KIDS FIRST® Swim Schools was incorporated in Maryland in 2001 by owner and founder Gary Roth. His dream was to develop a better way to teach swimming to children in America.
You see, Gary had been around swimming all his life. As a child growing up outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 1960’s he spent his summers at the local swim club participating in swimming lessons and swim teams. As a teenager in a lake community in Northern New Jersey, he swam on swim teams, life guarded and gave swimming lessons. While teaching Sixth Grade in Randolph, New Jersey in the 70’s he coached both summer and winter swim teams. And, in the 80’s and 90’s as an Executive of a Fortune 500 Company living in Baltimore, Maryland, he taught stroke mechanics and coached summer and winter swim teams during his free evenings and weekends. Gary has over fifty years of swimming experience, forty years as an instructor and coach. He has taught in lakes, ponds and pools. He has taught survival programs to infants and toddlers. He has taught RED CROSS lessons to school age kids. He has worked with adults that had never learned to swim and with tri-athletes who wanted to go faster. He has taught stroke mechanics to age group swimmers and he has molded National Champions. Still, he knew that nobody had yet developed a truly superior method for teaching children to swim. He believed that his experiences had actually taught him a better way. In 2001 his dream and his beliefs became the foundation for the KIDS FIRST® Swim Schools and the KIDS FIRST®/Kick First Learn to Swim System®.
Our fundamental beliefs are that:
1. We believe that children learn best in an environment designed especially for them. Would you teach a child to play basketball on an adult basketball court? Or, teach baseball to a child on a major league diamond? Well, it’s just as silly to teach a child to swim in an adult pool! Most general purpose pools are simply too deep and too cold for children. KIDS FIRST® pools have the proper depths, pool temperatures and amenities conducive to early learning.
2. As they do in Europe and Australia, we believe that children should start developing their swimming skills earlier, rather than later. Americans have traditionally been too conservative regarding how we “reintroduce our children to water” (yes, we all came from an aquatic environment). The American Pediatrics Academy is partially to blame for this. Their ultra conservative position has scared some parents. And, the absence of specially designed facilities for children has also contributed. KIDS FIRST® looks to change all this and help our children here in the United States catch up to more progressive countries around the world.
3. We believe we have a better way to teach swimming. Unlike other “learn to swim programs”, KIDS FIRST® recognizes that proper swimming is a very unnatural movement done in 1/6 timing. You may have noticed how your arms and legs swing in a natural 1/1 timing as you walk down the street. As you pick it up into a jog, your arms will move faster and faster to maintain this 1/1 timing. And, if you were to break into a full sprint, your arms would pump faster and faster to maintain that 1/1 timing. This is natural. Watch an Olympic athlete run down the track; they are trained to run in perfect 1/1 timing. Yet, swimming is 1/6 timing. How can we teach children to kick 6X faster than their arms are moving? The KIDS FIRST®/Kick First Learn to Swim System® tackles this challenge in a logical systematic fashion like no other program out there. The curriculum is so different and has been so successful, that it was awarded copyright status by the United States Library of Congress!
These fundamental beliefs combine to produce a powerful advantage that was finally put to work in 2001 with the opening of the first KIDS FIRST® Swim School in Perry Hall, Maryland. The 6,000 square foot facility was built in a shopping center on Route 1. The high visibility and novelty of a swimming pool in a shopping center had the community buzzing before we even opened. Once swimming lessons started, people would stand in front of the big plate glass windows and watch the little ones learning to swim. On some Friday nights, the crowd was 3-4 deep! They couldn’t help but tell their family and friends about this “really unique” swimming school. And, the trademarked curriculum started producing remarkable results (check out the incredible video on our website). The business grew and thrived.
Within two short years, Gary was able to take the profits from Perry Hall and build a second school in Cockeysville, Maryland. Tinkering with the model, he built a bigger pool, bigger locker rooms and two observation rooms (doubling the capacity to host parties and all the new potential students that they bring in). He hired a full time Manager, formalized training, and established a website….but, kept the same storefront concept! His formula was being refined and York Road quickly surpassed the results achieved at Perry Hall.
By 2004, he was approached to “buy out” his largest competitor in Forest Hill, Maryland. They offered a traditional curriculum and simply could not compete. The profits from his first two schools made this possible.
In 2005, he built location #4 in Severna Park. The construction problems and landlord issues were significant with this project. This got Gary thinking about a better way to do it. But, the profits kept rolling in.
In 2006, he built another school in Columbia, Maryland. Once again, the construction delays were significant and landlord issues costly. There had to be a better way!
In 2007, Karen Roth joined the company on a full time basis. KIDS FIRST® built the current Home Office. This 2000 square foot facility includes a conference room, work stations and even warehouse space. It housed a growing team of people that support our field operations. We spent considerable time thinking about what activities needed to be centralized (in the Home Office) and what should stay decentralized (in the Field). We implemented those changes. And, we started to explore automation as a solution for a number of functions. KIDS FIRST® was preparing for what was to come.
In 2008, we formed the KIDS FIRST® Construction Company. We brought onboard a full time President, Dan Muffoletto, and charged him with developing the fastest, most efficient way to build theses facilities. We knew that in order to grow the company at the rate we planned, that we had to have control of the construction process. We had learned that valuable lesson with the construction of the last two facilities. In 2008 the KIDS FIRST® Construction Company was building new schools.
By the end of 2010, we had added four new schools in Elkton, Bowie, Finksburg and Rockville, Maryland. The KIDS FIRST® Construction Company oversaw each of these projects and in doing so, proved that we did not have to “reinvent the wheel” each time we build a new school. Dan Muffoletto, President, has assembled a team of architects, engineers and contractors that know and understand our unique requirements.
With each new school, we have gotten better and wiser. The “state of the art” school of today, has large benches built as learning stations across the shallow end of the pool.
The kids and instructors love them. Women’s Locker Rooms are bigger and more accommodating. We have experimented with every type of chlorination system available and decided on the one most capable of dealing with our high bather loads. We struggled with and overcame the HVAC demands that these pools produce (ask us about negative pressure!). We have determined the most suitable building materials for our facilities. We developed a training curriculum and attached it to our compensation system. We dealt with our insurance issues and have our own specially priced Liability and Workers Compensation Insurance program. We negotiated and achieved pricing breaks for all the retail merchandise we sell and all the pool and office supplies we purchase. We did extensive analysis regarding automation solutions and came to an interesting conclusion. We could go on and on. It has been a fabulous first ten years of learning and progress.
In 2010, with the guidance of McGrow Consulting of Boston, KIDS FIRST® Swim Schools began to sell franchises. We believe that we have learned our lessons well over the past ten years and we are ready to share these lessons with other aspiring swim school operators.
In 2011 Kids First swim schools sold its first three franchises in Dundalk, MD, Philadelphia PA, and Charleston, SC. We also built two corporate schools in Bel Air, MD and Hockessin, DE and this winter plan to add on Waldorf, MD and Germantown, MD. We see value in owning and operating schools and we are committed to building this company shoulder to shoulder with our franchise partners. We practice what we preach.
Who knows what the future holds for any of us. However, often our past presents a pretty good indication of what our future holds. And, if KIDS FIRST® past is any indication, the next ten years will offer tremendous growth opportunities for both the company and those that elect to partner with the company. We look forward to working with you to make the KIDS FIRST® Swim Schools the standard for swimming instruction in America and sharing with you the rewards of that journey.