2018 Powered by Women
From reader nominations, DBusiness selected eight professional women who are driving growth in Michigan, the nation, and the world.
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Terri Harwood // Katie Bowman Coleman // Amy B. Robinson // Monica Martinez
Lilly Epstein Stotland // Christine Sitek // Tricia Ruby // Sara Blackmer
Co-founder • Goldfish Swim School, Troy
Employees: 82 • Revenue: $4.6M (2016)
Jenny McCuiston associates her personal experience of learning to swim at age 3 with cold water, dark pools, and cavernous-like facilities. Is it any wonder, then, that her Goldfish Swim School, a business McCuiston co-founded with her husband, Chris, features water heated to 90 degrees, pools with “no scary deep ends,” and décor shaded in a palette reminiscent of an island in the Caribbean?
The McCuistons established Goldfish in 2006 after Jenny, who had been teaching kids how to swim at a local pool, learned there was demand for helping children become proficient in handling themselves in water. She has a unique blend of athletic and teaching talent, having been a two-time Olympic trials qualifier, a collegiate All-American at the University of Arizona, a state champion swimmer at Seaholm High School in Birmingham, and by having earned a degree in early childhood development and family studies.
She’s also the mother of four boys who range in age from 4 to 9 (they all know how to swim).
The parents of one of Jenny McCuiston’s college friends have a swim school in San Francisco, so when the McCuistons started thinking about opening a school of their own, they headed to the West Coast for a site visit and the opportunity to soak up advice. Over several years, they visited other schools and wrote a business plan. Soon after, they were welcoming children ages 4 months to 12 years into the first Goldfish Swim School in a former industrial space on Cole Street in Birmingham.
Although the original plan didn’t include franchising, “We got asked all the time if it was (available),” Jenny says. Responding to the groundswell of interest, in 2009 Goldfish’s first franchise opened in Farmington Hills. In the years since, the franchise operations have grown to include 66 locations in 20 states, along with one in Canada. In the U.S., school locations are primarily in the Midwest and on the East Coast, with a concentration in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
Future goals include increasing international franchises and, perhaps, tweaking the school’s physical model to accommodate Goldfish Schools in big cities like New York, where the facilities may have to fit into smaller spaces because square footage is at a premium. Franchises are available to those with a minimum investment of $1.3 million, according to the company’s website.
The growth Goldfish has experienced also led the company to invest $1 million in a 16,000-square-foot headquarters in 2017 on Industrial Row Drive, east of Coolidge Highway in Troy. The new headquarters not only offers the business more office space; it includes accommodations to meet with potential franchisees and room for training staff.
Goldfish is a family business. Chris, who has a degree in finance, handles the business side. His brother, Andrew, co-owns the franchise operation. Jenny is the visionary who brings her talents of teaching and curriculum development to the pool.
Goldfish’s proprietary curriculum, The Science of SwimPlay, is based on the philosophy that a child’s cognitive growth flourishes in a safe environment and via learning through “guided play.” For example, to teach students to look down while swimming, classes include searching for coins on the bottom of the pool. Also, classes are limited to 30 minutes because that length of time matches an average child’s attention span. “Researchers have shown for a long time that kids learn through play,” McCuiston says. “The focus on fun makes them less anxious.” — Ilene Wolff