Supplement Feature - February 2015
Find a printable version here

Beyond Treading Water

Finding Profitability in Aquatic Operations

By Dawn Klingensmith

Increasing Revenues

In addition to evaluating fees against pool costs, facilities should concentrate on their greatest money makers. In Seattle, "Swimming lessons are number one for revenue generation and our number-one priority in terms of service to the community," Whitman said.

As 2014 was drawing to a close, Seattle's aquatic facilities all together had brought in $4.8 million, with swim lessons accounting for half that amount. Recreational swimming brought in the second largest chunk, followed by rentals and water exercise.

Nationwide, "Demand for swim lessons keeps going up year after year," Rowland said.

Therefore, for most parks and rec facilities, figuring out how to maximize the number of classes offered would pay off both in terms of revenues and mission advancement. Identify and accommodate groups with the greatest demand, and increase demand where possible. For example, demand may be greatest for classes for 3- to 5-year-olds, and it can be increased still further by outreach and marketing efforts aimed at parents and organizations emphasizing the importance of water safety.

In addition to group lessons, Seattle offers one-on-one swim instruction, which in 2014 brought in about $40,000. "That's not a lot," Whitman said, "but it makes a difference added in to all the other small things."

Individual lessons take place in one corner of the pool. Cordoning off a small area is key to the program's financial success. From a business perspective, it's a mistake to limit pool use for the sake of one small activity; all parts of the pool should be in use at all times. "Shared pool space is necessary in the typical rectangular-shaped pools," with dedicated areas for lap swimming, lessons and exercise classes, Whitman said.

Seattle now has minimum class size requirements and either cancels or combines classes rather than running them at a loss.

"If you turn your whole pool over to 12 to 15 kids, it's just not economically feasible," Clayton said.

Rowland agrees with the general view that swim lessons should be kept affordable to promote participation across income levels. But Clayton suggests that, given the demand for group and private lessons, there may be room to increase their cost: "If you talk to parents, they all want their kids to learn how to swim and the perception is, the more you pay, the better instruction they're getting."