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- Childcare & Education
Puddle Ducks delivers nurturing, fun swimming classes to babies and children from 0 to 10 years across the UK. Babies can join our swimming classes from birth, developing into confident swimmers without even realising they are learning to swim. By engaging each child’s abilities and natural affinity with water, Puddle Ducks offer simple steps to a lifetime love of swimming. Each activity is adapted to suit each child, nurturing confidence so that children become happy swimmers before they start school. We currently teach approx. 20,000 children to swim each week. Our network of 33 franchisees own approx. 50 franchise territories between them.
Puddle Ducks have been teaching children to swim since 2002 and have been franchising since 2007. Our network of territories stretches across mainland United Kingdom and there are a number of territories available for sale and also potential resale opportunities.
Puddle Ducks are proud finalists in and winners of numerous awards in recent years including bfa Franchisor and Franchisee of the Year Awards, EWIF Awards, Top 25 in the Elite Franchise Top 100, Franchise Marketing Awards and, based on anonymous feedback from franchisees, one of only two franchisors to be awarded the WorkBuzz 5* Franchisee Satisfaction Award eight years running.
A total of 14.5 days classroom-based and practical training is provided, taking place in Cheshire and on-site within the franchisee’s own territory; plus an additional (minimum) four shorter days where the franchisee will practice running classes at Duck HQ or a franchise local to them supported by a trained teacher. There will also be a total of around 10 days of self-study during the training period. Once teacher training is completed, assuming you are starting off in the water, you are given 3-4 days of Business Support training at Head Office, covering our bespoke management system, marketing, retail, pool sourcing and management and finance. In addition to this, Head Office funds an HR service for the entire network and work closely with our Accountant partners to ensure consistency and clarity across the network. We have experts in all these areas working at Head Office and once you launch, you will be placed into a 12-month period of additional support and mentoring.
We believe communication within the network is the key driver for making sure the franchisees feel involved and listened too. It also provides us with a platform to drive home our brand values. Channels of communication include weekly franchisee newsletters, monthly whole network newsletters, Facebook forums for franchise owners, marketing and admin, Shark Focus Group, Marketing Council, annual Franchisee Conference, annual Franchisee Summer School, Franchise Regional Meetings, Regional Marketing Meetings, Business Health Checks and Technical Visits. This is in addition to all of Head Office being available on email or over the phone.
A Puddle Ducks franchisee has a wide variety of activities every day. Many of our franchisees start off in the water, teaching babies and children to swim but we want you out of the water as quickly as possible and managing a team of teachers as well as customer care and marketing team members. Tasks include sourcing pools, managing your team, marketing classes and customer service (acquisition and retention). Franchisees will also work with pool owners and operators to set up new classes within their territory and increasingly to help run pools to our high standards to ensure sustainability of the business.
How a Puddle Ducks mum became a Swimming School Entrepreneur
Accountant Kim Pinnington had been a Puddle Ducks customer for several years before she decided to leave behind her career in banking and dive into the swim school business for herself. Now, two years on, her financial background and personal experiences have stood her in good stead. She has expanded from one large franchise region into two and her business is growing all the time, while still affording her the opportunity to accompany her own children to their Puddle Ducks swimming lessons.
Kim’s two franchise territories cover, collectively, South Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Wrexham, Sutton Coldfield, Walsall and North Birmingham. Throughout those regions she manages a team of teachers, highly trained in the award-winning Puddle Ducks method and accredited by the Swimming Teachers’ Association.
“From the beginning, Puddle Ducks felt like a safe career path, even though I didn’t have a background in swimming,” said Kim, “I’d taken my children to Puddle Ducks swimming lessons and had found them so valuable, as a place for the kids to learn important skills and for me to meet other parents. Our teachers are real experts and they love their jobs, so Puddle Ducks lessons are just lovely environments to be in.
“When I discovered the earning potential of a Puddle Ducks business and how well supported franchisees are, I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do. I’m very proud to put my name to this business that I get so much from, both as a customer and now as a member of ‘the family’.”
Kim’s hard work and transferrable skills, combined with the award-winning training and support from Puddle Ducks head office, have made her one of the company’s most successful franchisees in just two years.
Ambitious couple develop flagship Puddle Ducks site
Liz and Phil Gabriel own and manage Puddle Ducks baby and child swimming school franchises in Nottinghamshire and North Leicestershire. In 2017 they also bought and relaunched The Key Health Club in Nottingham, as a flagship home for Puddle Ducks in the area.
An ambitious, professional couple, neither Phil nor Liz had experience of teaching swimming when they signed on the dotted line with Puddle Ducks back in 2010 but they knew a great brand when they saw it. In the years since setting up, they have been instrumental in helping the brand grow into the top-rated national franchise that it is today and they, in turn, have received the support to grow their business beyond all recognition.
“Nottinghamshire was our first territory,” said Liz, “I launched with 15 customers and now routinely teach 1,000 babies and children every week. It was quite a culture shock in the early days because I had come from a long career as a buyer for a national pharmacy chain. Everything about my working day was different, so I didn’t mind starting small but I always knew that I wanted to grow the business and that I would, with the fantastic support of the head office team. That’s why I chose Puddle Ducks in the first place, though it was a much smaller company at the time my professional experience had taught me to spot a good brand when I saw one. I knew we could all go far together.”
“These days I’m no longer teaching; Puddle Ducks teacher training is second to none, so there is no shortage of excellent teachers eager to get in the pool. Following the first few years of ‘all hands on deck’ I went back to being able to really use my unique business skills to develop the company.”
Phil left a career in technical sales to join the business in 2014, when the couple took the decision to expand into a second territory. Three years later they were able to buy and redevelop The Key Health Club.
Already the health club’s biggest client, running 63 classes a week in the pool, the Puddle Ducks owners and now health club owners, have created a fantastic hub for family and fitness activities in their community. Puddle Ducks baby and children’s swimming classes run daily at the club, as well as at other locations across Nottingham, Mansfield, Loughborough and Leicester.
Over 11 happy years in the pool with Puddle Ducks
Sarah Austin has owned the Bristol and Bath franchise of Puddle Ducks baby and child swimming school for long enough that she has passed a number of milestones. The business was teaching 1,000 children a week by 2015, received an award for excellence at the company’s national conference in 2017 and celebrated 10 years in business in 2018. Now, she is happier in her role than ever.
“I worked in marketing for years before I became a franchisee. I enjoyed that industry, in many ways, but I spent too much time in the office and on the motorway, with not enough time with my young son. I did, however, take him to swimming lessons and we both absolutely loved them. I hadn’t heard of Puddle Ducks back then but I enjoyed being in the pool enough to give up my job and become a baby swimming teacher.
“It was only three years later, when I discovered Puddle Ducks, that I realised I could combine the best of both worlds and use my business experience to build a career doing the thing that I loved and really believed in.”
As well as teaching important life skills to tiny tots, Puddle Ducks provides a fantastic opportunity to parents to meet and form friendships. In fact, it was through a like-minded friend that Sarah originally heard about Puddle Ducks. Close friend Jane Bozic became a Puddle Ducks franchisee in Dorset and, after doing her own due diligence, Sarah decided to follow in her footsteps and buy the franchise for her own area. Both still support each other in the running of their successful franchises.
“The flexibility of being my own boss was what originally drew me to franchising,” said Sarah, “And it has been invaluable over the years. I’ve worked hard but I have been supported every step of the way by my brilliant team and national office Duck HQ and can easily fit my role around my family commitments.
“If I was going to offer one tip to someone thinking of buying a franchise it would be to consider the life you want and look for other franchisees already living that life. If they can do it – if I can do it – so can you.”
Parent professionals are shaping their own family friendly business
Suzanne and Gary Horton enjoyed their careers as legal professionals until, following the birth of their second child, they discovered that their traditional roles didn’t leave enough time for family life. So, in 2011, they bought the Puddle Ducks baby and child swim school franchise for Greater Manchester. The business now teaches swimming to over 1,000 customers every week from six local pools, including their very own family swim centre Aqua Nurture. The couple sit at the helm of a thriving business that has family life at its heart.
Back in 2010, with two young children, Suzanne knew she would love to leave her career as a senior associate solicitor and go into business for herself. It was her subsequent discovery of the Puddle Ducks franchise that allowed her to do just that, the following year.
“I’d read about women setting up their own businesses. Being my own boss and having the flexibility to balance work and family life seemed like a very attractive option. However, I had no bright spark of my own, plus setting up your own business can be risky. When I heard about Puddle Ducks, with its proven business model and support structure I was excited but still nervous. It was speaking to other franchisees that sold me on the idea. I realised that other sensible, professional business-women had made a huge success of this, so I knew that I could do the same.”
Puddle Ducks Greater Manchester was soon thriving, so much so that Gary was able to take the plunge too; having always been involved in an advisory capacity, he left his job and officially joined the family business.
In 2016 the Hortons expanded the vision of what a Puddle Ducks franchise could be by opening their own family swim centre. Aqua Nurture in Hyde was the first Puddle Ducks franchisee-owned pool. The site, which was previously a watering hole of a different kind, was converted from a pub into a wonderful community resource. The building now houses a hydrotherapy pool and other facilities including treatment rooms and a café.
They both bring a different perspective to decisions and play to their own individual strengths. Suzanne focuses on the operational and financial side and Gary tends to work on marketing and the long-term vision, a vision which has seen them recently expand the business with the purchase of a new Puddle Ducks territory for Worcestershire. Their own experience as parents has allowed them to develop a successful business that perfectly meets the needs of other local families and imparts an important life skill for young children, supported by the award-winning team at Puddle Ducks HQ.
Accountant's passion for swimming is now big business
Carolyn Sharpe (38) swam competitively as a teenager but after pursuing a career as an accountant she never thought she would find herself in the pool again, for any reason other than to keep fit. Now however, Carolyn owns the franchise for Puddle Ducks North East, a baby and child swim school that teaches over 1,400 young children per week to share in her passion for the water.
After giving birth to her first child, Carolyn decided that she wanted to leave her successful corporate career to find a better work/life balance. She soon decided that a franchise offering plenty of support and plenty of flexibility was the way to go. This is a familiar path, shared by many Puddle Ducks franchisees. During maternity leave Carolyn began taking her son to swimming lessons and a seed was planted.
“I did lots of research,” said Carolyn, “I loved the idea of a franchise and even more-so of a franchise that allowed me to share my love of swimming with babies and children; taking my son to Puddle Ducks lessons and watching him develop in the water was such a joy but I wanted to be smart about my decision. To leave a good job I needed a robust business opportunity. Puddle Ducks stood out head and shoulders above every other franchise I considered.
“I was particularly interested in franchising as it means that you have an established quality product and support when it comes to issues such as safety, insurance and the technical aspects of running classes – something which I felt that I couldn’t do on my own.”
The Puddle Ducks award winning Teachers are trained by Head Teacher and Technical Director Ali Beckman and her team of Super Teachers and are accredited by the Swimming Teacher’s Association. With a background in competitive swimming, as well as a qualification and experience working as a lifeguard, Carolyn fitted in right away.
Carolyn went on to win Puddle Ducks Franchisee of the year in 2014. She held onto that title in 2015, as well as being awarded the British Franchise Association’s top title of Female Franchisee of the Year. She now has a dedicated and passionate team working with her building the business. The business now has an annual turnover in six figures, proving that you don’t need to compromise on income to strike the perfect balance between work and family life.
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