Case Study – Water Babies

From Kitchen Table to International Brand

Here’s a great story! Combine a good idea with something that people have a need for, and mix that with company founders who really care. Not just about their success, but helping others achieve their dreams.

Water Babies is the (now well known) name of that franchise and this is part of their story…

Water Babies Business

I’m Paul Thompson, Co-founder of Water Babies. We are a baby swimming company. We teach children from zero to four years of age, but our specialty is under one, our youngest ever client being 2 days old.

Franchising Discovered

When we first come across The Franchising Centre it was very early on in our growth story, so it was actually back in 2003. We started in 2002 and franchising, for us, embryonically began six months later, towards the end of 2002. We did it off our own backs a little bit. Almost embarrassed to say, we sort of made up our own franchising processes with basic research. When we launched our two first trial franchises, really, in a little bit of a Heath Robinson kind of way, they both took off. They exploded instantly, and at that point, we realised not that we’ve got an amazing business, but actually we’re now responsible for two families. My intention was to try and get some help, to try and find some professional advice. I realised that we needed to do that.

“Actually, I don’t know if you can franchise…”

That’s when I bumped into Bill Pegram from The Franchising Centre. What struck me about Bill was the honesty of his approach, apart from the professionalism, but the honesty of his approach. We spoke to many consultants and almost all of them said, “Yes, you can franchise,” but Bill said, “Actually, I don’t know if you can franchise. You’re very, very new. You’ve been approached to be franchisors really, really quickly. Yes, you’ve set up a couple of pilots, but it’s all very new. It’s all very fast. You haven’t really settled down and established yourself as a proper entity.”

So he was much more questioning about it and, actually, that appealed to me because we do business very, very professionally and we’re very honest, and that was that approach. Actually, what he said to me was, “I will see if I think you are suitable for being a franchisor,” so he had my attention straight away. Bill’s approach was entirely professional. I learned huge amounts about becoming a franchisor from Bill. To be perfectly frank, we wouldn’t be here without that initial relationship with Bill. It’s as simple as that.

International Expansion

Water Babies is expanding internationally. We’re already in Ireland and that’s been really successful for us, and that spurred us on to go further afield. We have approached The Franchising Centre to help us to do that. You absolutely have to have professional advice. If you think you can do it on your own, I really would urge you to think again. You will get is so badly wrong. I really believe that. So do get proper professional advice. There are things that you would not even begun to have thought about, that you will the benefit of that advice. Obviously, we have used the international arm of The Franchising Centre, and in working Farrah Rose, who has helped us and guided us through that process, and they have been amazing. I can’t use another word, absolutely amazing.

The Franchising Centre…have a network of franchise consultants

The other great thing that The Franchising Centre do when they put you into another country is actually giving you the right professional advice in that country. They have a network of franchise consultants in each of the countries that you would be interested in going into and they work with them and you to make you a success in that country. The support structure that you get, as well as the historic understanding and knowledge, is absolutely vital if you’re going to be successful.

I think it’s very easy when you run your own business to become tunnel visioned and think that the way you’re doing it is the only way to do it. It’s very much not our way in Water Babies, and what the Value Builder process does is bring an external view of our processes and our systems, and really makes us question whether they are fit for purpose. It’s an integral part of systems now, on a regular basis, and it tests what we’re doing, and it asks us the right questions. We can see where we’re good well, we can see where we’re falling short, and we can make sure that we’re constantly adapting to be the best that we can be, so really important.

The Value Builder process, we initially brought in to help us as franchisor, and in terms of our systems, back to our franchisees, but what we then realised was, actually, it’s a tool that we could use actually within our franchisees. We have something called a Watermark, which is the name we give our business review of our franchisees. When you’re a Water Babies franchisee, we come and see you after your first year, formally, to do a proper business review with you, and then that’s repeated every two years. We call that the Watermark.

But with Value Builder, we’ve actually realised that we can remodel the Watermark, incorporating Value Builder, to actually, again, do a more … even more detailed assessment process of our franchisees on a regular basis, and that’s what’s now happening. It’s actually developed beyond us, as a franchisor, to actually being rolled out across our network, and almost certainly, it will go into our international network as well.

We’ve got a very good, strong working relationship with The Franchising Centre

We started with The Franchising Centre within one year of Water Babies starting (2002) and it’s never stopped. They helped us to start our first UK franchise business, of course, becoming a franchisor in the UK. They then helped us to go into Ireland, as our first international foray, and we’re now working with them closely to go further afield around the world, and we’re also working with them on their Value Builder model as well, so it’s constant, and actually, I think that relationship will continue for as long as Water Babies is around. We’ve got a very good, strong working relationship with The Franchising Centre.

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