The lazy river outside might have slowed to a complete stop and children may have replaced their sunscreen with schoolbooks, but Sally Brindle’s work doesn’t end when the traditional swim season does. To her, autumn is just another season and reason for swimming.
“We have a lot of repeat people who enjoyed [their summer programs],” says the aquatics program coordinator of the Arthur M. Glick Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis, an Aquatics International Best of Aquatics winner. The experiences of swimming and exercising in the outdoor pools are so good that people extend their swim season into fall and winter. Brindle hardly has a problem filling the after-school programs for kids and the daytime aqua-aerobics classes.
What’s the secret? Mindi Epstein, JCC’s director of communications, says it’s not a big mystery. “The aquatics have always been a central component of the JCC movement,” she notes. “People get excited.”
But it’s more than just having a strong foundation to bring people back to the pool even in the off-season. The pool can still be a great gathering place throughout the year, indoor or outdoor, depending on the region.
Programming targeted at seniors and parents can encourage them to spend school hours exercising without children present. The swim center can be a great after-school and weekend family spot.
Unusual activities and events will draw attention from the community and press, bringing people back to swim again and again.
Experts say the summer shoulder season is the best time to capture the market for fall and even winter. Warm weather and splashing is still on the mind, encouraging people to extend their summer fun a little longer. So while aquatics may not be in the mind’s forefront on a cold wintry day, the right marketing tools and programming will turn a facility into an active arena year ’round.
Here are 12 ways to bring them in:
1 Offer incentives. At the JCC, Brindle works to draw out the season longer with its existing programs by giving incentives. At the end of summer, the JCC hosts an event called “Day at the J” and offers special discounts and promotions for those who sign up for the fall, such as percentage-off classes. They also hold a December auction with free giveaways such as a birthday party or after-hours event at the waterpark, water exercise classes and swim lessons, Brindle says. They contribute to other causes as well, such as the silent auction to benefit the homeless shelter, where the winning bid receives free water aerobics classes.
2 Devise a school program. The Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center in Lawrence, Kan., an Aquatics International Best of Aquatics winner, works with a variety of groups to teach them swimming. The groups include day care, home schooling and the local school district for learn-to-swim and swim teams, says Jimmy Gibbs, aquatics manager of the center. The city of El Paso, Texas, is trying to create a program with the school district that would bring more students and families to their outdoor pools in wintertime.
3 Promote family time. “We try to do things that are for the kids, that are going to bring in the rest of the family,” Gibbs says. Like the city of El Paso, he works with schools and offers kids free admission to the pool —an attractive incentive for schools. With the kids comes an entire paying family, he says.
4 Hold a winter camp. During the winter holidays from school, youngsters can jump-start their swim lessons with a daily winter camp. The JCC in San Francisco offers a week-long program combining swimming with other activities during the wintertime, such as gymnastics and art.
5 Design a good brochure. Brochures are the main source of information for patrons and the biggest piece of advertising. The JCC in Indianapolis has a well-produced, presentable brochure that attracts people, Brindle says. Try to include well-composed photos of good quality, laid out in an easy-to-read manner, on high-grade paper that doesn’t lead people to mistake it for junk mail, but doesn’t break the bank.
The city of Las Vegas, another Best of Aquatics winner, sends out two trifold brochures (a fall/winter and a spring brochure) to push programs at its year-round facilities, says Kelly Schwarz, public information specialist at the city’s Department of Leisure Services. “We continue to promote our water safety and lifeguard training classes in preparation for the summer season, when our need for lifeguards greatly increases,” she says.
Gibbs says his staff works through the local parks and recreation brochures that go in the newspaper and are distributed to all readers. The information also can be found in people’s mailboxes, at the library, grocery stores and other opportune places.
6 Design a good Web site. In today’s computer-savvy society, more people jump online for information before the brochures reach the printers. Brindle was surprised when she received a fall swim lessons registration form in the middle of summer from someone who was enjoying the summer season so much.
Include all the information from the mailings on the Web site, and always make sure it is updated. Make it easy to navigate, include registration online and send regular newsletters. Don’t have a big budget for a fancy site? Hire a Web-smart college student to design it as a school project.
7 Hit the presses. Nothing makes the local media salivate more than a good photo op and an unusual story. Host fun, quirky events around the pool to draw their attention and thus the rest of the community’s, says Judith Leblein Josephs, operations analyst at Water Technology in Beaver Dam, Wis. “The pool is a special event programming space,” she says. Host a Halloween party with pumpkins in the water, or a Christmas party on the pool deck with Santa riding down the water slide. “It will get you in the paper and on the radio and TV stations,” she promises.
Gibbs also has nonholiday events that draw people into his indoor facility. He has a good relationship with the local radio station and offers a live chat with the center’s marketing spokesperson regarding “what’s going on in parks and recreation this week.” Recently, the center hosted a “Pirates of the Caribbean” Night and used the local radio to promote the event. It also features Grandparents Days, when grandparents and grandkids swim for free. The idea is to bring an entire household to the facility, he says.
8 Call the doctor. Many swim centers have partnerships with local foundations such as the Arthritis Foundation or nearby hospitals. These connections link aquatic therapists to patients at the pool. Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center has contracts with the local hospital for prescribed water therapy. In return, the hospital supplies the center with certified instructors to teach classes to the public. The city of Las Vegas partners with the American Stroke Association and Senior Dimensions Fit for Life Club, among others. “By providing services with these specific agencies, we receive cross-promotional opportunities, which in turn, spreads the word about our facility to a broader audience,” Schwarz says.
The JCC in Indianapolis has a popular therapy pool for which it sends extra promotional mailings. One of its more successful programs has been the breast cancer rehabilitation program, Epstein says.
9 Tell someone. The best way to bring in people, Brindle finds, is through word of mouth. “The parents have a positive experience,” she says, “so they tell their friends and they all sign up.” A positive experience translates from quality programming and a professional attitude, so continue to upkeep both areas.
10 Give a new twist. Keeping up with the Joneses often is a good way to promote the facility. After all, everyone wants the latest and greatest, but also trust the traditional way of things. So while people might enjoy their traditional aquacise classes, many are open to adapting other activities to the water.
Yoga and Pilates, two popular land activities, have long since turned wet, and have gained tremendous popularity underwater. “Our Yoga class has been enormously successful, and local media have covered it more than once because it’s so different,” Epstein says. As a result, the JCC of Indianapolis now is offering water Pilates as well. Brindle says many patrons return to the next class with a friend. T’ai Chi is another popular activity, especially for seniors, that can be transferred into the water.
11 Create challenges. Encourage people to stay fit year ’round. Host winter fitness challenges for mileage and award the highest number of miles with an incentive, such as free exercise classes. “Swim to China!” Josephs says. “Challenge people to swim a certain amount of miles.”
12 Introduce the great outdoors. Josephs suggests using the newly opened space, free of children, to offer unique classes such as scuba, kayaking and canoeing. Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center had a partnership with a local scuba outfitter who would teach a class in the pool’s depths. Western Wyoming Community College’s Aquatic Center in Rock Springs, Wy., offers kayaking and scuba at different course levels, plus a whitewater rafting class that eventually takes its students on an overnight trip. Additional useful classes for these outdoorsy activities include poolside courses in CPR, first aid and regular exercise that would then encourage them to take a dip in the water afterward.