Taking the plunge worth the effort for NMB swim school
● Passion and hard work see successful swim school owner’s dream come to life
A love of the water, combined with having saved two lives at the beach, is what spurred Trish Polis to start Trish Polis Swim School, which has grown from strength to strength, with a heated pool and free lessons for care givers a major advantage.
How was your business idea born?
As a child, I spent much time in our pool at home, eventually joining my sister at squad training.
Representing (the former) Transvaal at nationals was where I wanted to be – however cold the water was or how long the training sessions were.
In 1990, my little family had moved to the beautiful town of Mtunzini in Natal. My children were little and we were surrounded by water, which worried me so.
The closest swimming teacher was half an hour away.
I realised there was a desperate need to educate people how to swim. I enrolled in the Learn to Swim programme in Durban.
Once qualified, I hired the local school pool and started my teaching profession. As part of my service, I would collect my pupils from their homes.
I used to drive out to the sugar cane farms and give lessons in home pools.
I wanted to curb drowning accidents and make everybody water safe. Enjoying the beach every Sunday was our ritual.
One Sunday morning, right in front of us, a father and son got washed off the rocks and dragged out to sea. I saved both their lives, one at a time.
With the help of the public on the beach, we created a human chain at the end.
This incident powered me even more to go out and prevent unnecessary water accidents from happening. I just had to teach everyone that water is dangerous.
Strict safety rules have to be applied around water, no matter what your age or competence.
What do you think makes your business unique?
My facility is indoor, heated and spotless, and classes are small, with two instructors at work.
Lessons run throughout the year, with morning classes attended by pupils from registered pre-primary schools, who are collected by bus.
All carers who accompany the children enjoy free lessons over weekends.
If someone wanted to take one key lesson from your business model, what would it be?
As the owner of the business, be present at all times.
My experience, commitment and unique style make lessons fun and child-friendly.
Parents know that their children are safe and are receiving the best tuition.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground? Finance and reliable builders were my biggest challenge at the time of building the facility.
What are some of the biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?
I keep my finger on the button when it comes to the pool and facility maintenance.
Client payments are also at the forefront of the business challenges.
Hygiene is of course at the top of my list of daily “to dos”.
What’s the best advice anyone gave you about success?
My dad started me off as my financial officer and advised me to make sure that I came into the market more or less at the same price as my competitors.
Too cheap, the public will think you’re not good enough. Too expensive, the public will go elsewhere.
I strongly feel competitors should never poach clients, as it is certainly not a good business ethic.
How do you measure success in your business?
Introducing new programmes successfully and reaching my set goals within the time given.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
I guarantee every pupil that they will complete every lesson wiser than before they started.
Performance monitoring – all pupils are assessed constantly, as we all develop at a different pace.
What kind of advertising do you do?
Word-of-mouth mostly and my website certainly does a great job too.
What have some of your highlights been in running your business?
Being appointed training officer for the Eastern Cape Learn to Swim programme in 2006 allowed us the opportunity to get more teachers qualified.
Making my last payment towards the school’s initial bond was a real achievement for me.
A few years later, buying a vehicle for the school and employing someone to drive it was enthralling.
Installing a water tank and solar heating made me self-sufficient.
How many people do you employ?
Many qualified teachers have had their training with me and spread their wings, which is my goal.
To date, three people are employed to run the school efficiently.
In 2018 we were five, but unfortunately the economic climate forced me to pull the belt in.
I prefer to do most of the work myself, if time allows.
How do you motivate staff?
We work together as a team in all areas.
My office assistant helps in the school too, if needed.
How did you acquire funding for the business?
I was able to get a bond from my bank, to get the ball rolling.
Once you had funding, what was the first step in launching your business?
I used to hire pool space from the then Health & Racquet.
In a short time, Virgin Active took over and my contract was changed drastically, which prompted me to build my own facility.
Thankfully, my existing clients followed me to the newly-built facility.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?
Do not answer queries immediately if not 100% sure.
Get all the facts together and sleep on it first.
Always put funds aside for that rainy day.
What are the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?
Challenges: sadly, so many people are being retrenched.
However, it forces you to change gears and think of new ways of selling a new programme.
Water restrictions and no rain, which is very worrying. Load-shedding, which could affect the heating.
Advantages: Port Elizabeth is small enough to allow everybody the opportunity to attend lessons as every destination is a 15-minute drive away.
What do you think are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?
Passion for your work, being goal-orientated and driven. It is taxing to run your own business, but if the love and dedication is there, and you’re willing to work hard, you can achieve anything you wish for.