Swim Teacher Marketing School: Authority, Scarcity and Closing Hard, Part 1

Part 1: A Lesson In Promotion and Closing from My Child's Swim Instructor (it's from the archives, but it's evergreen)

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My 2.5-year-old son just learned how to swim. He learned to swim a short length of the pool in two days, and then he swam a large length of the pool in four days. This post isn't supposed to be a brag session about my son. Instead, it's a brag session about his instructor and the way the guy delivers on his promises, promotes his product, and closes new referrals hard.

I may as well plug the guy right here. His name is Tom Bradbury (works in Southern California) and he's just dang good at what he does. He takes kids from 17 months of age on and puts them through a no-nonsense swimming workout that's designed to get them swimming fast and water-safe for life. He guarantees that your child will swim in two days. The first day is a bit edgy for the parents, because he just escorts the kids (in groups of two and three) into the pool with a gruff, "I'm the boss" style. Most of the kids quickly offer him respect and trust his every move. Their crying subsides rather quickly. Other pupils persist with their whining, but by the third day they too are finished and enjoy swimming around.

So that's how it works. The beauty of it, however, is the business at hand. Tom charges $300 for a 9-day program with 20-30 minute sessions each day. He works with 2-4 kids at a time, and he appears to be busy for about 3-4 hours a day, maybe more. Do the math. It's a nice little business. He's been doing this since 1957. He's also a child development specialist/speaker.

We heard about his swimming courses through a friend who got into a morning session. We tried to sign up, but his scheduling person said that he's booked through 2006. We went back to our friend and asked if there was a way to "weasel in." Tom told our friend that he had an opening in the noontime slot in two weeks. We showed up on that Monday, check in hand, ready to pay the master. He was in the pool and had a sign up that said he wouldn't take payment until Wednesday -- when he could show us that our son was actually swimming.

While training the new swimmers, Tom offered up various quips to the parents in attendance, for example:

  • I know what I'm doing. I've been doing this since 1957.
  • It's my job to get this child swimming and safe for life.
  • Your child is my customer, not you. You're the conduit -- you showed up with the check.
  • I've trained more than 75,000 children all over the world.
  • I just spoke at Columbia University about child development.
  • We're not blowing bubbles and playing patty cake here. You showed up with a need, and I'm meeting it.

Sounds abrasive, but he's really a nice guy. And you quickly understand that he's a pro. You immediately witness structured technique and immediate progress.

You also notice that he's ginning up new business as he guides the children around the pool. He talks to the parents in attendance occasionally, and they invariably mention friends that they'd like to refer to him. He hems and haws and then tells them how their friends can get around his scheduler. He tells them to sneak the pupil into one of his classes in a couple of weeks -- then he'll see what he can do.

I don't know if Tom is aware of all of the things he does right -- from marketing, promotion and influence perspectives (I suspect he does). My guess is that he's just learned his techniques and habits as a matter of business over the years. He's smart and has incorporated some very effective techniques that have been a part of the advertising and marketing canon for centuries.

Tomorrow I'll dissect some of the things he does right. This post is getting a little long. In the mean time, maybe you can beat me to the punch. Post your thoughts, and we can make this an interactive discussion.