H2O For Profit
Travis Twilbeck, the aquatics director for The Club in Mississippi, had a vision for his pools. What did his vision entail? To make his pools stand out — especially in his state, where public and private pools are plentiful due to the intensely hot summers.
In order to meet Twilbeck’s objective, The Club created a state-of-the-art aquatics facility with features unique to the immediate area. Its flagship location, The Club at The Township, features a water aerobics pool, an indoor hot therapy pool, a seven-lane Olympic distance pool, a recreational resort pool with spray features and zero-depth entry, and a whirlpool.
The investment into the aquatics facility has paid off. “Our pools actually draw more new members to our facility than the typical January ‘New Year’s rush’ does,” said Twilbeck.
On a summer day in California, Club One can expect around 300 people to visit the outdoor pool at any one of its locations. “This is made up of lap swimming, family swimming and private lessons, and consists of a mix of members and public users with purchased one-day passes,” explained Seth Hazen, the regional aquatics director for Club One. “Swimming pools on their own generally aren’t profitable, but they have a huge appeal in generating memberships.”
Part of that appeal is derived from pool variety. “We’ve found the best combination in California is to offer an indoor and outdoor pool combination at our clubs — although you can’t go wrong with multiple indoor pools either,” explained Hazen. “The key in either of those combinations is to have at least two very distinct pools.”
According to Hazen, by offering a variety of temperatures, clubs can offer different programs better suited to each pool’s water temperature. “Children and older adult programming is best suited for warm water pools in the 88-92 degree range,” he explained. “Lap swimming and swim teams prefer a colder pool in the 78-82 degree range. By having two distinct pools you are able to create programming that is ideal for each.”
Sparrow Michigan Athletic Club in East Lansing, Mich. recognized the appeal of indoor and outdoor pools. It offers members a choice between 12 pools, including an indoor, 126,000-gallon lap pool, and an outdoor 3,200-square-foot leisure pool, which features a 200-foot water slide, mushroom waterfall, three geysers and three sprayers. In the winter, a dome is installed to allow for year-round use of the outdoor pool.
“Swimming pools are profitable for health clubs by helping sell memberships,” said Ryan Zoumbaris, the aquatics manager for Sparrow Michigan Athletic Club. “The added value of having pools tends to attract families with children. These populations are those who have a much higher retention rate, and spend more on other services within the club. The pools not only provide space for our array of water-based programs, but also become a unique selling tool for recruiting new members.”
According to Zoumbaris, simply just boasting a pool as an amenity isn’t enough to generate profit. “Our pools generate revenue through programs offered to our members,” explained Zoumbaris. “Some of our popular offerings include swim lessons, youth swim team, water fitness classes and medical-based fitness class options.” At Michigan Athletic Club, for an extra fee, some of the programs are open to non-members as well, further widening profit potential.
The revenue from Club One’s pool at the Silver Creek Sportsplex in San Jose, Calif., is generated from two main programs — a year-round swim school, and private and semi-private swimming lessons. Each use Aquatic Concepts, a teaching program that teaches proper stroke technique and water safety, in the hopes of providing participants with a life-long skill. “Those two programs make up 95 percent of our [pool] revenue, with smaller programs like aqua aerobics, aqua personal training, youth and master swim teams and birthday party rentals rounding it out,” said Hazen.
The Club generates the majority of its revenue from its pools through programs as well. “The swim team is the primary means by which we generate income through the pool,” said Twilbeck. The Club’s swim team, the Tiger Sharks, compete against local health and country clubs. Part of the revenue generated is derived from vendor sales during swim meets (food and drinks), and the meets draw attention to The Club and its unique aquatics facility. “When we host a meet it draws attention here,” continued Twilbeck. “It gives exposure to our whole facility when we host events like that.”
When not being used for swim meets, The Club’s outdoor pool area is available to rent for birthday parties or other events. Additionally, two covered pavilions allow for bands to play outside as entertainment.
To utilize pools to their fullest potential and to maximize profit, Hazen suggested clubs be creative. “Nearly every pool can be a multi-use pool with a little creative thinking,” he said. “For example, if your pool is a deep water pool, you can add removable benches and teaching platforms for children. Add some ropes and buoys to rope off a section and you can have swim lessons and aqua aerobics side by side. Don’t get caught up in thinking your pool can only be used for one type of programming at a time. Maximize the hours your club and pool are open, and create programming that appeals to a wide range of members.”
According to Hazen, if pools are fully utilized, they have the potential to generate a large amount of memberships and be extremely valuable. “Offering high-quality children and adult programming, not only is great for your membership, but it also pulls the general public into your club,” explained Hazen. “Not only do you see an increase in program revenue, which helps cover your swimming pool’s general expenses, but this programming helps act as another form of marketing for your club. Swim programs generate a lot of word-of-mouth referrals which helps translate over into increased memberships.”
By Rachel Zabonick