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Guest Column - September 2009

NSPF

Creating Recession-Resistant Aquatic Facilities

By Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D.


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business files for bankruptcy. A family member is laid off. Hundreds of pools close their doors. Why do these things happen? You may be thinking, "It's the economy, stupid!"

A couple of weeks ago, I met with over 200 Colorado CEOs to discuss how to survive and prepare to thrive in a recession. There were plenty of business horror stories to go around. Yet, there were also companies that continue to grow and prosper. Why does this happen? You may be thinking, "They are recession-resistant, stupid!"

Are aquatic facilities recession-resistant?

Due to the recession, people have cut back on large-ticket purchases. However, government, insurance companies, physicians, employers, universities, academia, media outlets and others are encouraging us to get more exercise. High health care and insurance costs are driving the emphasis on prevention. After all, the best health insurance is to stay healthy. As a result, convenient and inexpensive life experiences that also improve health are attractive options—especially during a recession. Visiting the local pool is ideal.

But though the local aquatic facility is an attractive option, headlines confirm that many are closing. Several factors contribute to making these difficult decisions, but there is usually only one reason. The aquatic facility is not profitable.

If you doubt profitability is the key, consider this: What government or business leader would close a facility that generates enough revenue to cover the cost of personnel, equipment, programs, utilities, maintenance, risk management, future renovations and upgrades, and provides a profit to the owner? "None" is the obvious answer. The good news is, we are in control of our destiny. The bad news is, we are in control of our destiny.

The question we should all consider is, How do we take responsibility and become profitable? The general answer is relatively simple: We need more customers to pay for programs at levels that exceed our costs. The challenge is in the details of how we select and implement programs and develop internal capabilities (staff and facilities) that match customer needs. We also have to manage risk at the facility to minimize costly liability (see "Managing Risk" below).

The more customers a facility can reach, the greater the likelihood it can generate revenue to exceed its expenses. There are five general programs that draw customers to aquatic facilities: learn-to-swim, building swimming proficiency, vertical fitness programming (exercise), therapy and rehabilitation, and recreation and play.

To implement these programs, management may have to build or borrow facilities or staff to match the right water depth, temperature, features and training needs. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help assess and improve how to reach, attract and satisfy customers.

A two-day workshop at the 2009 World Aquatic Health Conference (WAHC), Oct. 28 to 30, 2009, in Atlanta, Ga., will feature experts from organizations in these program areas. For those who are unable to travel, the WAHC seminars will be recorded and available to watch on demand, on the Web (www.nspf.org) about two weeks after the conference. Online seminars are extremely economical since they are not limited to the number of viewers per access code. As a result, recreation managers and other team members can learn about profitable program development from leading experts. Then, they can better judge which resources best match their facility's needs.

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