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The Great Franchisee: Woody Alpern, Big Blue Swim School, Atlanta

The professional diving instructor and CPA signed a 35-unit deal with the fast-growing swim school franchise.

By Matt Puttin1851 Franchise Contributor
Updated 10:10AM 04/23/21

Woody Alpern has more than 45 years of experience diving, much of that time as a professional instructor. Now, the former CPA is leveraging his expertise in swimming and swim safety to become one of the largest franchisees with fast-growing swim school franchise Big Blue Swim School.  

Alpern has signed a 35-unit deal with Big Blue to bring locations to Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami, and Nashville. We spoke to Alpern to learn more about his decision to join the franchise.

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

Woody Alpern: I was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, which is where my love for the water began. I graduated from the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina with a Masters Degree in Accounting. I am married with grown children and reside in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, GA.

I’ve been a CPA for more than 35 years and an entrepreneur for more than 30. After working with a large public accounting firm out of college, I co-founded what grew to be among the largest independent wealth advisory firms in Atlanta, and, after divesting my interest therein, co-founded CPA Wealth Advisors, LLC, with my SE Swim School, LLC partner, Gerry Benjamin, also a CPA. CPA Wealth was born out of the need we saw for having qualified CPA advisors assist investment clients in establishing and achieving their personal financial income, retirement, estate and wealth planning objectives. 

After divesting my first wealth advisory firm eight years ago, I have pursued real estate development, and I own several commercial real estate buildings in Atlanta and along with Gerry, I own interests in multiple limited service Marriott branded hotels. I am currently the CEO of SESS, LLC. 

At the end of the day, my primary love is the water. I’ve been scuba diving since I was 11 years-old. I am a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructor) Instructor, an IANTD (International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers) Instructor, a Kiss Rebreather Technical Dive Instructor, an SSI (Scuba Schools International) Instructor Trainer and a Platinum Pro 5000 Instructor and Diver at the Georgia Aquarium. 

I am very passionate about the diving community, and I help agencies police diving guidelines and regulations. The type of diving I do is “extreme diving,” where you need to be well trained. Think of it as the “black belt” of diving, as I go very deep for long periods of time. 

I believe that my love of water has been life changing. It’s pure, serene and provides me with a feeling of calm and energy that I have simply never been able to experience anywhere else. I have been blessed to meet incredible people through scuba diving. They are intelligent, curious, and mindful of the critical protection we must provide to our various underwater environments. Somehow I have been blessed with a skill, a special way to connect in order to be able to change people’s lives through swim and scuba diving. For me, that is truly the most rewarding part of being a dive instructor.

1851: How did you initially find out about franchising? 

Alpern: As an entrepreneur for more than 30 years, I’ve always been aware of the franchise space. I wanted to be part of a tried and true system that would allow me to build on the business model and grow strategically. 

1851: What types of brands did you look at?

Alpern: I was Googling swim school franchises and came across Big Blue Swim School. I was teaching diving lessons here in Atlanta and something drove me to look and see what pool options were available in the Atlanta market because there was not a large high-quality facility here. 

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

Alpern: Through the online search I conducted, the brand instantly appealed to me, and they were quick to reach out. The Big Blue Swim School team is a hands-on franchisor. They invited me to take a look at the facility, introduced me to the brand and stayed involved throughout the whole discovery period. My business partner has successfully owned and operated multiple large multi-site franchise operations and was equally impressed with the Big Blue Swim School system as well.

The opportunity to grow their brand in the Southeast along with the focus they have on cutting edge technology is incredible. What gets me the most excited is the teaching methodology, which emphasizes a purposefully positive-reinforcement approach, which is the best way to learn and inspire growth in children and adolescents. I then looked carefully at the strategy behind the business, and it is first class when it comes to their staff, finances, technology, marketing and the facilities. Once I saw how the brand’s app and technology worked, that was the “aha moment” for me. We look forward to creating many big moments for children in the years to come. 

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

Alpern: My dream with the business is to make Big Blue Swim School the dominant player in the swim world. We are a country that is driven by brand names, and we want Big Blue Swim School to be the premier swim school that positively impacts the lives of children as it relates to teaching them a vital life skill. I believe that the life skill of swim instruction will never become outdated, replaced by technology, irrelevant, or less vital over time.  

1851: What value do you see your business providing to the greater Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami, Louisville, Lexington and Nashville markets?

Alpern: Many of these markets are right near the ocean. You look at a state like Florida, which is one of the fastest-growing states in our country, and it’s surrounded by water. Water is such an essential part of life in the Southeast region of the United States, and that’s why we want to grow Big Blue Swim School in all of these markets. Given how many families are located in these cities, we want to be the premier swim school with the highest quality instruction. Together with my business partners’ deep experience rolling out multisite brands across new markets, we’re highly confident in our ability to deliver a wonderful service and to have a material impact within each metropolitan market we enter.

1851: What do you do in your personal time?

Alpern: Scuba diving and swimming have been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some might say I am an addict. For almost 45 years, I have been drawn to breathing underwater. The connection to the underwater world is so powerful and healing that even when I’m away from it for 24 hours, I’m craving my next dive. I’ve completed over 7,000 dives and I get asked all the time what my favorite dive was. My answer to that question is the dive I just completed and the next one I am going to pursue. I live life in the moment and I want to bring that into our Big Blue Swim Schools. Every dive is different because you’re with different people, you might see different marine life and there are a multitude of unique weather systems. The ability to positively introduce and safely expose children to the wonders of the water is a dream come true for me.