportunity. You got
Lee Kantor: [00:15:46] It. All right. This Lee Kantor. We’ll see you next time on Franchise Marketing Radio.