Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

January 5, 2013

Goldfish Swim School growing

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. (AP) — If ever there was proof that a completely new invention or technology isn't needed to be a successful entrepreneur, it's Goldfish Swim School.

Goldfish was launched in 2006 as a mom-and-pop operation in Birmingham by Chris and Jenny McCuiston.

Today — thanks in part to a marketing boost from online mommy bloggers — it's a growing franchise network, with five schools in Michigan and 10 more under development in locations as far afield as Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Chicago.

Investors are coughing up $1 million or more, per location, for a Goldfish franchise — in a still-sluggish economy. And Goldfish's reason for existence is as simple as can be.

To teach kids to swim.

Not exactly a novel idea, right?

YMCAs have been giving swim lessons for more than 100 years. Fitness centers and municipal pools do it, too. Was this an unfilled need?

Not so much an unfilled need, but rather an opportunity to improve the experience, as Andrew McCuiston and Katie Lee explained said during a visit to the Goldfish school in Rochester, which opened in March.

Think about it. What were the worst things about learning to swim for you?

Shivering in cold water and on the pool deck? Not at Goldfish, where the water temperature is kept at 90 degrees.

Fear of drowning, plunging into deep water and never coming back up? No deep water at Goldfish, where the pool is purpose-built for teaching kids ages 4 months to 12 years, never more than 4 1/2 feet deep.

Mass classes of kids splashing and kicking and squealing? Goldfish classes are designed with a student-teacher ratio of 4-1, and — for a premium — semiprivate or solo lessons are available.

The instruction model was devised mainly by Jenny McCuiston, 32, a competitive swimmer at Birmingham Seaholm High School and the University of Arizona. After returning home to Michigan from college, Jenny was teaching early childhood development and moonlighting as a swim coach at Seaholm and giving private swim lessons.

"Jenny found that she was booked for private lessons all the time; there was really a demand," said her husband and fellow Seaholm grad Chris, 32, who played baseball at Michigan State, where he was a finance major.

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