#LearningCurve: Turning your passion into business

France Harington, owner of France’s Aquatics, Aquaswim Tots & Tods and Kiryoku Dojo
Picture: Fredlin Adriaan

Health hiccup set exercise fanatic on new path to financial fitness, awareness and commitment to help others

After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1995, France Harington had to move her fitness regime to the water. Since then, she has turned this passion for fitness – both in water and on land – into three thriving businesses.

Can you give me some background on yourself and your business ventures?

I am an aqua-fitness gym and swim school owner and my newest venture is my karate school. I started my aqua-fitness business in 1995 after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The pain made me re-evaluate my land-based exercise regime and I turned to water! After enjoying the medium so much, I became a qualified Sawfa (South Africa Water Fitness Association) instructor and in that year France’s Aquatics was born.

In 1999, while teaching an aqua class at a Virgin Active gym, I became aware of children being taught to swim, and the apparent fear and stress in some of them, and I believed there must surely be a better way to introduce children to water.

After some research and an infant swim course (Aquatots), I expanded my fitness gym to accommodate my second venture, Aquaswim Tots & Tods. With continued development, I now teach children to swim in a fun, gentle parent-tot way.

In 2002, I took part in a self-defence course with my daughter, which was by far one of my best decisions ever as it opened up a new world for me and it did not take me long to sign up for a lifetime of karate training! This was meant to stay a personal journey and I never intended to take it on as a “job”.

But after I reached 4th Dan in Karate and 2nd Dan in Kobudo (weapons), to continue on my own path of learning, I decided it was time to give back.

With a strong belief that to teach is to learn, I started an adult-only karate school, Kiryoku Dojo, in April 2016.

Having started my own karate journey in my 30’s, my passion has been to bring adults to this lifestyle. However, considering the dangers in today’s world, I have since come to the decision to include children’s classes and allow them the benefits that karate brings. Therefore Kiryoku Dojo will be launching Kiryoku kids/teens karate classes from January.

What is your core service?

Ultimately what runs through each business is health, fitness and safety.

What are the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?

I had to travel to Durban and Cape Town to do my aquatic and swimming courses, which were unavailable in PE, and financing a start-up with these expenses was difficult. The cost of heating my pool was also a challenge at the time. In the case of my karate, finding a suitable venue took some time.

What are the biggest challenges in your day-today business operations?

Pool maintenance, water quality and heat is of paramount importance, and not easy in our temperamental PE weather!

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about success?

My father once told me not to burn out and juggle too many interests or they might crash. I try now not to bite off more than I can chew and make each day a successful day.

How do you measure or define success in your business?

Every achievement is a success. When an adult in my aquatics class swims for the first time with confidence, or when medication is no longer needed due to improved health or fitness… that is success. When one of my tiniest tots or a previously nervous child floats unaided for the first time and a parent sheds tears of happiness… that is success. When one of my karate students glows with pride when achieving or understanding a new move or technique, that is success.

What kind of advertising do you do?

Word of mouth remains the best form of advertising.

What are some of your highlights in running your business?

Being my own boss is the best highlight. Keeping myself fit and strong while “working” is indeed a highlight. I have made my lifestyle my job.

How important is social media and an online presence for your business?

It is extremely important! It is free, and with the opportunity of a visual presence on various platforms, I reach more people.

How did you acquire funding for the business?

I was fortunate to already have a pool to start my aqua and swimming business and my husband lent me the funds for heating. Thereafter I ploughed back any profit into enclosing the pool, attending further courses, and so forth.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your business journey so far?

Believe in your product or service and be hands-on to keep it successful.

What has been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?

Challenges are always there. At this point in particular, water restrictions and no rain are one of the worst challenges.

An advantage of running a business in PE is that I am accessible to everyone, being a mere half-hour or less from all corners of the city.

Who has been your role model in your approach to the business and why?

In my karate business my Senseis Steve and Karl have been great role models to me, as they both juggle their own careers in addition to running their very successful karate club. My fellow female karateka, friends and family also inspire me to continue on my path as a woman in a very male-dominated sport.

What is your biggest goal for the business in the next five years?

To keep reaching more adults and children and introducing them to fitness and safety. In the case of karate for adults, over and above imparting the ability of selfdefence and awareness, perhaps rekindling a dream that might have been put aside, believing their time had passed.

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