Matt Lane | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Matt Lane

Background:  

Comprising SwimLabs, SafeSplash, and Swimtastic, Streamline Brands is the largest franchisor of swim schools in the U.S. The company’s network includes 145 locations across 19 states and three countries. Streamline is aiming to have more than 400 active locations across the world by 2020. In August, Streamline Brands announced a significant investment from the Leon Capital Group to support its aggressive expansion plans. Streamline, which opened its first swim school in Milwaukee in 1996, is now based in Denver.

The Mistake:

Millennials were in our blind spot for too long.

I don’t think we had a deep enough understanding of the millennial generation and how it would affect our business. We didn’t know what it was soon enough.

We started noticing something was wrong when we were asking questions like, “Why is it hard to recruit part-time staff?”

We were hiring millennials to deliver a core piece of our service – swim lessons for kids – way before people were really talking about millennials. And because we are operating in the family-services industry, targeting mostly very young families, millennials quickly became not only our workforce but also our customers.

So, for the foreseeable future, this was going to be both our primary workforce and our main customer base. I’m talking about the next 20 years or 10 years at least.

On the HR side, a good job, strong management, and a good culture were not enough to attract good employees anymore. The community element started to become a much more important piece.

I wouldn’t say scramble, but we tried really hard to get the workforce in the right place at the right time. That created stress in the system, stress in the organization, and we were constantly having to mitigate that.

Had I understood what was happening sooner, I would have done a lot more research and planning.

Every business with a strong management team finds a way to navigate through challenging times; I just wish we realized it sooner.

Millennials quickly became not only our workforce but also our customers.

The Lesson:

We have a better understanding of the millennial effect now. The lesson in this whole thing for us was to put as much attention on community and culture as we did on pay and benefits. Yes, you have to be competitive on pay, but that’s not enough.

The workforce of the future is much more interested in their community, having a job that has meaning and looking out at the world. Young people want to have a reason; they see their job as a piece of what defines them, not as the entirety.

As a result, they like having cleanly delineated hours and a very clear understanding of their hours.

To cultivate a sense of community, we have put a much heavier focus on companywide events and trying to create opportunities to spread culture. We have created an entire department focused on spreading information and cultural concepts among our franchisees and between franchisees and the franchisor. We now have more focus on promoting from within and on reinforcing the benefit of the service we’re providing to families – that comes into play with our training videos, for example.

In some divisions of the company, we shut the office down every other Friday to let the employees go do their thing. We have a greater focus on flexibility. We want our employees to focus on getting the job done, rather than being here a certain amount of hours.

All of those things together have helped us adapt. Ultimately, it’s a really big shift, and there’s a lot to it.

Safe Splash Swim School is on Twitter at @SafeSplash.

Photo courtesy of Streamline Brands.

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