Differentiate or die: A case study of aqua innovation

By sharing the cost and risk of investing in new equipment between clubs, you can diversify your aqua offering and add new revenue streams, says swim school operator Julie Stevens.

Aqua fitness should no longer be seen as the ‘poor cousin’ to land-based group fitness classes, whether it be in the swim school or fitness facility environment. Increasing numbers of men and women are taking to the water, either in addition to their existing fitness routines, or as the core component of their physical activity.

If you instruct aqua exercise, or you manage a facility that offers aqua classes, you’ll be only too aware of the many challenges unique to this branch of fitness. From acoustic issues to water temperature, there’s always something to keep us on our toes! Another challenge is that of justifying the expense of buying bigger ticket equipment for classes that make only a small footprint on the facility’s group fitness timetable.

We see gyms investing in state-of-the-art equipment on a regular basis, obviously in an effort to encourage, increase and retain membership. But rarely do we see $50,000 of aqua fitness equipment rolled out.

In January 2017 at four established indoor swimming schools in Adelaide we did just that. Why? Because I believed that, like any business, we needed to diversify, and that an opportunity existed to offer additional income-generating services that would support the future success of the current business.

I came to this realisation after having purchased 11 Acquapole Boxing sets in late 2016 and seeing this create enough interest to generate a return on investment of 120%. This prompted me to be a little more adventurous and really ‘put my money where my mouth was’. I met with a group of excited and motivated aqua fitness instructors employed at our facilities and revealed my plans. Within a few hours ‘The Pool is the New Gym’ concept was formed.

After researching the companies that I felt would be best to work with, we purchased 10 Aquabases from Aquaphysical; 11 bikes from Aquaspin and 10 sets of resistance equipment from Aquastrength. I formulated a plan to run pre-paid programs in 8-week blocks and then rotate the equipment from site to site, giving all four of the swim schools a taste of each program. Whereas it wouldn’t have been feasible to spend $50,000 at one site alone, the ability to spread the initial costs made it possible – albeit still a little risky!

The equipment delivered and program planned, it was time to see, now that we’d built it, whether they would come…

So did they? After 12 months the return on investment was 140%. The benefits go well beyond the financial of course. We have seen a new clientele visit our swim schools, boosting our Learn to Swim program and many of the other programs that we offer. We are playing a part in encouraging a healthier community and offering an exercise option for those who don’t enjoy going to the gym, going for a run or riding a bike.

Of course, this venture was possible because we were able to spread the cost/risk between four facilities, and their associated budgets and membership bases. This doesn’t necessarily put such a program beyond your reach if you run an independent swim facility or gym with a pool, however: what’s to stop you sharing the purchase with other independent, non-competing facilities in other areas and implementing a program of pre-paid 8-week blocks and then rotating the equipment between your venues?

Will it stand the test of time? The early signs in 2018 suggest that it will, but regardless of whether it does or doesn’t, we already know that the risk proved to be worth taking, and this year we will back ourselves by introducing a second set of bikes as well as Gymstick H2O. In the words of Jim Rohn, ‘If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.’

Julie Stevens is director of State Swim Unley, State Swim Mount Barker and State Swim Seaford. She has been involved in the aqua industry for over 30 years. Julie is also owner and CEO of Active Training, an RTO specialising in training industry professionals in all aspects of swim school operation, First Aid and other health and fitness pursuits. stateswim.net.au