April 2021

Dealing with Godzilla

By Jim Booth, owner, Jim Booth Swim School

We teach kids swimming and we believe we’ve got a pretty great program.  But, included in our swim teacher training is the concept that we have to be open to change, we have to be adaptable. I say to them  in our meetings, “What would we do if Godzilla shows up someday?  Would we go on as usual?  Well, in February 2020 Godzilla showed up. At least the buildings are still standing, but for a small service businesses like our swim school the creature was about to rip up the foundation of our existence. One cannot, after all, do online swim classes.

No water, no swimming. What did we do? How did we adapt?
At our pool we have always sanitized and often provided sanitizer.  Now we upped the game, we removed some seating and put more space between people and increased our own cleaning schedule. I’ve always worried about infection but this was a whole new monster and we didn’t yet no it’s behavior.

Signage was paramount. Of course our swim families want to stay safe so we keep in mind to be positive and supportive in our signs.  We suggested the parents may want to drop the children off with the teacher and then remain in their car till it was time to pick them up.

We met with all of our teachers to support them in communication with the parents,  always emphasizing that we are not experts on virology. The teachers were great and enthusiastic in meeting with the families and explaining the situation to them
When we had to shut down completely we talked to every family and let them know what we would try to do. All of them had credits for future lessons, we just didn’t know when that would be. Our office manager April, made sure that all credits were recorded in their files. We talked to every swim teacher and shared what we knew about filing for unemployment. Some needed help walking through the process so we provided it.

We reopened in August and families got the lessons we owed them and almost all of them continued as usual with their swim classes

But we had to make some big changes. Changes to our fundamental philosophy and procedures. The mandated protocol  required that we teach our students one on one after 45 years of doing groups. Arrows marked on the pool deck directed parents where to drop kids off and pick them up. No more showers or visiting together. For the teachers this was a huge sacrifice: some had worked 30 or more hours a week, now, the maximum was eight hours a week. Everyone went on as best they could.
Then there were the fires. Huge, raging fires. The pools looked more like barbecue pits and pools. Ashes on the deck in in the water. All had to be cleaned  before we could re-open again

There comes a point for all small businesses where the financial burden begins to sink  them. Owners are proud to pay their employees and will make payroll even without a check for themselves. Maybe some people  don’t realize that when someone starts a business it’s their baby: it starts small, hopefully grows and stays healthy. The owners biggest desire is to keep it alive. We’ve seen that here in our community businesses we’ve loved and places we’ve stopped in our daily routine are now disappearing. Some businesses will now close because their baby boomer owners are in their late 60s, some because they wilted and died without business coming in.

But, our business will be back. We’re lucky we weren’t buried under huge rents and other costs. Yes, we just received PPP, paycheck protection program money and that will help guarantee that our teachers get a check until we’re in the black again.
I am personally lucky to have an operations manager like Ashlyn who kept the team together, who remembers the details and never loses sight of our mission which is that we teach people to swim.  It looks like Godzilla will move into the background now and let us move on. I’m especially grateful to all the parents who have been calling, sometimes many calls a day, ready and anxious to get their kids back in the swimming pool. We’re here we’re ready.  Let’s move on together.

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