Daniel Fulmer North Wyong Aqua Centre

Empty pool North Wyong Aquatic Centre

Luck has nothing to do with it

Daniel Fulmer is one of the owners of two successful businesses, Superkids Childcare Centre and North Wyong Aqua Centre. His story is compelling due to his incredible work ethic and his ability to seize an opportunity when it is presented. When I was interviewing Daniel for this story, I found myself questioning whether it was better to write about the business success or the person himself. He reminded me of the character Dory from Finding Nemo, for no other reason than the song she sang to keep motivated “just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

With the amount of hard work Daniel applies to his business and his life, it’s lucky he’s a strong swimmer.

Aleisha:                      

When Phil suggested you’d be a great candidate for a client story, he told me that you had two businesses, a swimming school and a preschool. So I’m interested to find out where did you start? And how did you get into it?

Daniel:           

I started at Mingara. At 16 I was working as a life guard, a learn to swim instructor, and basically a bit of everything. Eventually, they created a full time role just to keep me there.

A little business in Amy Close at Wyong, came up for sale with a small 15 metre above ground pool. I decided to purchase this, with my mum and dad as silent partners, back in 2000 when I was 18.

Aleisha:                      

What made you decide to do this and take on such a big investment at such a young age?

Daniel:           

I really enjoy the teaching aspect of it and seeing someone achieve something that they haven’t been able to do. The purchase of the business was a bit difficult as I was only 18. The business at the time was $80,000, and all we could manage to get was $30,000 because no bank would lend to an 18 year old with no credit history. So we had to convince the existing owners, to vendor finance the remaining amount for a 12 month period so that we could go back to the bank and say, I’m still in business 12 months down the track, can you give me the rest of the money?

We had that business for about two years and we were finding that we were getting the students to a certain level and then having to send them on to somewhere bigger as our facility was just too small. So we looked around, and we found the property where we are now and built the facility back in 2003.

Aleisha:                      

So how old were you at this stage?

Daniel:            

20 years old by the time the facility was built. We went from around about 350 kids a week up to currently 1200 plus a week. So a big growth in only 7 years.

Noth Wyong Aqua Centre pool refurbishments

The pool at North Wyong Aqua Centre being maintained

Growth

Aleisha:                      

What do you attribute that growth to, as you are fairly tucked away here in the business park?

Daniel:           

Yeah, we still get people now that say, “Oh, we never knew you were here”, so it is tucked away. We don’t do a lot of marketing. We have relied heavily on word of mouth.

Social media, for us, does a lot of the work without us having to do anything as we have found that a lot of parents might put a post-up asking other parents where to send their kids to swimming lessons and it’s in that way we get our current clients to do a lot of the talking for us. This has been great for us. Our student numbers have been steady for a while now, but this has been a conscious choice. I think at our peak time, probably five years ago, we had around 1400 students. However we’ve allowed it to drop back a little to allow me to achieve more balance in my personal life. We’ve got the capacity to do more than the 1200 to 1300 we are running at, but we just find that at 1200 students it’s a nice comfortable spot.

At one stage I was easily doing 40 hours a week in the water, just teaching every morning, every afternoon, and working until around 7:30pm and then starting again the next day. Trying to find the right balance between, getting out of the water and managing the operation of the business has been difficult.

Aleisha:                      

Did you find it hard going from being the person that everyone knows as the teacher and then having to rely on other staff to do your job; the same way and to the same standard?

Daniel:           

Yes! That is hard and it’s still hard today to get people to do things to the same standard as you.

Aleisha:                      

So how do you ensure that?

Daniel:           

To be honest it’s still difficult and I think it probably always will be. But we’ve got some good long term staff that have been with us who have been able to make it easier.

Karen & Steve our Co-Owners & Kaycee are vital members of our team and it’s really just liaising with them and other key people within the business to make sure that things are still running and working the way you want it to be.

Aleisha:                      

What do you think some of the biggest challenges have been in running the business?

Daniel:           

Just being able to maintain that standard amongst new staff has presented one of the biggest challenges for the business. Everyone has their own take on what “competency” is at a particular level. We find that some staff may feel the need to move kids up quicker than others and vice versa. This can impact on the families, as they pick up on these things and it can cause them to be frustrated which, is what we want to avoid. A survey we conducted around 12 months ago provided us with our biggest feedback on this. So trying to get this uniform across all staff is what we are constantly working on.

The North Wyong Aqua Centre 

Overcoming

Aleisha:                      

How do you overcome this challenge?

Daniel:           

One of the things we are looking to implement is a deck supervisor, who isn’t in the water teaching, but rather is watching all classes and can assess whether some students are ticking off the skills to move up.

That way the teachers can focus on doing their jobs and the responsibility of moving them into the next level is on the deck supervisor, across all students. Another thing we are implementing is “assessment packages”, which is where we have the teachers use an online curriculum package that they check off as they teach the kids. The idea behind this would mean all the kids skills would be in the online report and we could use this as a method of communication to the parents once a quarter. That way the teachers are only having to focus and assess a couple of skills in each lesson and once a quarter we send an email report out to all families where we congratulate their children on meeting the criteria for a certain level and how many more skills they need to complete to move up to the next level. It really takes out the “personal opinion” of the instructors and puts It back onto meeting targets to move up.

The other great thing about this is that it also allows us to monitor our staff. We can see if one instructor is moving kids up quicker than another, or slower, we can have a look at their teaching methods and see if they are following the set of standards we want our teachers to have and where we can offer further training or guidance as well. So it is a good system to implement into our business to streamline a lot of things that can potentially be a challenge.

Aleisha:                      

It sounds like you’ve put things like these new processes in place to keep improving your business.

Daniel:            

I’m a big believer in constant improvement. You’re never going to get a hundred percent perfection. But there’s always those 1% things that you can change. The best way of improving is listening to what our clients are NOT happy with. I mean it’s great hearing about all the things we do well but it’s actually more important to hear the things that they are not happy with, because that way we can make the service even better.

Aleisha:                      

So, you’re running two businesses, you’ve got four kids, you’re married and you’re doing uni.

Are you insane?

Daniel:           

Yeah, it’s a hectic lifestyle! Being one of four and not having a lot of income growing up, I’ve always had a job. From, probably eight or nine I used to go up to school and then to my pops nursery and do stuff for pocket money. Once I was legally able to have a job, I’ve always had a job. That’s just how I am. I’ve always had a plan. I don’t sleep much, but I do drink a lot of coffee. 

Aleisha:                      

I can imagine.

You left school before you completed the HSC and started working at the gym as an instructor, and now you’re doing a degree in education and own a day-care and a swim school. Obviously not finishing school hasn’t held you back at all, and your work ethic has made up for it. Do you think you have always wanted to work in the teaching industry?

Daniel:           

I have always had an interest in education I guess. I went to a Summer Camp up at the Leland Brothers Great Aussie Bush camp facility while I was still working for Mingara. I loved it and they loved me. They offered me a job as a camp leader for school camps. I didn’t take the job as Mingara, the gym/swim centre I was working at offered me a full time job to stay. Looking back this was a catalyst into how the direction of my life panned out. Despite taking the full time job, because of my young age, I was knocked back on two other positions in the gym that involved running the school programs. Then the ad in the paper appeared to run a swim school, so I just took the opportunity. I started my degree in education in 2011 for two reasons. The first was because I had just bought an established child care centre, that I was planning to make use of as my exit from the swim school industry, eventually. But the other reason I started the degree was because I knew while I was teaching kids how to swim from an early age, I didn’t really understand the mechanisms of how a child’s brain worked. The neuroscience behind what our brain is capable of and the patterns we can create from a young age are crucial. Doing the degree I was able to understand these things better and implement them in our teaching style. This has really helped us develop a better system of teaching our swim kids.

Aleisha:                      

So you taught yourself how to run a business and then you bought another business and taught yourself how to run that! What was your motivation? And was it scary to buy another business that you really had no experience in?

Daniel:           

I don’t know. I took a risk I guess. I like anything that’s a bit risky. In saying that, once you dive in you really have to start swimming (pardon the pun), you have to work really hard and you make a lot of mistakes and there is a lot of late nights. But you learn from every mistake and you do it differently the next time.

Aleisha:                      

So which business do you put most of your energy into?

Daniel:           

So at the moment, I work predominantly off site, across both businesses for operations and compliance.

Daniel Fulmer kids alive do the five

New Challenges

Aleisha:                      

So, you’re able to now work on the business rather than in it?

Daniel:           

Yeah, in saying that it is still quite difficult. We’re still working on things to allow me to do this more, but as I said earlier we’d love to employ a permanent deck supervisor and get me away even more, but it’s just finding the balance on ways we can afford to do these things. I probably need to spend more time on the child care centre because it’s more difficult to manage with all of the regulations we need to comply with.

Aleisha:                      

What have been your biggest challenges you have had to overcome with the childcare centre?

Daniel:           

Initially staffing was a problem as in NSW you are not recognised as a qualified teacher if you haven’t completed your early childhood degree. Maintaining state regulations on qualified staff in accordance with our student number to teacher ratios has been a challenge. The cost of taking on an existing business was also a big stretch financially. We started with a very low occupancy rate at the start of this year (2019) and it’s taken all of the year, to get back up.

Aleisha:

Have you started focusing on your marketing of the day care centre to build this up?

Daniel:           

Yes we have. Where the swim school doesn’t really need much marketing as it grows organically, the day care centre has a lot of competition.

The biggest competition we have is new centres that are all glitzy and glamorous. A lot of people see these and it’s their natural instinct to put their child here rather than in a centre that is older. Our marketing is focused on what we actually value as childcare workers.

We may not have the brand new, shiny centre, but when you leave your child here to be cared for all day and fed and put your trust in us to make sure they are ok, we will treat them like they are our own children. And that is essentially the only thing that matters.

Aleisha:                      

Is it your goal to work at the day care centre as a full time teacher?

Daniel:           

When we first bought the centre I was there full time as the Director. But the difficultly in that was when you focus all your time on one thing, things start getting neglected over in the other business. It got to a stage where I thought I could do both roles but then I’d be getting up and doing the early morning swim lessons from 6am and then going over to the day care centre and working till around 3:30pm and then back to the swim centre to work till 7:30pm. The kids were in bed when I was leaving and getting home. I started to think “what’s the point”? So I have had to move away from the teaching side of this, which is a shame as that is what I enjoy, but being with the family is more important.

Aleisha:                      

How have you made that possible?

Daniel:           

I can work predominantly from home. Everything that we do, both at the swim school or the day care centre, is cloud based, as long as I’ve got my laptop. I call it my personal office. I can be at home and just be there for that feral time in the morning when you’re getting ready for school. I can drop the kids off at their dancing and I do my work while I’m waiting for them. This has given me a lot of flexibility. I’m not sure if it will stay this way long term but I am happy with the way it works now.

Aleisha:                      

Do you think you will end up using your degree as a teacher?

Daniel:           

I hope so, I have done a few roles at schools and in preschools, but right now the system we have is working.

Running two successful businesses but both using his love of education

Advice

Aleisha:                      

If there was someone else who was trying to start a business, what would be your one bit of advice that you would give them? Or if someone’s in a business already and they’re ready to throw it in, what advice would you give them?

Daniel:           

DO YOUR RESEARCH!

I didn’t just get the newspaper and go, “Oh, there’s a business here, I might buy it”.

You have to plan, you need to know what it’s worth, you need to know your competition and you really need to know about the industry. Do your research and make sure that it is a viable business venture before you buy in. Then I would say “BACK YOURSELF”. If you’ve done your homework and you know it can work, you just need to put in the time and effort.

Oh and network. Networking is important. Work with a business consultant to make you accountable. In the end I know that there are always going to be other swim schools and child care centres for people to go to, but I don’t lose sleep over it. If I do my job well and give the service my clients expect, I know I will be okay. Don’t focus too much on what everyone else is doing.

As you can tell from this interview, the success of Daniels businesses has been through a lot of hard work, and at times some sacrifices. It is always hard to gauge when you are doing too much in your business and other areas of your life may start to be compromised, especially when you are starting out and you are fuelled by fear of failure. It is great to read a story where processes and systems have been implemented to bring the equilibrium back into the normal zone.

You can see more about Daniels businesses by visiting his websites:

http://www.superkidschildcare.com.au/

http://www.northwyongaquacentre.com.au/

From aqua centre to childcare centre hard work has paid off for Daniel Fulmer 

Daniel Fulmer and North Wyong Aqua Centre and Superkids Childcare Centre have been clients of Bishop Collins Accountants since 2017. If you are looking for any of the services Daniel offers you can contact him via his website