Puddle Ducks

Puddle Ducks

What inspired you to develop the Puddle Ducks brand?

Tracy Townend and myself, Jo Stone, founded Puddle Ducks after we met at ante-natal classes. As our friendship grew we realised we shared more in common than the birth of our first children - we shared an ambition to succeed in business; the need to strike a work-life balance; and a desire to pass on the joy of swimming to babies and children.

Having spotted a gap in the market for high-quality children’s swimming lessons, we gave up our corporate careers and after much planning, research and training, Puddle Ducks was launched. I first saw the name "Puddle Ducks" on a barge whilst on holiday and it seemed to encapsulate our approach: aquatic, friendly and fun. A little research into the habits of the puddle duck confirmed that the name was indeed appropriate.

Today we teach thousands of babies and children to swim, be safe and develop water confidence right across the country via a network of dedicated franchisees. We also run aqua natal classes for mums to be!

We have a very clear mission, vision and set of values that is at the heart of everything we do. Everyone who works with us and for the Puddle Ducks’ brand has a passion for swimming, an ambition for growth and a commitment to become experts in every aspect of their business.

Our original ethos has never been lost and is reflected in our Mission Statement:
“We want every child to love swimming, respect the water and swim beautifully. That’s why our standards are the highest and our approach is unique”

What are the key drivers for innovation at Puddle Ducks?

Never innovate for the sake of it. Everything that we do needs to align with our strategic objectives, brand values and brand position. The strategic objectives are what leads our innovative approach as they drive us to improve franchisee profitability, deliver excellent classes, build our brand awareness and grow the network.

What are the key innovations you have brought in recently and what effect have these had on your franchisees and business?

Our key innovations focused on three areas:

  1. Standards within our own business and within the industry. By continually evolving our own programmes ensuring delivery of excellent lessons, namely this year the relaunch of Swim Academy (our product for 4-10 year olds), we are staying at the forefront of our industry technically and the redesign of the programme also benefits our franchisees by making it easier to launch classes with smaller teacher/child ratios. The new Swim Academy programme will increase profit by £64 per class per week on average. We have also played a role in making sure the PAS520 guidelines (a document that will eventually turn into British Standards for our industry) creates a level playing field and allows for a competitive market place. Finally, our Technical Director has been instrumental in the design and launch of the most advanced international qualification in baby swimming in the world today with the STA.
  2. Our systems and marketing. A new bespoke state-of-the-art piece of management software was launched in 2016 (SHARK) and a new website to go with it. All aimed at improving franchisee profitability and building the brand. The new system has already seen an improved customer retention of over 10% year on year with the introduction of 8 lesson payment cycles and an online account. The new website has seen increased traffic of over 40% year on year due to a bottom up digital marketing strategy cementing our position as the informed choice.
  3. Our business model. As the only swim school franchise to have adopted an LLP model, we secured an additional £30k of profit for an average franchise and we had to protect this so we have introduced profit related bonuses for the partners; this not only protects the franchisees profit but also serves to increase it and in turn the partners’ pay. Other innovations in our business model include moving to 44 weeks of teaching, increasing profit by an average of £5k per franchise per year. We also introduced minimum performance standards helping encourage franchisees to spend their time on the more profitable areas of their territory and encouraging part sales, all providing ultimately more MSF for Head Office to invest back in the business.

What plans do you have for the future?

The SHARK software is live but never finished, we will continue to work on and enhance the software in line with franchisees priorities. Our Baby & Pre-school programme is next in line to be evolved and will move the standards on once more. Our underwater photography process is being completely rehauled to be in line with new research about child-led submersions and will set us apart from our competition. Finally, we are working on various ‘pool build’ models to support our franchisees to take their business to the next level as well as plans to build a flagship pool here at HQ with the flagship franchise, Mid Cheshire.

Can you tell us more about the work you do with adoption and attachment training?

This is ground-breaking in terms of the swimming industry. We worked with the Centre for Adoption Support to create a learning module which all of our almost 300 teachers have completed. The module is titled ‘Attachment Awareness’ and covers stages of attachment, the behaviours that children who have been in care might display and provides guidance of how to manage anxieties or fears that the children and parents may have in our lessons. The Centre for Adoption Support were so impressed with the work put into this by our Technical Director in making it relevant for swimming teachers that she sent it to Central Government as an example of best practice. In addition to that we have the run the first of several planned special events where the Centre for Adoption Support invite adoptive families to partake in a free swimming lesson run by Puddle Ducks, supporting our mission of wanting every child to love swimming, respect the water and swim beautifully, regardless of whether they are fortunate enough to attend Puddle Ducks lessons or not.

 
 
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