Diving Into the Deep End
SafeSplash Swim School has grand
ambitions. How does its strategy stack up?
MAT T LANE, CO-FOUNDER of SafeSplash Swim
School, knows that some dip toes into the
water while others plunge in. But when it
comes to international expansion, only one
approach works. “If you are going to go for it,”
says Lane, “you have to go for it at scale.”
Lane, a former competitive swimmer,
launched SafeSplash in 2005 in Denver when
he couldn’t fnd a good program for his kids.
By 2015, the business had about 60 U.S.
locations. Given the right situation, it was
ready to go global.
Lane had run a worldwide organization for
Hewlett-Packard, and knew it took substantial
blocking and tackling to operate abroad.
He calculated he’d need 20 SafeSplashes per
territory to justify what he’d have to invest
to manage local franchise laws, regulations,
trademarks, and currency conversion, among
other things. He sought a master franchisee—
a subfranchiser that provides services to
franchisees within a specifed territory—that
could operate dozens of schools and would
invest time and resources to localize planning
and marketing. When Sports World, a Mexican ftness chain with dozens of locations,
came knocking, SafeSplash answered.
SafeSplash handled its own Spanish
translation of the software platform used by
its franchisees to run their businesses. But it
collaborated with Sports World to introduce
the brand and its values to Mexican families.
The company feared the impact of its mar-
keting might not survive translation.
(“Learning to swim is a formative experience,” says Lane. “Often it is the frst activity
where kids demonstrate to parents they can
accomplish something on their own.”) His
team and Sports World worked closely to see
that a key company message—reassuring
customers that they are good parents—was
When the frst Mexican schools opened
in March 2016, Lane and other SafeSplash
leaders joined Sports World for presentations
to parents at roughly 15 sites around Mexico
City. “We wanted them to know that the
executive team are personally invested,” says
Lane. To ensure that his U.S. employees
were invested too, he shot video of mothers’
reactions and distributed clips companywide.
Today, SafeSplash revenue exceeds
$25 million, with 5 to 10 percent coming from
Mexico. It seeks master franchisees elsewhere, including Canada, South America, the
Middle East, and China. Because of that country’s size, SafeSplash is breaking it into six
territories and hiring a local broker to fnd
master franchisees, as each territory must
support 20 units out of the gate.
Recently, SafeSplash acquired another U.S.
swim school that had a single franchisee in
Turkey. Bringing operations in that region up
to at least 20 units is on Lane’s front burner.
“When you go in onesies and twosies,” he says,
“it’s too slow.” —LEIGH BUCHANAN
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Brian Scudamore, founder
and CEO of O2E Brands,
whose companies include
“You’ve got to go in with
a big bang when you’re
pursuing international. The
just one or two locations
but many, sometimes
across the street from each
other. Customers should
see the brand everywhere.
“It’s important if you are
building a global brand to
get out there and connect.
When we went to Australia
with 1-800-Got-Junk?, it
took me four years before
I made my frst trip. That
was a big mistake. How
arrogant of me to say, ‘We
can start a country without
ever going there.’ I’m all
for getting out in the feld
and connecting with people
as much as you can.
“I am not a big fan of
master franchising. If you
get the wrong franchiser,
it’s hard to get rid of them.
It is deadly. The entire
Michael Seid, founder
and managing director of
MSA Worldwide, a franchise
“Turkey has historically
been a solid market. However, in any international
expansion, the political
and legal conditions have
to be considered. Turkey
right now is more than
a bit unstable. If there are
other reasons to keep
Turkey on the front burner,
I would establish a blended
approach that would
include a master franchisee
that can handle those
issues while targeting the
rest of that region.”
• IN THE S WIM
Safe Splash is betting big on an aggressive
international expansion—which looks like a success.
LEAD 58 - INC. - NOVEMBER 2017