Gaby Lixton was amazed when her daughter was born. And while the emotions of a water birth certainly altered the course of her life, what really astonished her was how her child behaved. “She was underneath the water for a few moments when suddenly her amphibian reflex kicked in and she swam to the surface,” Lixton says. Four weeks later, when she brought her new-born toddler to her first baby-swimming lesson she did it again. “It was absolutely wonderful and life-changing,” says Lixton. “That’s when I decided to become a baby-swim teacher.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, in 2006 Lixton joined Water Babies, the baby-swimming franchise, as a franchisee and over the following six years she grew the businesses until it was teaching over 900 toddlers to swim per week. Then, in 2011, she decided to take the plunge and break out on her own, launching Turtle Tots, the baby-swimming franchise. “I brainstormed so many names but I decided on this one because my family has always loved turtles,” she says. “I adored the alliteration and that the name signalled that we were in the baby business.”
Given her experience and the similarities between Water Babies and Turtle Tots, you may be surprised to hear that Lixton initially didn’t have any plans to franchise the new enterprise. “It wasn’t until six months later that I realised that both the company and other people would benefit from it,” she says.
However, that wasn’t the only thing that changed during that initial period. While Lixton was submerging herself in the realities of her new venture, another entrepreneur was also creating ripples across Bristol: Caroline Sparks, the founder of Little Monster Baby and Toddler Shows, an exhibition company for new parents.
The two business women had previously met at a mutual friend’s wedding. When Lixton launched Turtle Tots, that same friend urged the pair to meet up for a chat to share their tips and experiences of running companies in the same market. One meeting lead to a second and a third. “And when Gaby asked me to join her and to franchise Turtle Tots, I ended up selling Little Monster without a second thought,” says Sparks. Together they set themselves upon the task of turning their joint venture into a success.
To do this, the pair put £10,000 each into the enterprise and spent days in Lixton’s garden ironing out the details of how to franchise the business. During those sessions in the sun, they focused on three things that would enable Turtle Tots to truly blow the competition out of the water: a cashflow forecast, a marketing plan and the creation of a new website. The website in particular required the most attention: it needed to both accommodate franchisee recruitment and microsites for the new franchisees that would soon join the business.