The British are coming. You’d better grab goggles and a towel.
British Swim School, a franchised brand of swim schools founded in Great Britain nearly 40 years ago, has opened its first Richmond-area locations this month, operating out of hotel pools in Henrico and Ashland.
Despite plenty of competition in the swimming scene locally, Marcel Seukep, owner of the two new franchises, thinks there’s room for more.
“‘Do we need another swim school in Richmond’ is a question that several people ask,” Seukep said. “Yes, we do.”
At a ribbon-cutting last week at his location inside the SpringHill Suites at 9960 Independence Park Drive in Henrico, Seukep cited a stat that more than 65 percent of the U.S. population does not know how to swim.
“And that’s the case here in Richmond as well,” he said. “Drowning is a leading cause of death for kids ages 1 to 9. Just last year, when I was first thinking about doing this, there was a case of death by drowning here in Richmond. A boy who was 6 years old died with an adult. Both didn’t know how to swim.”
As a part of its business model, British Swim School franchise owners rent pool time from established businesses in the local area that already have pools to save on construction and operation costs.
Seukep’s other location opened June 11 at the Country Inn & Suites in Ashland at 11600 Lakeridge Parkway. He said the model allows him to be flexible in choosing locations instead of being stuck to one pool.
“I can be much closer to the community, I don’t have to build my own pool, I can work with partners and really bring the pool to the people instead of the other way around,” he said.
Until August of last year, Seukep worked as the senior manager of strategy and business development at WestRock, a packaging company founded in 2015 after the merger of Richmond based MeadWestvaco and RockTenn out of Georgia.
Seukep had long wanted to own his own business or chain of franchises, and he said he finally felt ready last fall when he started looking for opportunities. He enlisted the help of Richmond-based franchise broker Gus Lurillo, who showed him British Swim School. Seukep dived in.
The first step was reaching out to local businesses with pools, and preparing a presentation to the managers about British Swim School and how they could work together.
“We get to use the pool, but it’s also an opportunity for them to be more visible, and to participate in bringing safety to the community,” Seukep said. “We also use the pool when they don’t use them normally, and it maximizes utilization of the pools. And we rent the pools too, so there’s a financial angle for them.”
Seukep said he’s invested over $150,000 in the two swim schools to cover franchise fees, equipment and other costs through bond loans and his own personal savings. He would not disclose what he pays the hotels for pool access.
Danyel Melvin, general manager at Springhill Suites in Henrico, said she was impressed with Seukep’s presentation and agreed that hosting British Swim School was a way for the hotel to give back to the community.
“There’s a lot of excitement with the parents. I was excited reading about it and I’m truly impressed with this program,” Melvin said. “And when (Seukep) shared the percentages of people who don’t know how to swim, you just realize the need for something like this.”
British Swim School began opening U.S. locations about 10 years after its founding and now has 180 schools in 20 states. In April, the company was acquired by Buzz Franchise Brands of Virginia Beach, with the hope of expanding and opening more franchises.
Its schools teach water safety to children as young as 3 months.
Thus far, Seukep said he’s had 12 signups, which are sold with a one-year $39 membership fee and classes costing either $24.95 apiece for the two lessons per week, or $27.74 for one class per week.
Seukep said he hopes to expand his location count around the region, even as other swimming ventures continue to grow here.
Goldfish Swim School, another franchised brand, opened its first area location in the Gayton Crossing Shopping Center in 2018.
Longtime local swimming program NOVA Aquatics announced in March it plans to build a new 50,000-square-foot facility inside the former Macy’s South building in Regency Square mall.
And last month, Henrico County and the YMCA of Greater Richmond broke ground on an $8 million, 20,000-square-foot joint venture aquatics facility in Eastern Henrico.