While Ravneet Bermi’s business background made her the perfect candidate for franchising, it was her love for Puddle Ducks’ lessons that made her take the plunge
It’s not everyday someone builds an award-winning baby swimming franchise despite not being a natural swimmer. But Ravneet Bermi, franchisee of Puddle Ducks West Hertfordshire, Luton & Dunstable, has secured countless gongs. Indeed, thanks to the spectrum of business skills she’s picked up through her career, diving into the role of a baby-swimming teaching franchisee was a natural move, especially since it provided a great work-life balance enabling her to care for her family.
Having worked in PR, recruitment, sales and business development in her previous career, Bermi knew a thing or hundred about fronting a company. “I built up a portfolio which led me to consulting a two-year old company for a short while and managed to grow it by about 600% in terms of profit,” she recalls. But clocking in at her job in London every day while dropping her daughter off at nursery increasingly lost its charm. “When I fell pregnant with my second daughter my husband said to me, ‘Why are you doing this for other people? Why wouldn’t you do it for yourself?’” Bermi remembers. And it didn’t take her long to find the answer to what her new solo venture would be.
Having taken her oldest daughter to Puddle Ducks lessons in the past, she was already hooked on the concept. “I fell in love with it instantly,” she says. “My daughter was struggling with attachment anxiety and Puddle Ducks were very gentle.” Within moments of hitting the pool, Bermi knew she was destined to become a Puddle Ducks franchisee. That first lesson happened when her firstborn was ten weeks old and for the next few months Bermi would attend many more lessons. “I was trained and qualified as a baby swimming school teacher when she was about ten months old,” she says.
But before diving in headfirst and reaching out to the franchisor, Bermi quizzed the Leicester franchisee who she’d had the lessons with. “It’s almost better to hear it from a franchisee than going straight to the source because, obviously, they’re going to sell you the dream,” Bermi explains. When the franchisee gave a big thumbs up, Bermi knew her enthusiasm was well-founded. Following a meeting with the Puddle Ducks founders Tracy Townend and Jo Stone, Bermi firmly inked her name on the paperwork.
While she was ready to take the plunge and launch her own Puddle Ducks franchise, the franchisor’s training was anything but plain sailing. “The actual teacher training is where I struggled a little bit,” she says. “I found it hard to train because I’m not a natural swimmer.” Even though she certainly had the chops to set up the business and find customers, Bermi’s final franchisee test results were far from what she’d hoped for. “I think I’m the only franchisee to fail my assessment,” she admits. However, following intense training in Bristol, she quickly became more comfortable and finally opened her franchise in April 2014.
Bermi’s expertise shined from the get-go. For instance, by flexing her PR muscles she was the first Puddle Ducks franchisee to launch a Groupon deal, which saw customers flooding in for opening day. “People had jumped on it,” she recalls. “I had sold something like 134 deals, of which around 100 had booked in. The classes were full.” While it was certainly reassuring seeing a packed pool right off the bat, inevitable beginners nerves also found their way in. “I wasn’t initially a very confident teacher,” Bermi explains. “I think it’s a mixture of things, isn’t it? That anxiety of ‘please let this work’ [and] the excitement of ‘oh my gosh, I’ve done this, look at all these people here in my classes.’”
Although things looked promising, that whirlpool of emotions saw Bermi work hard to get her business afloat. “In those first 18 months, I had worse sleep deprivation than when I had my baby from sheer panic,” she says. “I’d wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats thinking is this going to work? Am I going to make any money?” Fortunately, the franchise network was always on hand to help out when Bermi needed it. “No matter what the problem is, another franchisee will jump on and help give you some advice,” she explains.
Thanks to the support of the network, Bermi’s hard work has paid off. “If I had done this independently, I don’t think I’d be anywhere near as successful,” she says. And that’s saying something. Not only has she grown her business and hired managers to help her out with the day-to-day running, she’s also stacked up an impressive collection of awards and nominations. The list includes being a finalist for the Woman Franchisee of the Year award at the EWIF Awards 2018 and the Best Women in Franchising title at the Best Business Women Awards. No wonder she’s fired up about the future. “Oh we’ll take over the world,” Bermi laughs.
More importantly, joining the network has also provided huge benefits at home. “It has given us a little bit more luxury,” she says. “It’s very much about being able to provide certain activities for our children that we may not have necessarily had the money to do previously.” Moreover, it’s given her a chance to attend other milestones in her daughters’ lives. “I can go to assemblies, help out with school events, take [my kids] to clubs and stuff after school,” she says.
Not only has it improved her family’s situation but now she loves going to work. In fact, she claims it’s been key to her success. “I firmly believe that if you enjoy what you’re doing and have a passion about [the company] it will succeed,” Bermi concludes. “I think when I was contacting and working for people you get stuck in that rut of ‘Ugh, Monday,’ you just don’t want Monday to come. Whereas now, Monday is like any other day for me and just a happy business. We enjoy it really.”