Local business lawyer, entrepreneur and investor Hugues Boisvert is making a splash in the west end by offering an enhanced way of delivering swimming lessons to babies and kids through the first-ever purposely-built swim school in the nation’s capital.
His new company, Kids Can Swim Canada, is specifically geared toward giving young children the basic water safety skills to enjoy splashing around at the beach, pool, lake or waterpark.
“Our job is to make sure parents don’t have to worry if Timmy goes to the cottage and, while out on the water, he falls out of the canoe,” Boisvert says in an interview at his 4,000-square-foot facility in Kanata, just off Highway 417 near Terry Fox Drive. “We’re here to make sure that he knows how to swim.”
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Boisvert, who was born and raised in the Quebec town of Brownsburg in the Laurentians, can rattle off a long list of what makes Kids Can Swim Canada so special.
The place is bright, airy and clean. It keeps its classes small and engaging. The water is warm and shallow. They offer flexible scheduling. Every child progresses at his or her own pace. The pools have an ultraviolet light system to keep the water clean while eliminating the need for heavy chemicals. The instructors are well-qualified, well-trained and friendly. The lessons are all science-based.
“We see ourselves as the Farm Boy of the learn-to-swim industry,” says Boisvert, giving a tip of the bathing cap to the rapidly expanding and successful local fresh food and grocery chain. There’s no swinging animatronic monkey at Kids Can Swim Canada but it does have very lovely aquatic-themed decor.
“We’re like a premium product. People are willing to pay if they get great customer service, great product quality and a fun experience.”
A decade in the making
Boisvert was aware that too many of us have childhood memories of sitting on the side of the pool, shivering and feeling unhappy or bored.
“We want it to be a fun environment, where kids feel safe and comfortable and don’t want to leave.”
The idea of starting such a business had been floating around in Boisvert’s head ever since he considered a similar investment opportunity a decade ago. It would have been in Australia, where learning to swim is part of the Aussie culture.
“The deal didn’t go through but it always remained in the back of my mind,” he recalls.
As people in his life started having families, the issue of water safety and children became of greater interest to him.
“I was getting older,” acknowledges Boisvert (it seems like only yesterday he was collecting his Forty Under 40 business award). He got married last year, having first met his wife, Tegan, while visiting the military base in Petawawa. Their unofficial, unintentional matchmaker was Ottawa entrepreneur Paul Hindo, honorary colonel of the Canadian army.
Boisvert didn’t enter into his multimillion-dollar venture lightly. He did his research to make sure there was a marketplace demand. He talked to the right people. He travelled the world to see what sort of facilities existed in other countries.
“It was an investment I wanted to make, but I first wanted to make sure that it would work,” Boisvert explains. “When I looked at the opportunity, it just made so much sense, and there was nothing like this in Ottawa.”
As for the physical space, Boisvert struck a deal with Allan Malcomson of the family-owned Canadian Tire Kanata to take over their vacant building located next to the retail company. Malcomson let his new tenant turn the building into a learn-to-swim school, with two small pools that were customized for the kind of classes that they teach.
“He’s been incredible,” says Boisvert. “He’s been instrumental in our success.”
Boisvert has plans to open three more Kids Can Swim Canada locations in Ottawa. He’s specifically set his sights on the Ottawa Train Yards shopping district, Orléans and Barrhaven. He and Tegan want to eventually add a charitable component that would give disadvantaged children the opportunity to take classes.