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The Great Franchisee: Gary Cohen, Big Blue Swim School, Boston

The former corporate strategist was inspired to join the fast-growing swim school brand after his daughter nearly drowned.

By Carley ChanaContributor
Updated 10:10AM 09/10/21

Boston native Gary Cohen has always loved water sports and spending time at the beach, but after his young daughter almost drowned at a public swimming pool, Cohen’s passion turned more towards water safety, ultimately leading to a new career in business ownership. 

Cohen is now leveraging his experience in corporate strategy consulting and finance to bring fast-growing swim school franchise Big Blue Swim School to Boston and empower kids with the skills they need to feel confident in the water. Cohen’s first location will open in mid-2022.

1851 Franchise: Tell us your story – what did you do before franchising?

Gary Cohen: I grew up in the North Shore Boston area in Marblehead, which is a big water town, and growing up, my family was constantly at the beach swimming and boating. After graduating from college, I dove headfirst into the corporate world where I worked in strategy consulting for a variety of different companies. About halfway through my professional career, I pivoted into the financial services industry and found that I enjoyed assessing financial strengths and weaknesses of companies, but as an outside investor, it was difficult to roll up my sleeves to drive direct changes at companies.

1851: How did you initially find out about franchising, and what was your perception of franchising before becoming a franchise owner?

Cohen: While working on the corporate side of things, I started itching to own a company and began looking into businesses that might be a good fit. After working under others for so long, I was excited by the idea of being able to create and lead a team.

1851: How did you decide you wanted to be a franchisee?

Cohen: After working in both strategy consulting and the financial services industry, I realized I wanted to make the jump into business ownership. At first, I was a bit agnostic in deciding between the franchise industry and developing a business on my own, but after understanding the benefits that come along with franchising, I was sold.

1851: How did you perform your research?

Cohen: After being introduced to the brand, I spoke with the corporate team about the brand's mission, growth opportunities and finances, and everything just seemed to click into place. If I was going to dedicate time, effort and financial resources into a company, it was vital for me to see that the corporate team and I were aligned.

1851: Why did you pick Big Blue Swim School? What excited you most about the brand’s potential?

Cohen: I have a real passion for the mission of this enterprise. With the correct mission, youth sports can absolutely be fun and build confidence in children. Additionally, after living on the East Coast next to the beach, it is easy to see how vital learning how to swim is for these kids. I have two daughters who grew up constantly in the water, and yet, one of my daughters almost drowned in a public swimming pool when she was three years old. Receiving that dreaded phone call is every parent’s worst nightmare, and it is my hope to better teach children how to swim.

1851: What are your dreams with the business? What does the future look like?

Cohen: From a business perspective, it made more sense to buy the entire market rather than a single location. It is a new market, and I think we have the chance to grow into a well-recognized brand in Massachusetts. We are eager to see how the business grows, and we hope to open at least one new location a year over the next several years.

1851: What advice would you have for others looking at buying a franchise?

Cohen: If you are going to devote time, money and resources into a company, it is important to be aligned with the corporate team on values. It was clear to me that the Big Blue corporate team and I saw eye to eye, and that was a large reason I felt comfortable diving in.

1851: What do you do in your personal time?

Cohen: I have two daughters who keep my wife and I very busy. When I am not working, I love spending time with the family, and all four of us have always enjoyed spending time on the water, whether that be swimming, boating or at the beach.


Big Blue Swim School was founded in 2009 by competitive swimmer Chris DeJong. The first location opened in Wilmette, Illinois, followed by four additional Chicagoland schools. In 2017, Level 5 Capital Partners acquired a stake in the brand. In 2020, the brand expanded its presence to Atlanta. Big Blue is currently growing through franchising with plans to have a minimum of 150 pools sold by the end of 2021. Big Blue Swim School's real estate expertise, strong brand, proprietary technology, and leadership support, coupled with its best-in-class consumer offerings, position its franchise partners for long-term success. To learn more about franchise opportunities with Big Blue Swim School, visit