Multi-Unit Goldfish Swim School Franchisee Shares Best Practices That Help Her Manage 13 Schools

Most multi-unit franchisees would agree that even though they own several businesses under the same franchise license, each unit is unique in its own way. Location, marketplace, target demographic – all of these factors require multi-unit franchisees to call upon more than just business savvy in order to approach each unit appropriately to succeed. But succeed, they often do. In fact, more than 50 percent of all franchise units in the United States are owned by multi-unit franchisees and industry analysts predict that number will continue to increase.

Looking back, I now realize that making the initial leap from one to two or three units can be the trickiest and most trying of transitions, as issues are typically exposed that must be addressed to first stabilize and then expand even further. Plus, the whole process can be just down right nerve-wracking. That said, when you scale your business properly and have the right team by your side, there’s potential to be incredibly successful.

Multi-unit franchising was not something I originally set out to do, but now I can’t picture it any other way. Owning multiple businesses is a great way to diversify income, negotiate better contracts with suppliers and more. And, while growing to own several businesses is challenging, it’s incredibly fulfilling especially when you choose an industry that has the potential to bring you a sense of purpose. Having swam competitively for years, franchising with Goldfish Swim School felt like a natural fit. Plus, it’s allowed me to help entire communities and families learn how to be safe in and around the water all while having fun. Since launching my first school back in 2009, we’ve grown to 13 schools with two more slated to open over the next few months.

Throughout our 10-plus years of growth, I’ve learned a lot and gathered best practices on what it takes to operate multiple franchises at once – below are a few I’ve incorporated into my day-to-day.

Understand how you work – and honor it

Everyone has a different work style, so while your team may be working to reach a particular goal, it’s likely each person will arrive at the goal differently – including yourself. Most leaders tend to look at how their teams work and move forward accordingly, but aren’t looking inward nearly as often. Seek out a work coach to understand your personal work style and what conditions help you thrive. For me, I’m classified as an achiever based on the model we use through our coach. It’s very easy for me to keep my head down and push through work quickly, but if I do that all day, my talents aren’t being utilized and I end up exhausted. Instead, I make a point to position myself in roles that oversee my teams to help them strategize and problem solve. Taking a small breather is another tactic that our strength coach helped me realize, as I’m much more productive when I walk away from a project for a few hours and return back. In short, don’t forget you’re a critical part of your team, and its vital to understand how every single person on your team works in order to succeed.

Invest in your team

Leaders spend a great deal of money and resources on recruiting outside their company, and there are definite benefits to that approach. Onboarding new team members can help bring fresh ideas and perspectives as well as successful processes gleaned from other workplaces that can push your business forward. We too spent countless resources on building our teams at the outset, but instead of spending money to look outside our company as we expand, we’re actively working at all times to develop from within. We do this by working to pinpoint engaged, high-performers and investing in their development and future. Afterall, these people often already have a deep understanding and connection to the company.

Our leadership philosophy is that we lead to create more leaders, so that they can create more leaders, and so it continues. Ultimately, we’re building a diverse group of self-motivated individuals that make great decisions at every level. Some organizations believe in having an equal amount of leaders and followers, but we view a team full of leaders as a team that’s primed for growth.

Compare and contrast

Entrepreneurs who own multiple businesses often overlook their greatest asset in decision making – and it’s right in front of them. The network of businesses, especially if they’re franchises, acts as an informal system of checks and balances, allowing business owners to compare and contrast on a deep level at any given moment. Our teams are always pulling reports to compare performance, expenses and more. But this method comes in handy the most when we’re alerted to something that is off, which basically sends us on a hunt to find the issue in other units and nip it in the bud. Young units are also able to be compared directly against mature units in order to stay on track, predict trends or anticipate dips and rises in sales for example. Viewing every new unit as a variable, and older units as a constant can help you perfect systems and processes because of the information you have available – use records and historic bookkeeping to your advantage.

Find value in every experience

In speaking with other entrepreneurs, a common anecdote is how they escaped the chains of corporate America, but I believe coming from a corporate position is incredibly beneficial as you hone entrepreneurial skills to grow multiple businesses. I’m constantly making decisions based on my experience as an employee for someone else – that’s probably why I’ve had some team members stick around for nearly 10 years. Every experience is valuable, so instead of writing it off as inadequate, gather what’s useful and tuck it away for another time. From adapting policy procedures to perfecting my demeanor in business dealings to building teams filled with people that mirror qualities that I previously enjoyed working with, my previous positions have shaped me and helped me build a business that any employee would want to be part of.

My experiences have also helped me to appreciate the aspects of owning a business, like the fact that I have the ability to make a dramatic impact on our bottom line, or that I am a voice for my employees – all of these realizations have helped me construct businesses with inclusive and healthy work environments where people enjoy coming to work each day.

Katie Lee has been with Goldfish Swim School for 10 years and started her tenure with the company as a swim coach. After seeing how popular the concept was, she decided to open her own swim school with a business partner. Now, Lee owns and oversees the daily operations of 13 schools, with an agreement in place to open a total of 20.

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