Considerations when Operating Commercial Swimming Pools

With swimming pools across the UK facing more pressure than ever before to remain open, we interview Natalie McGuire, Director of Business Development at Brimhams Active and ex-Senior Engagement Manager at Swim England, about her views on what operators can do to maximise commercial opportunities and deliver a sustainable pool provision.

Natalie McGuire
Q: Where should operators start when reviewing their swimming pool provision?

A: When broken down the challenge around commercial programming of a swimming pool is simple. It hinges on two key elements. 1. Understanding your customers and 2. Understanding your cost to serve.  Both are paramount in order to maximise the asset, chase efficiencies and continuous growth through intelligence and insight.

Q: Why is understanding customers important for organisations?

A: Understanding customers is important for organisations because it allows them to cater to their customers’ needs and preferences effectively. By gaining insights into their customers’ emotional journey and experiences, operators can make informed decisions and improve their knowledge of customer expectations. This understanding helps organisations avoid misunderstandings and ensures that programming decisions are based on customer needs rather than convenience or outdated practices. Ultimately, by actively engaging with customers and understanding their journey, operators can enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Q: How can operators improve their understanding of customers?

A: There are several strategies that they could use. Firstly, they can directly ask customers for feedback and engage in conversations to gain insights into their experiences and expectations. This qualitative approach can be supplemented with non-user insights to understand the reasons behind customers’ choices. Secondly, organisations should test their understanding against quantitative customer trends, utilizing data and analytics to validate their assumptions and identify patterns or trends. By combining qualitative and quantitative approaches, organisations can unlock valuable information necessary for effective programming.

Q: What is the concept of “cost to serve” in business?

A: The concept of “cost to serve” refers to the analysis of costs associated with delivering a product or service to customers. Instead of solely focusing on the income generated by each activity, organisations consider the margin and overall profitability. By evaluating the balance between costs and income, operators can make more informed decisions about resource allocation. For example, investing in additional workforce, technology, or equipment may increase costs in the short term but can lead to benefits such as increased participation, higher fees, improved retention, and better cost recovery ratios.

Q: How can analyzing “cost to serve” go beyond the pool hall itself?

A: Analysing “cost to serve” can extend beyond the pool hall to other areas within the facility, such as reception and the café. By scrutinising the costs associated with these ancillary areas, organisations can identify opportunities for increased efficiency. For instance, questioning the need for multiple receptionists during peak periods and exploring the possibility of educating customers about digital solutions like access control and self-serve check-in points can lead to cost savings. By considering the overall cost structure, operators can avoid ignoring hidden or residual costs that may impact profitability.

Q: Can you give us some examples how organisations can maximize commercial opportunities by combining customer understanding and cost considerations?

A: Sure, there are lots of ways I can suggest:

  1. High-value, high-margin programmed activities: By offering targeted activities, such as Learn to Swim (LTS) programs, aquatic group exercise sessions, tailored support sessions, and guided delivery, organizations can cater to larger customer groups with less resource investment. This approach provides stability in staff scheduling, allows for effective budgeting through targeted marketing and advance bookings, reduces administration workload through technology, and improves member retention through direct intervention.
  2. Dual use of assets: Organizations can support their membership income stream by providing continuous access to facilities for general members. Aligning programmed and unprogrammed activities effectively ensures that all users are satisfied and exposed to alternative activities. By maintaining stability in the membership income stream, organizations can subsidize innovation or new product offerings until they become established within the program.
  3. Community and corporate engagement: Filling “white space” with regular sessions targeting specific markets, such as local disability groups, corporate partners, parent networks, and community organizations, can generate bookings and benefit from economies of scale. Designing experiences tailored to these target markets and emotionally engaging them through marketing efforts can attract customers who may not have previously considered the pool as an opportunity.
  4. Prioritizing social value: When commercial returns are challenging, organizations can prioritize social returns. By tailoring offerings for individuals with long-term health conditions, those facing barriers to access, and hard-to-reach demographics, organizations can increase their confidence and comfort levels within venues. This approach opens up new markets for membership and may also attract funding for specific interventions that demonstrate social value, such as aquatic-based GP referral activities and instructor-led interventions.
  5. Diversification: Organizations should continually introduce new products and services to delight customers and meet their evolving demands. By staying ahead of customer expectations and offering innovative activities, organizations can retain customers and prevent them from seeking alternatives elsewhere. Embracing change, innovation, and learning from failures are crucial aspects of maintaining a dynamic and attractive program.
  6. Challenging the status quo: Organizations should not adhere to traditional practices simply because they have always been done that way. By smartly assessing risks, optimizing pool space, and creating new messaging, organizations can break free from routine. For example, school swimming programs can be offered in annual programs, weekly intensives, or before-school clubs instead of strictly following a term-based approach. Flexibility and mutually beneficial principles, such as offering exclusive access to swimming clubs during peak times at a premium price, can lead to increased revenue.
  7. Listening to staff: Employees are a valuable resource for organizations. They possess insights into customer preferences and operational efficiencies that go beyond spreadsheet analysis. By investing in opportunities to listen to their feedback and testing their recommendations, organizations can tap into their frontline knowledge. Engaging with the team should not be a mere formality but a fundamental aspect of performance management, ensuring a better understanding of customers and identifying improvement opportunities.
Q: How can the recognition of the health benefits of swimming guarantee a commercial return for innovative operators?

A: First and foremost, swimming offers unique advantages as a physical activity, making it an attractive choice for many individuals seeking to improve their health. By acknowledging and promoting these benefits, operators can position swimming as a superior option compared to other activities, attracting a larger customer base.

Also, by catering to the diverse needs of all user groups and offering programs that align with their goals and preferences, operators can enhance customer satisfaction and retention. The pool’s commercial potential lies in meeting the demands of different demographics, including those with long-term health conditions, individuals facing barriers to access, and hard-to-reach populations. By tailoring the offering to these specific groups and providing exclusive pool space, operators can increase their confidence and comfort levels within the facility, leading to higher participation and retention rates.

Lastly, by remaining committed to understanding customer needs, embracing change and innovation, and continually introducing new products and services, operators can retain their existing customer base and attract new customers. By keeping pace with evolving customer expectations and delighting them with exciting experiences, operators can differentiate themselves from competitors and ensure a sustainable commercial return.

The recognition of swimming’s health benefits, coupled with a deep understanding of customer preferences and innovative programming decisions, can guarantee a commercial return for operators willing to invest in their customers and adapt to changing demands.

Thank you to Natalie for her time in answering our questions.  If you’d like to get in touch with Natalie then contact her on the link below and if you want more information on how Alliance Leisure support operators improve their swimming pool provision then contact us here.

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