Bonnie Alcid — British Swim School Franchise Owner: A Story of Firsts
Being the first to do something can be both exciting and daunting. Without an example or path to follow, it takes a combination of bravery and risk tolerance to step out into the unknown.
For Bonnie Alcid of Gaithersburg, Maryland, it was a leap of faith — or better yet, a dive into the deep end– when she decided to become the first franchise owner of British Swim School. Since taking that chance 12 years ago, she has collected several other “firsts” on her way to becoming one of the organization’s largest franchise entities, with multiple British Swim School territories across the Maryland and Virginia region.
Although British Swim School is one of the most popular swim school franchises across the US and Canada, it got its start across the pond in 1981 when founder Rita Goldberg built an indoor pool in her own home in Great Britain to teach babies and children the importance of the back float. In the 90’s, the brand moved across the Atlantic to make its name in North America.
Where did Bonnie come in? After spending 12 years in a demanding corporate job in Washington, DC, Alcid resigned from her position as general manager of a manufacturing company in 2008 to take a break — both mentally and physically.
Alcid always had a lifelong love of swimming, something she now had time to enjoy. It was during one of those water workouts that she met Goldberg, who was just launching her innovative swimming program in the area. She was impressed with Goldberg’s focus on teaching babies and children skills needed to survive a water accident before moving to stroke development and more advanced swim techniques. It was this heart of the mission and the mantra of British Swim School, “Survival of the Littlest”, that Alcid fell in love with immediately. She began teaching these important life skills to children alongside Goldberg, who soon pitched her on the idea of licensing the program in other locations before officially launching British Swim School as a franchise in 2011. Bonnie now owns seven schools.
The British Swim School model is innovative, as franchise owners partner with facilities that already have pools not being utilized to their full potential, if at all — such as gyms, hotels and retirement communities. Without the buildout, overhead and maintenance fees associated with managing a standalone facility, the franchise becomes an affordable opportunity for many potential owners.
“Because I did not have to buy or build a pool, I was able to start the business right away — all I had to do was negotiate leasing contracts with facilities that already owned pools. The model is great for new owners,” says Alcid. “Because I had lower startup costs, I was able to focus my time and energy toward initial marketing, hiring and training.”
Alcid’s business took, growing year over year as she expanded into additional locations. Ultimately, she decided to take a risk that would include another first for her — a standalone teaching pool.
One of the pools she leased was located inside a hotel that drew a heavy business traveler clientele. These hotel guests rarely used the facility, so hotel management asked Alcid if she would like to take ownership of the pool. With the British Swim School corporate team’s support of this decision, Alcid said yes.
“I was at the point in my business that owning and operating a standalone pool was a viable next step. It was a different experience! Unlike a leased pool where you work around the owner’s schedule, I had full rights to the facility 24/7. It allowed me to expand the number of days and times I offered swim lessons.”
When another swim school in the area didn’t reopen after the pandemic, Alcid took another risk and purchased the facility, rebranding it under the British Swim School name. Even more, she recently launched her third dedicated facility — creating a unique hybrid franchise model.
“Because I have such a large territory, I could condense and close several of my rented pools and bring children and their families to these new, larger locations. Logistically, it’s been great for business,” adds Alcid. “With the standalone pool, we can continue delivering our excellent program, but we get to put a little frosting on the cake with the fantastic British Swim School branding.”
Despite her many successes, Bonnie remains humble. As most franchise organizations do, British Swim School recognizes franchisees with awards at its annual franchise convention. Bonnie consistently receives accolades for revenue/customer growth and has been awarded every “best of” recognition in the system. However, those are not the awards that make Bonnie proudest. “The philanthropy awards are near and dear to my heart.”
Alcid has been a Premier Founding Member of Hope Floats since 2018, a national non-profit organization dedicated to providing swim lessons to underprivileged children. Through fundraisers held at her schools, she is the biggest financial supporter of Hope Floats among British Swim School franchise owners and ranks in the top five contributors nationally. Her dedication to making sure every child has access to swim lessons led to her recognition as a Franchise Business Review Rockstar — specifically in the “Giving Back” category.
As you can imagine, Alcid is a role model for her fellow British Swim School franchise owners. She serves on the company’s franchise advisory committee and appreciates the chance to share her experiences with her peers.
“I am privileged to be able to mentor new franchise owners as they start their journey towards becoming business owners. It’s not uncommon for other franchisees to reach out to me and ask about what worked, and better yet, what didn’t work for me, as I went through my growth periods over the past 10 years.”
She also participates in validation calls for prospective franchise owners, where she encourages potential entrepreneurs who are considering investing in a British Swim School franchise to think big.
“Don’t just have a one-year plan. Have a 10-year plan. Don’t go into business if you are buying yourself a job. Invest in your business knowing the end game. Recognize the scalability and the growth potential of the program and build your franchise entity with those goals in mind. If you can, don’t limit yourself to just one unit. When you expand into multiple units, you realize what it means to be someone who owns a business and not someone who works in their business.”
Along the way, Alcid has focused on the growth of her swim schools but the expansion of her family too. She is now a mother of two, which fueled her determination to make smart hiring decisions.
“My family is a major priority in my life, so work-life balance is very important to me. I have assembled a fantastic staff that I’ve empowered to make decisions and run the day-to-day business.”
Alcid noted a recent turning point for the brand was when British Swim School was acquired by Buzz Franchise Brands in 2019.
Buzz Franchise Brands immediately tackled British Swim School’s franchise development strategy, while adding significant enhancements to the brand’s marketing tactics and social media presence. They also introduced new technology that allowed parents to track absences and schedule make ups within the British Swim School app, which has made a considerable difference in the back-end systems for franchise owners.
Alcid recently signed on for another 10 years, something that could lead to another first for this groundbreaking franchise owner. “It’s gratifying to have seen firsthand the growth British Swim School has seen over the last 10 years, and I’m so excited to see where we are headed.”
“My 11-year-old son, who grew up in the British Swim School system, tells me his goal is to take the business from me when he graduates from college. So, who knows — I may not have just built a business, I may have built a legacy.”