Starting the Texas Swim Academy was a matter of life and death for Kathleen and Bruce McMordie. After Kathleen, a critical care nurse, worked on a child who had drowned during a shift in the early 1990s, she was moved to protect her own kids and, eventually, other children from the same fate.
“Drowning is so preventable,” she says.
She enrolled her infant and two toddlers in a swim survival program, where they learned enough to survive an accidental plunge into the pool. After a move from Austin to a Houston suburb, Kathleen began looking for another instructor to teach her fourth child the same survival skills. Instead, she found “mommy and me” classes in which toddlers splashed around blowing bubbles in the water.
“I wasn’t satisfied with that,” she says.
Kathleen became certified in Infant Aquatic Survival, which focuses on teaching babies to float and swim based on repetition and child development milestones. She started teaching neighborhood children in her backyard pool, and was soon giving 15-minute lessons for 12 hours a day. It was time for the business to grow.
Taking the plunge
With no prior business experience, Kathleen and Bruce took advantage of local resources designed to help entrepreneurs. For help hammering out a business plan, they attended workshops hosted by their SCORE chapter and the local Small Business Development Center, both of which are resources under the mantle of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Bruce also participated in Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program at Houston Community College, where he attended 12 courses about business development and finance.
To fund a brand new, nearly 8,000-square-foot swim facility in Katy, Texas, the McMordies got a $1.5 million Small Business Administration 7(a) loan from Members Choice Credit Union, where they already had their personal bank accounts.
“They’re our go-to people because they get what we’re doing,” Kathleen says. “We’re not a number to them, just like our clients aren’t just a number to us.”
MCCU is relatively new to small business lending, having started its program in 2009, but it has quickly become a prominent lender in the community. In 2014, the Houston District SBA named MCCU the Financial Services Champion of the Year and presented the Texas Swim Academy with the Entrepreneurial Success Award.
The six-pool facility opened in September 2012, and became profitable within the first year.
“We had a good business plan. We did our homework,” Kathleen says.
The Texas Swim Academy now offers private and group swim lessons for kids along with adult classes, ranging from $18 to $28 a session. With business running smoothly, Kathleen and Bruce have turned their attention to their next endeavor: opening a second facility focused on competitive swimming. They’re currently in the funding and planning stages, but hope to have it open by summer 2016.
Tips for small businesses
To match Texas Swim Academy’s success, other small business owners should take advantage of resources provided through SCORE and local SBDCs, says Bruce Hurta, MCCU’s business lending manager. He adds that having managerial experience is important too, and says Kathleen and Bruce make a well-balanced team.
“Bruce is very good with the financial management, whereas Kathleen is out there being the image for the business and the community,” he says.
Full-time employees at Texas Swim Academy earn competitive salaries and health benefits, but Kathleen says it’s challenging to hire and retain qualified instructors. She’s found success in encouraging the six full-time staff members to refer other employees.
Kathleen also stresses the importance of writing a solid business plan, researching the market and scouting an ideal location, but above all, she advises other entrepreneurs to be patient while building a business.
“It’s going to take three times longer than you thought possible and it’s probably going to cost twice as much,” she says.
Photo courtesy of Kathleen and Bruce McMordie.