Swim schools dive into shopping centers

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Publish Date: July 30, 2014

Swim schools are diving into shopping centers across the U.S. This tenant pool includes such companies as Woodbury, Minn.-based Foss Swim School, Peoria-Ariz.-based Aqua-Tots Swim Schools and Birmingham, Mich.-based Goldfish Swim School.

Aqua-Tots Swim Schools opened its first retail location in 2005 and now has 38 outposts in 13 states—plus one in Kuwait and another in Turkey. Nearly all of these are located within shopping centers, and all but one location are owned by franchisees. (One of the franchisee requirements is to have a suggested minimum capital investment of between $407,500 and $639,900.) Its newest location opened in June in San Antonio, Texas, at Park North Shopping Center. The company plans to open an additional 18 to 25 units by Q2 2015 in several states that it already occupies, plus the new markets of California, Colorado, Iowa, New Jersey, Mexico and the Middle East.

According to Aqua-Tots Co-Founder, Paul Preston, who oversees the company’s franchise development, the company seeks about 5,100 square feet of space. When choosing sites, the company looks at traffic patterns of parents, income, [the] number of children in the area and site visibility. “We like to be in centers that are convenient for parents and near daily needs generators like grocery stores,” Preston said. “We are a destination business, but the move to vacated retail space has lead to increased profitability for our franchisees.”

Since opening its first location in a light industrial space in Birmingham, Mich., in 2006, Goldfish Swim School has grown to 14 units throughout the Midwest and eastern United States. All of the units are owned by franchisees, except for the Birmingham location, and four of these are located within shopping centers. The company plans to open seven additional units within the next six months. More impressive though, is the company’s goal to have 100 units throughout the country by 2024.

According to Chris McCuiston, cofounder and CEO of Goldfish Swim School, the company seeks locations with ample parking, greater than 7,000 square feet in size and in affluent demographic markets with large amounts of children 9 years of age and younger. “We will occupy any space throughout the country that fits our size, parking and visibility needs new or old,” he said. “Shopping centers provide us great visibility, co-tenants and foot traffic, along with adequate parking for our members.”

By attracting large numbers of families on a weekly (and even daily) basis, each of these companies offers tremendous benefits to landlords and owners of shopping centers. “Parents are demanding quality, professional swim programs in clean, fun indoor environments,” Preston said. “Parents are tired of the YMCA and city programs.  Our growth is due directly to parents who care about the safety of the children and want them to become strong swimmers.” Another benefit, Preston said, is that flexibility in layout allows for more options when it comes to site selection. “We have been able to take several spaces that aren’t the traditional rectangle in a center. This has given us the ability to get into some great shopping centers, because we can work with the corner unit or other unusually shaped space that other retailers can’t.” 

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