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Ann Arbor Townie and Former Co-Owner of SHAR Music to Open Michigan’s First Big Blue Swim School in Ann Arbor

Hiag Avsharian was impressed by the company’s proprietary mobile tech that is optimized for parents to easily schedule and reschedule lessons for their children.

By 1851 Staff1851 Staff Contributions
Updated 9:09AM 12/21/21

A self proclaimed “Townie”, Hiag Avsharian was born and raised in Ann Arbor attending both Saline Schools and Ann Arbor schools. Avsharian graduated from Hillsdale College where he obtained his degree in business and marketing. After graduation, returned to Ann Arbor to join the family business, SHAR Music, an omnichannel and direct marketer for violins, violas, cellos, and bass instruments that his grandfather started in 1962. Avsharian left SHAR in 2015, sold his interest in 2017 and started exploring the idea of owning a business of his own.

Following a few years at the tech startup SkySpecs, Avsharian worked with a franchise broker exploring different franchise opportunities. Franchising appealed to him because of the different support systems not only from corporate but also the other franchise partners, a system he knows the value of after owning SHAR Music for some time. Avsharian chose Big Blue Swim School because of its latest advancements in technology, similar to the tech startup he was working with prior. He believes the brand is building the next generation swim school thanks to its new, innovative, and embracing technology, unlike any other swim school brand.

Avsharian is thrilled to be bringing the first Big Blue Swim School to the state of Michigan in Ann Arbor, an area known for its competitive youth sports. His two children, Megan age 12 and Simon age nine, are competitive swimmers and divers, so he and his wife have seen first-hand the positive impact of swimming and the importance of having great instructors in a safe and welcoming environment - key ingredients to running a successful swim school. 

1851 Franchise: Tell us about your background.

Hiag Avsharian: I’m what’s called an Ann Arbor Townie. I was born at St. Joe’s hospital in Ann Arbor, graduated from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, and I’m now raising my family here in Ann Arbor.

I was recruited to play baseball at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan, where I studied business and marketing. My first job was in sales in Chicago for a couple years. Then I returned to join the family business, SHAR Music, in Ann Arbor. SHAR is an omnichannel direct marketer of violins, violas, cellos and bass instruments. My grandfather started the company in the basement of the family home only three blocks from where I now live. I started out doing wholesale for SHAR when I moved back to Ann Arbor from Chicago. I also helped open a location in Toronto in 1995, where I stayed for two years doing retail, mail order, and ecommerce. Then I moved back to Ann Arbor and became the director of sales. I eventually became VP and then President around 2000, running all day-to-day operations. I was a co-owner until 2015. We closed the Toronto location in 2003. When I left in 2015, SHAR had about 100 employees with two facilities in Ann Arbor and one in Beijing with roughly 40 employees.

1851: Why did you choose to go into franchising? What was the trigger moment that led you to become a franchise partner with Big Blue? 

Avsharian: In 2015 when I left the family business, a friend recommended a franchise broker. At the time, I looked into several opportunities, but nothing was a fit. I ended up working for a tech company, SkySpecs, for four years. They provided automated drones for wind turbine blade inspections. And then I worked for eight months at a cyber-security software startup. Then I circled back to wanting to buy a business and went back to the same broker. At that time, I was looking to buy a business.

Franchising appealed to me because I like being on a team. For me, I liked the idea of having not just the corporate team but also the other franchise partners as support. It also had a lot of the same tech startup vibe. Big Blue has great technology. They are building the next-generation swim school. It is new, innovative, and embracing technology. Other companies I looked at were older and not up to date.

Big Blue also has a well-financed team, and the franchise model offers scalability. Being first to market in the area was a plus, and I had the choice of location. I am going to get one going successfully, and then I may open others. I am looking for long term financial stability for my family.

Having run a business myself, I know the value of having support for all the marketing, IT, training, and thousands of details that you need to be looking after. I know and appreciate the value that franchising offers. IT especially is a beast to manage. 

1851: What value do you see your business providing to the community? What plans do you have for growth? What does the hiring landscape look like in your area and how are you planning to attract talent? 

Avsharian: My swim school will be ‘Townie Owned & Operated,’ so becoming a valued part of the community is really important to me. I graduated from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, but also attended Saline Schools from 2nd through 7th grade. I have friends all over the greater Ann Arbor Area, including Saline, Dexter, Chelsea, Ypsilanti, Brighton, Pynckney, and Manchester. I want my Big Blue Swim School to be valued by the community not just for providing essential water safety for kids, but also for being a wonderful place for families to look forward to visiting because it is fun and everyone feels welcome and appreciated. I would also like to help kids who are interested in competitive swimming because it has been such an incredible experience for our kids.

Plans for growth include opening a total of four swim school locations starting with Ann Arbor. If all goes well, along with a silent partner, I’ll open three more locations. Locations I have acquired development rights for include Ann Arbor, Canton, Novi/Northville, and Royal Oak.

As for hiring, there is no doubt that it is a tight labor market right now. However, there are so many people in our area with a swimming background but not many full time jobs in the swimming field. I think it is a pretty interesting gig, especially if you like kids and teaching kids swimming. I’m optimistic about my chances to attract people who would make terrific swim instructors to create the experience I want for our community.

1851: Do you provide any interesting services, work with any other local businesses, charitable organizations, or prominent individuals in the community?

Avsharian: I think what might be most interesting to parents is the advanced swimming techniques that are part of the Big Blue curriculum. Most parents assume, correctly, that a swim school for little ones is first and foremost for water safety, and to perhaps learn some basic swim strokes. However Big Blue has really taken that a big step forward by founder Chris DeJong, former UofM Swimming Athlete, by developing a progressive swimming curriculum to prepare kids for competitive swimming if that is of interest to them.

I will be doing a lot of grass-roots work to connect with local businesses and charitable organizations as well as leaders in the local swimming community. This is part of what I really look forward to because I love meeting more people in my community.

1851: Is there anything else that might be interesting about you, your business, or any of your team members?

Avsharian: My daughter, Megan, has gotten very involved in swimming and loves it. I watched her go from a two-year-old getting basic lessons to this last swim season competing with her Ann Arbor Racquet Club Racoon teammates at the local finals including the individual medley.  She has a ball, the meets are exciting, and it’s super fun to watch. I didn’t grow up doing swim team, and I always wondered why it was such a big deal in Ann Arbor. Now I know why.

My son Simon is a competitive diver for the same swim club. He goes to dive competitions all over. Simon is also a competitive gymnast which I have discovered complements diving very well.

My wife Ema is an active runner and two-time Boston Marathon finisher. A healthy lifestyle is important for our family, and who knows, maybe my wife might help with our swim schools at some point. She is currently an attorney working at the International Center at the University of Michigan helping faculty with immigration work. Ema is originally from Serbia and came to the states on a flute performance scholarship at the University of Michigan. She then went on to attend and graduate from Law School at Michigan State University with a full scholarship as part of the King Scholar Program (she’s smart).

As for me, I recently wrapped filming on a short film titled PULLING THE GOALIE, a story about a beer league hockey player’s struggle with infertility. The short film will be about 25 minutes and we hope to release it in Feb/March 2022.