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Small Business Wins Against Big Competitors: Australian Case Study

Hills Swimming

Hills Swimming is a modern, purpose built aquatic education centre opened in October 2001 in Kenthurst, part of the peaceful rural sector of Sydney's Hills District. Julie and Deny Zancanaro own and operate the business.

Julie Zancanaro is a paediatric Occupational Therapist with over 15 years experience teaching swimming and designing innovative teaching programs. She received the inaugural Meritorious Service to the Teaching of Swimming in Australia Award in 1995. She co-authored the AUSTSWIM National Accreditation Course for teaching children under 5yrs and regularly lectures swimming teachers both in Australia and overseas.

Deny Zancanaro is a Level 2 Performance Coach, and was the first Head Coach at Sydney's Warringah Aquatic Centre in the early 80's. He has owned and operated successful swimming schools since 1987. Deny's swimmers have included national age medallists, paralympians, and Australia's top triathletes and pentathletes. 

Julie now shares with us her thoughts on what it takes to grow a business that is a leader in its field.

What was your motivation for starting Hills Swimming?

We have run other businesses but this time we had the opportunity to start a business from scratch.  Previously we had leased facilities from the council, which brought with it certain conditions and limitations. This was frustrating, as we wanted to specialise in a way that was only possible in our own facilities.

We also considered setting up a partnership with another company.  However we were really clear that we wanted to do things our own way and knew compromise was going to be necessary if we had a partner.

What was important to you about the way you developed the business?

We wanted to have a "bottom up" approach with the whole business strongly focusing on the developmental needs of children.  To achieve this parents and families need to have a hands-on role and our teachers need a higher level of training than is generally accepted in industry.  We knew that providing this level of care was going to be expensive during start up. We were willing to sacrifice profits upfront since we knew in the long term there would be benefits by catering to a niche in the market.

What was some of the learning you transferred from you earlier business ventures?

  1. Systemisation - The need for systemisation to provide the owners with freedom from business and provide consistent quality. 
  2. "Begin with the end in mind" - I structured the business to deliver the outcome I wanted right from the start compared to the more haphazard approach in the past. 
  3. The power of marketing - We had been involved with a corporation for a couple of years and learnt about the power of marketing.
  4. Size matters - Being involved with corporations helped us realise we wanted to keep our business small to maintain intimacy with clients.

What have been some of the early successes?

We are constantly receiving fantastic, unsolicited feedback from parents.  We are working with an incredible team of people and watching them develop in their roles has been a wonderful experience. The wider industry has also provided a lot of recognition for what we have achieved. Being recognised by your peers is really rewarding.  I also enjoy mentoring people within the industry.

What tips do you have for other business owners?

  1. "If it's not written down it doesn't exist".  Documenting your processes and procedures is the only way for you to become free from the business.  You don't have to do the documenting yourself it can be delegated and you can steer the process.  Documenting our processes has really allowed the business to take off.
  2. Get a good business coach.  Make sure the business coach you choose is someone you feel can identify with you and your clients.  Make sure they are flexible in their approach and can evolve as your do.
  3. See competition as a positive.  Good competition sets a benchmark that makes you work smarter and keeps raising the bar so you can strive to be the absolute best.  Competition also helps highlight to your customers the true value of what you are doing ? it gives you something to stand apart from.

Why have you chosen Eyes Wide Open for support?

"We're sticking with EWO because they meet all of the criteria we want in a business coach.  EWO understand me and understands our customers.  EWO is flexible and didn't come into relationship with preformed agenda.  We've been able to change goals and agenda according to our needs.  EWO is our outside eyes.   EWO is our first port of call for consultancy.  They have a good grounding in a broad range of areas.  It's an affordable way to have outsourced consultancy."

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