1851 interviewed founder, Rita Goldberg, to learn her story and view of the brand's success
English born, Rita Goldberg, is making a splash in franchising with her brand, British Swim School. Being based in Ft. Lauderdale, her brand is growing throughout the United States and Canada. “It is a very exciting time for British Swim school” she says as she explained the unexpected success for her brand during an interview with 1851 Agency.
Born in Manchester, England, Goldberg grew up in the water. Seeing it as a second-home and a possible career, she trained for professional status and an Olympic berth. After a devastating, career-ending injury she left the world she once loved, married and lived her life in England.
She was contacted by a friend who looked for help as they opened a swim club. Goldberg gave insight and returned back to her love of swimming. A few years later, Goldberg found herself working for the Manchester Education Department as a coach with the swim program. At this time, she was happy where she was, but she wanted more in the swimming world. One day, a friend alerted her that an old coach opened a pool in his garage where he was teaching little tikes simple swimming techniques. The idea clicked, Rita was to open her own swim school.
36 years ago, Rita and her husband, at the time, sold their first home and purchased a Victorian home in Manchester where they planned to renovate the basement into a pool. “The sale of my home helped the business, but we needed more money,” explained Goldberg. She went from bank to bank all over Manchester looking for a loan. While looking for a loan, Rita applied to a TV program called Dragon’s Den, the original, European version of Shark Tank, in hopes to place and win prize money to pay for her business. After not hearing back from the show, Goldberg returned to the loan search. She applied to Barclays, who soon after denied her request. A few days later, she received a call from the program saying she placed in the top twenty. Although only the top ten is allowed to participate on the show, they did award her 1000 pounds of prize money from, coincidentally, Barclays bank. Goldberg said she “went to the same banker who denied her loan at first, but this time he had to give [her] the money.”
A few years and a couple locations later, she went through a divorce and found herself starting a new life in Ft. Lauderdale being closer to her sister. At the time, she spent 18 months researching and developing a method of teaching young children to swim on their backs because she noticed difficulty due to their head weight. Incorporating her new method, along with her business experience from England, Goldberg opened her first American swim school in a fitness center. In 1995, she opened a pool and swim school in Florida, but realized the potential in unused pools in fitness centers, senior homes and hotels in her area. Due to that realization, she contacted Bally fitness hoping for a partnership.
More swim schools began to open but it was difficult to find success in the many locations because the coaches were leaving. On top of that, she explained that she didn’t feel like she was managing these schools properly. In 2009, she finally partnered with Bally Fitness and opened schools in New York and DC. Goldberg found that partnership is the key to success for her business. Her other realization of the unused pools in recently mentioned locations gave birth to the British Swim School franchise.
She utilized partnerships with specific fitness centers and hotels and allowed entrepreneurs to buy into the brand. This idea began to snowball due to the low investment cost but an easy return on investment. “The franchisees don’t have to build” says Goldberg now sitting as the CEO and Founder of a brand with 108 locations throughout the U.S., Canada and even Turkey. Originally, she aimed to open eight to ten locations - she is now “in shock about what is happening now.”
“I cannot see forward,” says Goldberg as she answered a question regarding the end goal of the brand. They focus recruiting “interesting, mind-stretching, good people,” explained Goldberg. She encourages entrepreneurs to buy into the British Swim School brand because of the family the franchise system has turned into.
“We want to save lives - Survival of the Littles,” says the CEO.