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About Water Babies
Paul Thompson, who’s now the CEO and founder of Water Babies but was a professional surveyor working in construction, conceived the idea for Water Babies in 2000 when he took his young daughter to swimming classes. Disappointed by the experience, which he thought could be made more accessible, he created his own programme that would allow youngsters to learn water skills progressively, in line with their physical and mental development.
Since opening his first Water Babies classes, the business has developed its franchise potential, opening its first business in Ireland in 2008 and subsequently opening operations in Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Germany.
Water Babies’ first dedicated swimming centre was opened in Xi’an, China, in June 2016. It has also opened up a second offshoot franchise aimed at pregnant women called Water Bumps, offering pre- and post-natal health, exercise and well-being classes in the water.
Water Babies is a full member of the British Franchise Association.
What services does Water Babies offer?
Water Babies’ 650 instructors are training an estimated 52,000 children – and their parents or carers – to swim at 750 local pools every week, making it the biggest professional baby and toddler swimming programme in the world. The lessons grow progressively in line with the children’s physical and mental skills develop.
Paul Thompson told Health Club Manager that his original aim was to teach water confidence and then ultimately independent swimming, which Water Babies can do in their second year. “There are a plethora of sophisticated skills that we teach across our programme but a key plank of our course is that we work with the parents and carers,” he said. “They are in the water with their little ones acting as assistant teachers. We call this ‘teaching you to teach your baby to swim’ – it creates an amazing bond and builds confidence in them both.”
As well as teaching the very young to swim, Water Babies is also famous for its underwater portrait photography services, of which they are also the world’s largest producers, taking over a quarter of a million high-resolution photographs a year.
Its online shop features a range of delightful and practical swimming accessories.
Why prompted Water Babies to start franchising?
The founder of Water Babies has stated that he never originally foresaw taking Water Babies down the franchising route, but after so many people all across the country showed interest in getting involved, it was the most logical step to take in terms of expanding.
How does the Water Babies franchise model work?
Water Babies has enabled over 70 franchisees to operate in 79 territories across the UK and Ireland, each territory tending a catchment of around 500,000 people. There are two ways to acquire a Water Babies franchise – either purchase a brand new (empty) territory, or take over an ongoing business.
Due to the popularity of Water Babies, there are currently only very few territories left to buy, but Water Babies states that from time to time ongoing businesses do become available, so it is well worth enquiring about.
The Water Babies network is renowned for being very close and supportive - most franchisees talk to one another or the head office on a daily basis. Everyone helps one another and there’s a vast amount of professional experience available to draw on, whether it be graphic design, health and safety, surveying, medicine, HR, marketing, or IT.
What support and training does the Water Babies franchise offer?
Water Babies’ rigorous specialist baby swimming teacher training programme has been developed in collaboration with Swim England, the national governing body for swimming, and will qualify you as one of the world’s best-trained baby swimming teachers. Water Babies’ staff are the only baby swimming teachers who can obtain this prestigious qualification, which is the highest-level qualification available in early years swimming.
All the swimming training is handled centrally to ensure consistency, giving franchisees a high level of support. According to Paul Thompson it takes a franchisee nine months to qualify.
The Water Babies selection process has six distinctly defined steps, beginning with a questionnaire and familiarisation day at its head office in Devon.
Once a candidate has been approved as a franchisee, the hard work begins with aquatics training, which takes almost a month to complete, but which will equip you with everything you need to know about teaching babies and toddlers to swim.
After that comes business and administrative training in all aspects of running a successful franchise, from admin, to tax and VAT to customer service. The final step will be looking for suitable local pools and marketing the business to find babies to teach. Water Babies offers ongoing training and support is always available. Each member of the support team has areas of expertise, so franchisees have a dozen specialists on whom they can call. There is also a communications tool via which you will be able to access training and skills videos, business updates and an operations manual.
Water Babies has its own client management system (Nemo), through which every aspect of the business can be run, from booking classes, managing waiting lists, processing photo orders and taking payments. Water Babies products can be ordered at the click of a button.
What safety standards are required by a franchisee of Water Babies?
With an estimated nearly half a million babies and toddlers taking part in swimming lessons in the UK every year, it is crucial that everyone involved in the delivery of these lessons and underwater photo-shoots works to consistently high standards, ensuring that youngsters are always safe to enjoy the water.
Water Babies was amongst the companies that established the new Code of Practice (PAS520) in June 2017. Published by the British Standards Institute, it provides the definitive blueprint for everybody involved in baby swimming. Entitled ‘Safeguarding 0 to 4-year-old children within the teaching of swimming, including any associated professional photography,’ it set out new safety standards for the industry involved in baby swimming, reducing the number of underwater swims in lessons and photo-shoots and revising the numbers for safe class sizes and teaching ratios, and recommended teaching qualifications.
What awards has the Water Babies franchise won?
The Water Babies franchise has a plethora of awards to its name, including the BFA Franchisee of the Year 2009 - silver (Tamsin Brewis), Tommy’s Best Children’s Activity Provider (2009), Highly Commended in the Shropshire Businesses for Children Awards 2014 (Shropshire Midwest), HSBC Global Connections South West and Wales Regional winners (2014), BFA HSBC Franchisor of the year Finalist (2014), Employer of the Year - Devon Venus Awards 2015, BFA HSBC Franchisor of the Year winner 2016 (Gold), and many more.
What are the Water Babies franchise’s terms of agreement and renewal?
Water Babies issues a five-year licence to franchisees which can be renewed at the end of that period with no additional cost.
How in-demand are swimming lessons for babies right now?
In 2014, the Amateur Swimming Association, in their School Swimming Census, estimated that in Britain, 45 per cent of children between the ages of 7 and 11 are unable to swim 25 metres unaided, despite the fact that drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death in children, according to the Royal Life Saving Society UK.
How can I get started on setting up my own Water Babies franchise?
The process to gaining a Water Babies franchise begins with a familiarisation day at the company’s HQ in Honiton, Devon. To find out more, or to request further information on franchising with Water Babies, click on the ‘Send Enquiry’ button now.
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Teaching water confidence and safety skills to babies and toddlers£5,000 Minimum Investment