Feature Article - July 2020
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Coming Back to Aquatics

Lessons, Rentals, New Programs Help Facilities Stay Afloat

By Chris Gelbach

The center wanted to bus kids in from local schools during the school day for swim lessons, and originally received pushback from some of these key decision-makers, and having them on the advisory board helped the facility overcome that initial resistance.

"Once you onboard that group of people—that's the hurdle. At first, they said let's do this after school. We said no. That will not be reaching the kids who need it the most," Braman said. "So then we worked with them to develop the schedule of onboarding schools."

The program started with an initial pilot program of four elementary schools with the aquatic center paying to bus in groups of second-graders for swim lessons for eight days of 90-minute turnkey lessons, including the bussing, change of clothes and lessons. It has since grown tremendously.

"This year, we serviced 29 schools and to date we're over 6,000 graduates of our second-grade learn-to-swim program, and what has really helped our business and our exposure is that program," Braman said.

According to Braman, the program creates opportunities for the facility that far outweigh its costs because of the community engagement involved. "Because we are always out soliciting writing a grant, or we're out in the community saying, 'Can you sponsor a school?' " Braman said.

And once a business sponsors a school, requests about swim lessons for employees at that business follow, as do frequent offers from the businesses to supplement memberships to the facility for their employees.

"So the potential that you get back for these community outreach programs where you're not making money is tenfold," Braman said. "Not even considering what we're doing to save lives. It's just been phenomenal."

New Recreation Opportunities Abound

To supplement swim lesson programs, which are growing for children and adult patrons alike, facilities are filling in unused times with an ever-widening array of recreational programs.

One such program that Fife's facility and many others have had success with is paddleboard yoga. The facility has also recently adopted adults-only late-night lap swim to positive response.

According to Nelson, a wide variety of recreational activities can be considered as opportunities to fill in the gaps after you've got a solid schedule of perpetual programming figured out, because those programs are predictable, whereas things like recreational activities tend to be more short-term offerings or things that people will drop in for occasionally.

"We might look at our schedule and go, we don't do a lot on Wednesdays, and then have a family swim on Wednesdays where we might put some of our blow-up inflatables in the large pool for kids and adults to play on," Nelson said. "We might do something like Ninjacross, where it comes down from the ceiling and you can exercise and play on different things. That would be more for a specific night and possibly for the weekends when there's no events scheduled."

Nelson also recommends that other activities like log rolling, standup paddleboard lessons and kayak lessons be scheduled as interesting activities for those fill-in times when nothing else is going on.

Valdez is seeing a lot of growth in other recreational aquatic activities that include paddleboarding, underwater spin classes, and Acquapole. "Water fitness classes are still very popular," Valdez said. "I think what we're seeing now is an emphasis on ensuring that those are profitable and that we're not steering on with the same classes just because that's what we've done for the past five years."

At Greensboro Aquatic Center, the facility recently expanded with a fourth pool with both shallow and deeper areas and has seen success with water walking programs for seniors in both the shallow and deeper areas. "And we can staff it with an instructor once a week and put some music on and teach them certain exercises to do when they're in there or we can do a fun game where they're racing or on a relay," Braman said. "And all of those things have helped to grow it … senior programming in general is a huge trend now."

Greensboro is also seeing a fun, unusual and fast-growing trend of patrons who like to pretend they are half fish. "We have what we call mermania here," Braman said. "We have a mermaid certification program for children and adults and wow, they fill up every single time."

The facility now has two days a week of dedicated, put on your tail and swim like a mermaid time. "We make them sign up and participate in our certification course first so it's a revenue stream, but also it's a great lesson because you can't just put on a mermaid tail and think because you're a swimmer you can do it."

The facility even hosted a large mermania event featuring vendors selling tails, participants wearing mermaid outfits worth thousands of dollars, coverage from CNN, and documentation by scuba-clad film crews. "The mermaid thing is huge, and people should not underestimate that as a trend, number one, and as an opportunity for additional income," Braman said.