Barry and Stephen Ford used their own startup capital to build and open a swimming school aimed at children six months to 12 years old. Their business, Aqua-Tots Swim Schools, specializes in teaching both swimming skills and water safety.
The startup expenses were not small. They included $350,000 in construction costs, $50,000 for operating capital and $50,000 for merchandise and equipment.
The brothers hope their investment will turn its first profit in March.
The brothers Stephen Ford, 59, of Eagle, and 41-year-old Barry Ford, who will move to Eagle from Peoria, Ariz., after Jan. 1 hope to put a serious dent in the child drowning rate in Idaho, Barry Ford says.
Q: What did you do previously?
A: Steve and I worked together in a family business Brown Cow Farm yogurt manufacturing [in California] until 2003, when we sold the business. Steve moved to Idaho and retired. I moved to Arizona. I joined some friends in their general contracting business, but the 2008 recession slowed things way down in Arizona. I ended up leaving the business in 2010.
Q: What piqued your interest in a swim-school business?
A: While at the general contractor business, GCON Inc., the company had done a tenant improvement for an Aqua-Tots Swim School in Chandler, Ariz. So I learned about Aqua-Tots then. This led me to meet with the founders a couple of times about their business.
I had been planning to move to the Boise area sometime in the future, because I thought it would be a great place to raise my family. Eventually, I talked to the founders about opening an Aqua-Tots in Boise, after learning that Idaho has the second-highest [young child] drowning rate in the U.S. Having four small children, it breaks my heart to hear about children drowning. I thought it would be both a great business idea as well as something that could really make a difference in the community.
Q: What makes your business unique?
A: Aqua-Tots is passionate about making sure your kids can swim and can survive, if need be, in the water. However, we use an approach of trying to make the experience fun at the same time. Learning to swim need not be a traumatic experience. We try to make a great experience for parents. They can watch their children in the pool from the other side of a glass wall but [also] have a nice lobby with comfortable seating, Wi-Fi, music, etc. Its a different concept than most swim programs, where parents sit on the side of the pool.
Q: What challenges have you faced, and how have you met them?
A: We faced the challenge this summer of getting our name out there and making sure the public was aware we were here. Being the first and only Aqua-Tots in this region, we did not have the name recognition that comes from other markets. This coming spring and summer, we are going to do a much larger marketing campaign to let people know we are here.
We also face a challenge of educating the people of Idaho about child drownings and how they can be drastically reduced by swim instruction. We would like to partner up with others we call them our Drowning Prevention Partners to educate the public about drowning prevention. There is no reason Idaho cant drastically reduce the number of child drownings.
Q: What do you hope to achieve in three to five years, besides lowering the child-drowning rate?
A: We hope to increase by four times the number of students we have. We want to consider opening more stores in the region, whether here in Idaho or possibly Utah, Washington and Oregon.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448