Get to know the owner of Franklin Swimtastic Swim School, Kara Kampa!
And yes, that name may sound familiar - why? Because she’s the mother of Heather Kampa, one of the veteran swim instructors at the Franklin location, and Danielle Kampa, the manager at the Franklin location!
Read on to learn more about Kara’s experience as an owner of a Swimtastic Swim School.
What made you seek out the opportunity to franchise a Swimtastic Swim School?
My girls (Heather and Danielle) were actually enrolled at the Swimtastic location in Waukesha when they were young, and I just fell in love with the program. I noticed a lot of unique differences in the Swimtastic curriculum in comparison to other places offering swim lessons. There seemed to really be a market for this particular business as well, since it was specifically tailored towards beginning swimmers, as opposed to classes taken at a high school or something like that. So it got Dion (my business partner) and I thinking about opening up some kind of aquatic center, after realizing that there weren’t really that many places to take swim lessons. We started doing some research, and I came across an article in a magazine highlighting Susan Wainscott, who started Swimtastic. It was quite the coincidence. After reading the article, I noticed in fine print that Swimtastic franchised, so Dion and I decided to take the opportunity. The whole franchising process was easy and fast; we were given a few locations to choose from but we thought that Franklin looked like the best location to start up a swim school. After that decision, and only a few quick months later, we had a swim school.
What was it like getting the business on it’s feet?
It was the most exciting thing getting the business started up. I remember working 12 hour days in a tiny office, just me and one other employee cold calling to drum up some customers. We had a small article in a local paper as far as marketing, and that was about it. When we enrolled our first customer, it was a surreal and very happy experience. It’s funny looking back...we started out with 200 kids enrolled for our first session, and now we are well above that. We’ve grown exponentially every year. I’m just very proud of the business and how far it has come.
At what point did you consider the swim school a success?
I never considered it anything less. Granted, it took 10 years to get to a comfortable place financially, not having to worry month to month about expenses or going under the line. But the Swimtastic mission was always something I believed in and I knew that once the community found out about us, their success with our program would speak for itself, and it paid off. Word of mouth (referrals) is now our number one source for new customers. Our first quarter of this year already is the best it’s ever been, due in no small part to our customers sharing their experiences with their friends. I’m looking forward to seeing how much we can grow from here.
What are some of the challenges you have faced or currently face?
The biggest challenge I faced for a long time was getting noticed. Since we are located in the Franklin Industrial Park, we’re not visible from any main street. It made marketing difficult, not having a physical presence out in the open. But now our lessons have made a difference in so many community member’s lives that word of mouth has helped tremendously with spreading the word about the business. We still occasionally get the “I didn’t even know you guys were here, I’m glad I found you!”, but it’s a lot less frequent now than in the past.
Currently, oddly enough, I’d say I create challenges more than face them. I set very high goals for my staff concerning re-enrollment and things of that sort, and by setting the bar high I hope to push them to the best of their potential.
Tell us about an accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
By far one of my most significant accomplishments was keeping Swimtastic open through the economy crash. It was really a time when people had watch what they spent their money on. As such, enrollment was way down and there were times when I didn’t think we’d be able to stay open through those years, so overcoming that was huge. I had to make a lot of sacrifices but I believed that if we stuck it out the business would be able to recover, and it did.
Looking back on that time and comparing it to where we are now, it really helps me move forward and makes me feel like I can accomplish anything. Things tend to start seeming not so unbelievable after you’ve accomplished the impossible.
Tell us about the recent changes you’ve made to the swim school.
This past winter break we revamped a lot. We put in a new dehumidification system which has helped tremendously with condensation on the viewing windows. Thanks to the new system it’s non-existent, much to the happiness of our customers and staff. We also replaced a lot of our mechanical equipment to keep everything running smoothly. The pool room also got a makeover, improving the overall aesthetic - the ceiling and all the walls got a fresh coat of paint. The last thing is our Women’s bathroom - we put in new flooring and a new sink, which look fantastic.
We like to put out periodic surveys for our customers to give us feedback, and a lot of the changes that I just mentioned were suggested to us over the course of 2015, so it was fun bringing those suggestions to life. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve the facility and make the building welcoming. So winter break is always our chance to do that and make things nicer for the customers. I think everyone has been happy with the changes!
Can you describe what's it like when a family is so grateful for your services?
Humbling and overwhelmed, but in the best way possible. I feel so proud of the kids and the staff. It’s always an emotional moment. When a customer expresses how happy they are with their lessons, to me it validates how important it is for families that their kids learn these skills, and I’ll never get tired of seeing how happy it makes them when their child succeeds.
It’s always a special experience to see someone so moved, and when I look at their child I can’t help but think about how much this child has accomplished, and I can rest easy knowing that swimming is something that they will take them for the rest of their life. Like I always say, we’re not just providing a service. We’re not just teaching a lesson, but a life skill. And teaching swimming to kids and seeing the positive impact it has on their lives is something I will never, ever grow tired of.
Why do you put such an emphasis on customer service?
Customer service is so very important to me, and an essential part of running a respectable business. I expect my employees to go above and beyond to make customers feel taken care of.
A lot of places nowadays don’t put as much of an emphasis on customer service as they should. How many times have you walked in a place and not been greeted? Right off the bat, the vibe is ruined. It’s so impersonal. You don’t feel welcome. And because of this, you’re instantly going to get a bad feel for the business. A simple hello and goodbye goes a long way in making a favorable impression.
With customer service, I’ve always thought that it’s the little things that make a difference. For instance, we bake fresh cookies the last week of every session for families to enjoy for free. We try to do a few giveaways throughout the year and we always do something fun for Christmas before winter break. We do these things to show our appreciation to our customers.
I’m lucky enough to have a great staff that helps make people feel welcome. Each and every one of them cares, from front desk staff to the instructors. Our office staff and teaching staff work hand in hand, each with unique responsibilities with the ultimate goal of making customers satisfied.
Why do you think swimming lessons are so important?
It’s hard to think of any skill that’s more important than teaching a child how to swim. Kids need to know how to swim, because they will inevitably be exposed to water in their lives. For their own safety, enrolling in swimming lessons is essential. And I hope we can one day get to a place where it’s kind of automatic, how teaching a kid to ride a bike is. That’s just something you do, so why shouldn’t it be the case with swimming too? The thing with swimming is that it offers a whole lot of benefits in addition being a life skill. It’s a great source of exercise, and it’s so much fun that it doesn’t even seem like it. Kids that enroll in swimming lessons also learn how to set personal goals for themselves, and celebrate in their accomplishments once they’ve reached that goal. Swimming provides a great social atmosphere as well, especially as kids move up to more advanced swimming activities like the Recreational Swim Team that we have. From this kids get to experience friendly competition and are introduced to group dynamics through fun team bonding activities.
I think the most important thing to remember about swimming is that it’s the only activity that teaches a life skill in addition to being fun. Look at it this way - yeah, baseball is fun, but is it going to save your life? No. But swimming will. It’s the best of both worlds.