Spotlight: Goldfish Swim School Is Teaching More Than 1 Million Kids to Swim

Goldfish Swim School wants to make sure all kids have the skills to be safe in the water. And they’re well on their way to achieving that goal, having just taught their one millionth child to swim.

The company even runs a franchise system to bring their business model to new locations. Read about the business and this unique opportunity in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Teaching kids to be safe in the water.

Co-founder and CEO Chris McCuiston told Small Business Trends, “Goldfish Swim School provides swim lessons and water safety instruction to infants and children ages four months to 12 years, teaching children how to be safer in and around the water. Each school offers swim lessons and programs using a proprietary philosophy, The Science of SwimPlay®, to build life skills both in and out of the water using play-based learning in a fun and safe environment. Each school’s number one focus and main priority is always the same – educating children on water safety while teaching them how to swim and respect the water.”

Business Niche

Providing a “golden” experience.

McCuiston explains, “Every interaction someone has with Goldfish Swim School, from seeing an advertisement, to their first-time walking into a school, or when actively taking lessons, they will enjoy the ‘Golden’ experience our team works so hard to create. The inviting bright colors, the warm, clean and shallow pools and the tropical décor all come together at each location to provide that same experience to all our guests. With our dedication to providing wow! customer service, either over the phone or in person, we always put the individual first and show genuine care for guests and their families.”

How the Business Got Started

Because of a childhood experience.

McCuiston says, “The idea started with my wife, Jenny McCuiston. Jenny swam with a friend who’s family-owned swim schools in California growing up. After she graduated college, she began working as a coach. She was reminded of the business her friend’s family owned and wanted to start something similar here in Michigan. We spent two years writing a business plan, and eventually that grew into founding Goldfish Swim School.”

Biggest Win

Reaching 100 franchise locations in 2020.

McCuiston adds, “This was a huge milestone, as only 16 percent of franchises grow to have more than 100 locations. We are working on continuing to grow, and are on our way to becoming one of the 4 percent of franchises that have more than 500 locations.”

Biggest Risk

Getting started with help from family.

McCuiston says, “The biggest risk we took was leveraging two commercial properties our family owned in order to open our first school in Birmingham, MI in 2006. Had that risk failed, we would have lost those properties. And our parents might not have been able to retire as comfortably as they’d planned. Luckily, leveraging those properties and our hard work has paid off!”

Biggest Challenge

Navigating the pandemic.

McCuiston adds, “We had to close down all our schools, which was an experience many had during that time. We were able to remain in business thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program and COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loans that were made available to all of our businesses, thanks to the government.”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

Funding swim lessons for underserved families.

McCuiston says, “During the summer of 2022, we ran a program where we helped pay for swimming lessons, food, clothing, and other necessities for children and families in need. I would take that money and fund as many free swim lessons for those families as we could.”

Business Impact

Helping more than one million kids.

McCuiston adds, “Just recently, we crossed a milestone, having taught more than 1,000,000 children how to swim since first opening 16 years ago!”

Favorite Quote

“The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” – Proverbs 22:9.

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Image: Goldfish Swim School, Chris McCuiston

Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.