Water Babies

Water Babies

What inspired you to develop Water Babies?

We started Water Babies in 2002, inspired by how much we loved taking our own daughter Imani, and then our son Jai, to learn to swim. For us, there’s no greater thrill than seeing a baby move freely, gracefully and confidently through water in a way they physically can’t manage on dry land.

We quickly realised just how beneficial it can be to learn to swim at a very young age. So we built on those benefits, slowly growing our business and watching as other people caught the excitement of Water Babies.

What were the main reasons you chose to go international?

The first international growth came as we moved into Ireland just as the country went into the depths of a severe financial recession. But Dublin enjoyed a meteoric rise, teaching 1,000 babies per week within the first year and quickly became the biggest franchise in the whole network. It gave us the encouragement that we have a business model that was robust and scalable.

What problems have you had to face along the way?

We knew we would face cultural challenges in countries such as China, but even in apparently similar cultures such as Ireland and Canada there have been hurdles to cross. To ensure that we were as aware as possible of any possible issues, we worked closely with consultants who specialize in each country we are thinking of franchising in.

During this process we ensure that we are using the correct model for franchising in each country, and then they work with them to determine the approach that they are going to take. The ability to adapt is important and be flexible on what happens along the way.

The first decision can we find the right people that fit within the brand and its values, and if not we will not go into that country until we can find those people.

How do you ensure that the Water Babies ethos stays strong around the globe?

We don’t just teach our Water Babies teachers to teach swimming, we teach them to become Water Babies teachers. The training is not just becoming a teacher and what they need to do, but about the culture, ethos, ethics and values of being part of Water Babies, which helps to maintain the passion across the world. This starts at the franchisee recruitment process. It is someone’s values that is most important in Water Babies recruitment, the ‘Water Babies DNA’, and if someone doesn’t have this then they aren’t right for us.

When we went internationally, this was a key worry of ours and whether that same ‘DNA’ would translate across the world. However, throughout the process this is something that we have discovered seems to translate to every language and culture.

Marie was the first to visit China for the first week of lessons, and this underpins the ethos of Water Babies as it was only right that the right people were there for the first week. Water Babies isn’t about myself and the bubble, we trust our people to represent Water Babies around the world as we all have the same goal.

From the experience of going internationally, we have learnt from China the advantages of building out own swimming and aquatics centres. In development are six in China and three in Germany, and we are looking to open our first within the UK in the next 18 months.

We are adapting our business model to be based around building our own centres rather than renting them, which was a step that we were going to take eventually, but international development has accelerated it slightly.

Are they any key pieces of advice you would give to people looking to go international?

Don’t be afraid. There are definite challenges. But with the right advice from key organisations such as UKTI and CBBC and local expertise anything is possible. There is a real appetite for British quality and expertise, make the most of it.

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