The Water Babies Berkshire franchise is run by Alan Crisford and his wife, Louise. Operating out of 25 pools the franchise covers 10 local areas including Basingstoke, Reading, Maidenhead, Slough, Windsor, Bracknell, Fleet, Farnborough, Aldershot and Ascot. The franchise currently teaches over 1,500 children every week the lifelong skills needed to be confident in and around water.
So how did it all begin? In 2007, Alan and Louise had their first daughter, Evelyn. With Louise being a watersports fanatic, the first thing she wanted was for Evelyn to learn to swim, so she signed her up to Water Babies. After attending just one lesson, Louise announced she wanted to quit her job and become a teacher, so she did.
Six months later, the opportunity to buy the franchise she was working with came up. Alan was working as a probation officer at the time. Leaving home at 6am and returning after 7pm, Alan had little time to spend with Evelyn. Owning the Berkshire franchise promised to improve their work-life balance, as well as being a fantastic business opportunity.
Buying an existing franchise wasn’t without its issues: the inevitable inheritance of liabilities meant there was a demand to continually grow the business. Given the economic climate at the time, this proved more difficult than initially thought. Alan believes the success of the franchise is largely down to the help they received from Water Babies co-founder and chairman, Paul Thompson, and his staff.
Alan says: “They were able to help us plan and structure the business to ensure we got through the first couple of years. They helped us recruit the right people, find the right facilities, even help us move offices in two foot of snow.” This, combined with working steadily 10 hours a day, seven days a week meant Alan was able to overcome the initial issues and build solid foundations for growth.
Six years later, Alan and Louise are now running a successful business employing 11 different teachers, managing over 60 underwater photo shoots and running swimming classes seven days a week. “We have managers in place that we trust implicitly and who have built their own teams to support them,” Alan says. “We have built a business that would continue to function just as well without us as it does with Louise and me.”
Looking forward, Alan plans to continue the growth of the business by using more facilities, training more teachers and employing more staff and ultimately offering more people the experience of taking their babies swimming for the first time.
Alan’s advice for anyone looking to start a franchise business is:
“Do your research on the franchise. When you meet with the franchisor the discussion will inevitably focus on business growth and what sort of returns you will receive if the business performs as it should. Make sure you ask what support you will receive as a franchisee if the business doesn’t perform as it should, will they support you through tough times and how?”