Feature Article - May/June 2006
Find a printable version here

Undercover Operations

With proper planning, adding a pool enclosure can boost patronage and profits

By Dawn Klingensmith

Pumped-up programming

Having an enclosed pool enables you to develop year-round programming and to make use of early morning and evening hours, when lower temperatures usually would discourage folks from taking a dip. To ensure a return on investment, packing your pool is essential, and in order to do so you'll need to come up with creative and diverse program offerings.

Before getting creative, though, it's essential to get the basics down first, says Ted Boyett, award-winning aquatics director of the University of Rhode Island's Tootell Aquatic Center. With extended hours of operation come increased maintenance and staffing demands, so you'll want to get a handle on these before you start cramming your aquatics programming with fancy fare like water ballet and synchronized swimming. Understand, too, that unless you have a greenhouse type of enclosure, temperature adjustments might be in order.

"Indoor pools tend to feel colder than outdoor pools because the sun's not warming the water," Boyett says.

Work on developing solid core programming before moving on to more creative offerings. Core programming will differ according to clientele, but if you're aiming to appease the general public—while at the same time turning a decent profit—focus on your learn-to-swim program, which will be the key revenue producer, Boyett says. Water fitness classes rank second in terms of revenues; together, these two offerings will anchor your aquatics program, he adds.

Having age-group and other swim teams practice and compete in your facility isn't as lucrative as learn-to-swim classes, however, competitions draw public and media attention, which is good for business, Boyett says. Masters swim programs aren't especially lucrative either, but master swimmers "make great lobbyists for your pool," he adds.

Considering that your staff needs various certifications anyway, it makes sense to open these certification opportunities—CPR classes, for example—to the public for a fee.

The key to robust, successful aquatics programming is "running a three-ring circus," Boyett says. Space permitting, you'll want to have more than one program going at any given time, so long as they don't interfere with one another. At the Tootell Aquatic Center, which has a four-lane warm-water pool, a diving well and an eight-lane competition pool, Boyett sometimes has as many as seven or eight programs going on at once.

Likewise, the Lompoc Aquatic Center's three separate pools will enable the parks department to slip into the role of ringmaster fairly easily. The 10-lane competition pool, surrounded by a cantilevered deck, will be kept at a temperature that's safe and comfortable for aggressive swimmers, McCaffrey says. A 1,600-square-foot therapeutic pool, which features a wheelchair ramp and a portable lift to provide access to it and the other pools, will be kept at 90 degrees. The third and largest pool has dedicated space for family fun. A splash playground at one end features two small water slides, a 300-gallon tipping bucket, umbrella jet sprays, interactive arching jets, pull ropes and other in-pool playthings. At the opposite end are two larger water slides—one open and one closed, like a tube—rising 18 feet above the water and traveling about 100 linear feet down to a 23-foot-by-25-foot section of the pool.

The local high-school swim team, as well as club, master and Special Olympics teams, will use the competition pool. So too will lap swimmers and water polo leagues. Basic kayaking skills will be taught there, and the parks department also has plans to use the pool for the swimming portion of mini-triathlons.

Running a three-ring circus serves dual purposes. First, it allows you to meet the needs of your diverse clientele. Second, it exposes devotees of one type of program to some of the other programs that are available, which can boost participation and profits.

When you're developing programming to pack your pool, it pays to keep two more things in mind, Boyett says. The first is a trend toward half-hour or 45-minute express workouts as opposed to hour-long water-fitness classes. Condensed classes make it easier for folks to squeeze in a workout in the morning before business hours or during their lunch break. At the same time, briefer workouts enable aquatic directors to squeeze more classes or programs—and more paying customers—into each day.

The second thing to keep in mind when return on investment is a priority is the comfort of your swimmers.

"Warmer water sells," Boyett says. You'll draw more participants and build a more satisfied customer base when your pool feels less like an arctic plunge and more like the sun-warmed Pacific.