Company President Chris DeJong at a Big Blue Swim School location
Company President Chris DeJong at a Big Blue Swim School location

The signing of its biggest deal yet marks an aggressive growth strategy for Big Blue Swim School as it focuses on its franchise model.

The company, established in 2009 by former elite competitive swimmer Chris DeJong, implemented a franchise model three years ago. So far, it has signed up with franchisees for 118 locations, which will open over the next few years, DeJong said. The long-term goal is even more ambitious, as the company plans to operate 400 swim schools in the next five to eight years.

“We’re quickly trying to expand to every major metropolitan area in the country,” said DeJong, who serves as the company's president.

It has signed its largest franchisee yet — nationally known professional diving instructor Woody Alpern and his business partner Jerry Benjamin. The team plan to eventually open 35 locations throughout the Southeastern U.S. The $87 million deal is expected to lead to nine locations in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale market; four in Jacksonville, Fla.; three in Tampa, Fla.; four in Nashville, Tenn.; five in Charlotte, N.C.; seven in Atlanta; and three in Louisville/Lexington, Ky. Altogether, these new schools are expected to create 1,000 to 1,400 jobs.

Alpern and Benjamin, both based in Atlanta, will begin with the Georgia and Florida locations. So far, one Fort Lauderdale-area location has been determined, which is expected to open late 2021 or early 2022.

Big Blue’s strategy will include locating schools in malls and other shopping centers within a 15-minute drive of densely populated areas, as mall development companies look for ways to fill spaces left by retail stores that have shut down due to internet competition.

In addition to the quick expansion of its franchise, Big Blue also is moving its headquarters from Chicago to Atlanta.