Three Aquatics Directors Talk Percentages, Programming, Philosophies

Three aquatics directors take time to talk percentages, programming and philosophies.

Is your fitness center pouring money into its pool, only to see it evaporate? Is the aquatics deck deserted, while lines of annoyed members form behind treadmills on the fitness floor? If so, it's time to learn about packing as much perceived value into your facility's aquatics offerings as possible. Read on, as aquatics managers share their experience and can-do philosophies about keeping pools profitable.

Meet the experts

Everett Uchiyama, Director of Aquatics
Aquatics Center at the Country Club of Colorado
Cheyenne Mountain Resort, Colo.

Art Krueger, Director
The Wave Aquatic and Fitness Center
Whitefish, Mont.

Farrin Cain, Aquatics Director
HealthWorks Fitness Center
El Dorado, Ark.

For some fitness centers, the pool is more money pit than money-maker. What are some signs that a facility's market won't support a pool?

Uchiyama: A facility needs to offer the latest pool features and be kid friendly. To do so, [we are] committed to adding advanced water features in conjunction with a kid's playground in 2009. What makes us unique is our 50-meter Olympic-size pool. We have fitness enthusiasts come specifically to stay at our resort because of this feature. We have [also] been rated the No. 2 Hotel Lap Pool in North America by Athletic-Minded Traveler.

Krueger: When looking at a community specifically from the perspective of a 'club,' signs to consider before including a pool in the facility [include the following]:
  • Size and demographic makeup of the community. Is there enough potential membership to support the budget that is inclusive of aquatics?
  • Cold weather climates will increase overhead costs significantly.
  • Existing municipal aquatics centers may already have a firm hold on the swim market.
Cain: While various markets are a bit of a challenge, we believe that with the right planning, organization and marketing strategies, all areas could benefit, support and be financially successful and stable for an aquatics facility.

What are some innovative uses for a pool that can help make it profitable?

Uchiyama: Programming, programming, programming! Pool managers know what works best [for them,] and the needs of their facility. Offer a lot of children's activities, personal training (group and private swim lessons), swimming teams, aqua aerobics, scuba, kayaking classes, triathlon classes and aqua therapy. The aqua therapy is an underserved population. With the average age of our population getting older, there is a great need for these types of programs.

Krueger: Some ideas include swimming lessons for organizations such as schools (public and private); one-on-one or small group swimming lessons; personal training specific to swimming events, such as triathlons or age group competitions; athletic performance enhancement or cross training for land sports; and parties for birthdays, graduations, corporate outings, etc.

Cain: Know your clientele and adjust programs accordingly. Stay abreast of the innovative activities, and implement them into your facility. Be professional and personal; maintain an educated and professional staff. Make sure your staff is given the tools to be successful. Reach out to your community by having all types of programs that would meet the community's needs.

What percentage of the membership should use the pool for it to make sense at a fitness facility?

Uchiyama: As a country club that is part of the Cheyenne Mountain Resort Hotel, most members of the club, as well as the hotel guests, use the pools.

Krueger: I think it is more of a question of how many members are needed for the club to operate with a pool. Getting members into and using the aquatics facility is more of a retention question. If a club wants to retain its members, it makes sense to help them broaden their horizon on potential avenues for exercise, including using the pool.

Cain: I would say about 15 to 18 percent.

What percentage of the staffing budget should be set aside for aquatics?

Krueger: This is a matter of philosophy, style of club and state requirements. For example, are lifeguards required? We typically operate at about 12 percent [of our budget], including swim lessons, lifeguards, maintenance and management. This works well for our situation.

Cain: I would say about 30 to 36 percent.

How can facilities minimize expenditures for their pools while keeping quality high?

Uchiyama: The single most important advice I can give a manager is to have every inch of water space and time properly programmed. If you are not doing this, then you are sending dollars 'down the drain.'

Krueger: Preventive maintenance is always the sure way to prevent high costs of replacement. Specifically, making sure that dehumid, sanitization and heat systems are well-maintained. It is also appropriate to make sure the daily cleaning of the bricks and mortar are maintained. An indoor pool environment is harsh and can wear quickly on the entire facility. It is absolutely key to budget appropriately for maintenance and repair in your annual operational budget, as well as long-term asset replacement through capital budget.

Cain: [Facilities can] introduce sponsorships for various programs to facilitate additional program cost.

What are the top-three mistakes fitness facilities make with their pools?

Uchiyama: 1) When the pools are viewed as an amenity and not as a money-making opportunity; 2) not having an aquatics professional involved in the strategic planning of the facility, creating active programs 365 days a year; 3) lack of proper care and maintenance. Money can be saved in the long run with proper maintenance.

Krueger: 1) Poor financial management; 2) hiring, recruiting, retaining and motivating qualified staff; 3) poor program management - [failing to get] members involved in the aquatics portion of the facility.

Cain: 1) Non-certified staff; 2) lack of programs; 3) not attending to maintenance issues in a timely manner.

What is the best decision you ever made that has helped your facility's pool make financial sense?

Uchiyama: We upgraded the flagship pool on the property, which is our 50-meter pool. We put a new vinyl liner and stainless steel gutter system in to upgrade and enhance our facility. Here I will quote long-time members: Father: 'It looks very cool.' Son: 'No, Dad, it's sweet.' We also anticipate a resurgence of family membership upon completion of the kids' water feature."

Krueger: We do our best at being the best. ... To do this, you need a dedicated person managing aquatics. We have an excellent aquatics manager.

Cain: Quality staff, introduction of sponsorship programs, good leadership and the willingness to adjust to all clientele.
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