Special aquatic programs

When it comes to special aquatic programs and events, the goal is to create a memorable experience that sets you apart from everyone else in town. For example, did you know Santa can swim? Instead of just having Santa visit for a holiday party, hire a swimming Santa who will hop in the water and pose for photos in the pool with the kiddos.

Birthday splash parties are another way to generate revenue. Parents will gladly pay for value and convenience, so make sure the cost to the customer is packed with value. A package that includes themed decorations, room rental, food and swimming will practically sell itself.

Scout merit badge programs also are wildly popular. Design a special aquatic program that meets all the badge requirements of the Boy and/or Girl Scouts. Usually in under an hour, the Scout has earned a new badge and your facility is bringing in new dollars.

Specialized aquatic fitness classes are another option to boost revenue, and make a tremendous difference in the community.

One idea might be to create pocket water fitness classes for groups such as cancer survivors or new and expectant mothers. These individuals may be facing significant physical changes that could make it uncomfortable to be around others when in swimsuits. Specialized classes offer a supportive and safe environment that will help foster a healthy mind and body.

You might also consider offering kayak clubs or scuba classes.These activities can take up a considerable amount of programming space, so you’ll want to look at scheduling them during slow times, such as on Sunday mornings before the pool is open for general swimming. The clubs pay a premium for space and your profit margins increase due to low staffing requirements.

Beyond the specialized options, think about becoming a hub for general health, fitness and safety by offering a mix of dry options. Use classroom or deck space — and consider partnering with your local American Red Cross to provide community classes such as pet CPR, baby-sitting and first aid. Once the people are at your facility, it’s the perfect opportunity to showcase your aquatic offerings.

Finally, tap into the power of free “teaser classes.”Parents waiting for kids in swim lessons are a great audience. When they want to learn more, provide help registering them for the next regular class session.

Partnerships and sponsorships

Create simple, inexpensive business partnerships and sponsorships for your camps, classes and operations.

It’s likely that an entity such as a local bank would jump at the chance to sponsor swim lessons for $1 or $2 per child. This type of sponsorship helps keep the fees reasonable for customers, and your bottom line will see a big increase.

You could also seek sponsorships for lifeguard uniforms. For a fee, place a tasteful and appropriately sized sponsorship logo with a tag such as “Helping to keep our kids safe — XYZ Bank.”

Beverage vendors are a great asset to any special event. Most have in-house print shops that can create professionally designed signs and banners for your programs — leaving you with more dollars to spend adding value to the occasion.

Donations and in-kind support

Donations and in-kind support can provide valuable revenue, but like partnerships, these are two-way ventures. Free passes to the pool are always a hot item, but make sure free passes are just that, free. Stipulations of a “buy one, get one free” (BOGO) or limiting when recipients can redeem the ticket likely will devalue the incentive.

One great way to utilize donations is to visit local classrooms and present on water safety topics, then hand out free tickets to come to the pool. Look at your donations as an opportunity to gain new customers and generate new dollars. When people use the free pass to come to the pool, you can further encourage them to visit concessions, sign up for a class or purchase a birthday party package.

Overall, when looking for new ways to generate dollars for your swimming pool, embrace change and diversity; keep watch for trends; don’t be afraid to make some waves; and remember these quick tips:

  • Programming must be high quality and value-packed. Strive to make your classes and events memorable.
  • Look for innovative ways to add value. What would you want if you were a customer at your pool?
  • Create public awareness through donations and partnerships.Use creative ways to get folks through the doors, and then show them everything your facility has to offer.

Programs for swimming pools

Working 9 to 5 doesn’t apply to aquatics facilities — at least not to aquatics facilities that want to remain open. Approximately 41 percent of respondents stated that their pool stays open between 9 and 12 hours, while 59 percent responded that their pool is open for 13 hours or longer. For many, being handcuffed by swim lessons, swim teams and/or open swim forces them to use pool space at odd hours to accommodate other activities, such as adult water aerobics and programs for swimming pools.

Todd Roth, aquatics supervisor for both the Welch Swimming Pool and Park Forest Pool in State College, Penn., shared what a typical day at his pools looks like:
• Two hours per day for swim lessons
• Three and a half hours for swim teams
• Seven hours for open swim

This schedule essentially monopolizes Roth’s pool programming from sunrise to sundown, forcing him to schedule his masters swim program — known as “AM Aquafit” — at 6 a.m. The AM Aquafit program offers a variety of water workouts, including adult swim team workouts, self-guided lap swimming and water walking against the channel. Despite being a strong program with solid interest from the community, Roth admits to struggling to get a large turnout because the class is so early in the morning — a dilemma that Jenni Phillips, aquatics supervisor for the City of Cody, Wyo., knows all too well.

“Finding the right time is a challenge,” she says. “We have people who say our water aerobics classes are either too early or too late or not on the right day. We modify the class every couple of years to see if we can reach anybody else.” Another obstacle for Phillips is the costs involved with participating in programs. “Most of the people for our water aerobics classes are on a fixed budget and cannot afford to pay the cost that we need to charge for our programs.”

Rather than focus on building up specific programs, aquatics directors are investing in one-time activities that will cost less for the user but generate stronger participation for the aquatics facility. “People have so many choices now,” says Roth, who has to compete with Penn State University,  and other local pools. All of these offer swim lesson options, making the market extremely competitive. And Roth acknowledges that he can’t compete against the YMCAs for the adult fitness business, because their programs are year-round. “The market is getting diluted now with so many choices that you need to find a niche or focus on single events rather than programs,” he says.

Roth has made such events a priority, implementing dive-in movies and themed family fun nights with games and prizes. The season concludes with doggie swim, the one day Roth opens the pool to owners and their pooches.

“Across our industry, not just in aquatics, the additional programming for us has not been as successful as one-time events,” he says. “People aren’t throwing out $500 to $800 for registration, but they will spend $30 to go to the pool some night.”

Jim Lemke, aquatics director for Columbus (Ind.) Parks and Recreation, has been hosting a dog swim for the past nine years. On the last day of summer, he charges $5 per dog, opening up the diving and lap pools, which attracted 144 dogs during this year’s event. But his programming emphasis isn’t on four-legged creatures; it’s on the two-legged kind that can swim, pedal and run.

Lemke acknowledges that one of the fastest growing programs at his facility is youth triathlons. The nine-and-under kids swim 100 meters, participate in a three-mile bike ride and run half a mile. The 10-and-up kids do a 200-meter swim, six-mile bike ride and one-mile run. Kids as old as 14 can participate, while his youngest participant this year was a 5-year-old girl. His facility hosts two triathlons in June and August, with this year’s June event drawing 75 kids. Between the 2013 events, Lemke introduced special 45-minute training sessions, with the bulk of that time spent in the pool. “There is definitely a growing interest in this, and not just in Columbus,” Lemke says.

In Myrtle Beach, S.C., youth triathlons have been a big part of aquatics supervisor Kathy Anderson’s programming for five years running, with participation increasing from 80 to 140 kids over that span. Anderson would like to see similar growth with Aqua Zumba® (she’s currently searching for a certified instructor), with past success often contingent on whether the class is offered as part of a package or sold separately. “People like it when it’s included in Choose to Lose and included in their membership,” Anderson says. “We can get up to 30 people for Aqua Zumba, but once the Choose to Lose program ends, classes can go down to seven or eight people.”

Aqua Zumba is so new, Anderson contends, that it hasn’t had a chance to build up the loyal fan base that many other popular programs have year after year. “It’ll take awhile for it to grow, and I’m not sure if it’s a fad or if it’s going to stay around,” she says. “A lot of the movements aren’t honestly geared toward the water and some of the instructors that I’ve seen are not as comfortable teaching in the water.”

Boyle is enthusiastic for the future of his aquatics facility, which is scheduled for an expansion in the next five years. “Our park district recognizes that we need more space and understands that we are locked to some of the programming that we offer, but we do have goals in the near future, and that’s increasing programming once that facility space becomes available,” he says. Based on budget, this could include another lap pool, dive well and a river that would be used as an aquatic walking track in the mornings. Amenities such as aquatic climbing walls could also be in the plans.

But these options don’t apply for most aquatic directors. Instead, they must look for new programming to maximize existing pool space and increase revenue as budgets get tighter and tighter. “As aquatic directors,” Lemke says, “we have to be creative.”