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Success Stories

Quick fire Q&A with Susie McKeon

Jillian Lewis
Smarter Writer

Jillian Lewis is a writer and editor living in Sydney, Australia.

Jillian Lewis
Smarter Writer

Jillian Lewis is a writer and editor living in Sydney, Australia.

We find out how the founders of McKeon’s Swim School made the successful shift from swimmers to small business owners.

Hard work and fierce competition are no strangers to swimmers Susie and Ron McKeon, who competed in the Brisbane Commonwealth games in 1982, where they first met. Yet it’s outside the pool that Ron and Susie have had one of their biggest successes – running their own business, McKeon’s Swim School, and making a difference to their local community. 

Girl swimming in pool with inflatable ring

How did McKeon’s Swim School come about?

“Ron loved to coach swimming – it’s his passion. We needed a swim school that could offer lessons to support that coaching structure. So in 1986 we hired lane space in a swimming pool in a caravan park and started lessons. Ten years later, we built another pool in a warehouse and in 2005 we bought land and built our own swim centre, where we’ve been ever since.” 

 

What were the initial challenges?

“In the beginning, the amount of hours you put in is endless. We both had swimming backgrounds, but knew nothing about running a business or hiring staff. We were constantly learning from our mistakes.” 

Did you ever think about giving up?

“No, never. We love swimming – all aspects of it. We love the sport and we love watching the tiniest baby [experience] the water for the first time. We believe that every child has the right to (and should) learn how to swim. Our tagline is ‘Sharing our love of water’ – and that’s what we do.”

How do you get through the hard times?

“You’ve got to have a passion for what you’re doing so, when you go through a difficult period, you can remind yourself why you got into it in the first place.” 

If you sit back and think ‘we made it’, that’s when things go downhill. We’re always looking for new ideas and ways to change or better what we’re doing.
- Susie McKeon

What qualities from your training days helped start your business?

“Perseverance and commitment – well and truly! As an athlete, you put in a lot of hours and you have your eye on the end goal. We used the same approach to start up the swim school.” 

What elements of training do you bring to business?

“You just get up every day and get things done, even if you don’t always feel like it.” 

When did you start to feel comfortable with your success?

“In some ways, you never want to feel completely comfortable. If you sit back and think ‘we made it’, that’s when things go downhill. We’re always looking for new ideas and ways to change or better what we’re doing.” 

Competing gives you a thrill. How do you get that now, as business owners?

“The thrill as a business owner is the feedback you get from your customers. Sometimes we’ll see people in the street and they’ll tell us their child fell in the pool [but was okay as they were able] to swim to the side because of our lessons. That’s so rewarding. It’s really satisfying when we get second- and third-generation families coming to our pool for lessons. It makes us feel like we’ve had an impact and made a difference to the community.” 

Our tagline is ‘sharing our love of water’ – and that’s what we do.
- Susie McKeon

What is the hardest part of running your own business?

“When the doors are open, you’re always on call. In the early days, we were there all the time, but now we have fabulous staff who allow us to be away from the business.” 

What do you love about being your own boss?

“As hard as it can be, we love the responsibility. We love seeing it all happen and fall into place. We also love providing employment to people in the area, we’ve got 80 staff now and some have been with us for more than 10 years. I love that we’ve created an environment they want to be part of.”

What coaching tips do you have for better business practice?

“Keep learning and be curious. Learn from your mistakes and think about what you can do better to improve. Keep looking for solutions.”  

Where to next?

“We want to continue to build on our reputation and continue to offer our amazing service and experience to the teachers and families who are involved with our swim school.”

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