Feature Article - November 2015
Find a printable version here

Ever-Expanding Aquatics

Tips for Programming a Profitable Pool

By Joe Bush

The facility has a mascot and themes each season, and tries for a balance of events and activities that reward members as well as reaching out to prospective members with fee-free programming that is subsidized by sponsors from the community or public entities like the fire department or police department.

"Deck-side education can be entertaining and enlightening," Josephs said. "Why not create a Splash and Learn Series where your guests can learn CPR, AED, safe boating, water safety tips, sunscreen application, skin damage exams and more? These can often be no cost to you other than planning time, a pop-up tent and a sign. Fire departments, EMS and police departments welcome these opportunities, especially in the summer months."

Josephs said not all programming should be focused on short-term revenue; some planning needs to be devoted to awareness, attracting new members and reactivating dormant ones. She suggests charitable events such as food drives and lap swim pledges. Have low-key concerts at night, invite local dance groups, entertainers or fitness studios to show off their talents, partner with a library for poolside story time.

She makes it clear that special care should be taken to reward active members with events just for them. Aquatic-themed art contests with facility-related prizes such as future memberships or gift certificates, scavenger hunts, and themed parties are popular in Summit, and this year they held the inaugural Doggy Dip after the pool season ended. Eighty dogs owned by members got to swim in the leisure pool, and proceeds went to the facility's scholarship fund.

This sort of creativity extends back to water-based programming in Summit. Josephs said instead of revamping a learn-to-swim program, why not simply refresh?

"Before branching out from the basic learn-to-swim program, take a look at how you can improve the current program," she said. "If you find that the learn-to-swim program you are currently offering has not grown, perhaps it's time to 'brand' the program and make it special. Create more of an experience and it will improve the perceived value of the program.

"Do you have report cards at the end of the program? Can you have your mascot visit the graduation for a photo op for parents? Rename the program, add a few tweaks and you'll see improved attendance and new excitement. Win their confidence in the learn-to-swim program, and the rest will follow."

Before branching out, take a look at how you can improve the current program.

Other suggestions from Josephs include partnering with local healthcare groups to help make senior aquacise programs available for free or reduced fees, and making just the right time and space for special needs community members to enjoy the pools.

"Many children with special needs often find our aquatic facilities today too high-energy, noisy and intimidating, Josephs said. "Plan a special weekly or monthly swim for them with trained teen peer mentors. Mix instruction with water play with the children and their mentors, and create a safe and non-judgmental aquatic experience. The kids, their parents and the teen mentors will all have a great experience."

In general Josephs said to use social media for feedback for evaluation and suggestions, and never stop planning and organizing.

"With the busy schedules of families today, scheduling your aquatic programs for success also includes careful selection of days, times and rain dates," she said. "Sometimes good programs fail because of bad timing or price and not for the value or popularity of the program."

Across the country, Mark Olson is not only adjusting to a new job but a new facility. Olson has been the aquatics program manager at the year-old Alga Norte Aquatic Center in Carlsbad, Calif., since early summer after 12 years in much the same capacity in Poway, Calif. He said creating, implementing, scheduling, training and analyzing never stop as he and his staff try to balance the necessary and the legacy programs with testing the new.

The facility has two warm water pools (a 56-meter competition pool with a bulkhead and viewing bleachers and a 25-yard, 12-lane swim instruction pool), a spa, a splash pad, cabanas and meeting rooms for its standard programs like masters swimming; swimming, diving and water polo teams; lifeguard and swim instructor classes; swimming classes; aquatic fitness classes; birthday parties; and kids camps. There are inflatable structures and hamster balls.

"We're still building our program and trying to find out what's the best value that our customers and patrons want," Olson said. "We are trying to be competitive and, at the same time, as a public facility, to cover our programming costs and our operating costs, so we're looking for the newer things. We're looking for different avenues for customers to participate in our programs, and then sign up for other programs when they see what else we have.

"One of the challenges we have is we just don't have a lot of space. Even with the two pools here, we're fairly programmed out. As a public facility, we have to be sensitive to making sure we're offering something for everybody, but at the same time trying to be engaged in bringing in revenue we need to operate."