When youï¿½re working with 40 schools a year, and will welcome four new ones in 2018, youï¿½ve got to be doing something right.
Having built their school base over many years, Exmouth Watersports sees their engagement work pay off as season-on-season they pack out their weekday Beach Club for Under 16s and Sunday OnBoard Junior Club with inspired youngsters.
The centreï¿½s OnBoard focus is on windsurfing, training kids up to 30 knots, alongside other watersports. School visits are split 50:50 between Year 5-6 enjoying specialist beach days and senior schools doing courses or activity weeks. So whatï¿½s the secret of their OnBoard success?
ï¿½Hard work and attention to detail,ï¿½ smiles John Morgan, Exmouth Watersports Director and RYA Trainer. ï¿½Cold calling schools is a thankless, soulless task. Teachers are too busy to
ï¿½Itï¿½s about recognising opportunities too; a comment from someone you meet at an event you lock away for later,
talk to strangers, so word of mouth or being referred to a
named contact is everything.
chatting to people who look interested in what youï¿½re doing
on the beach, a teacher who comes on a course, you find so many people work in education and I have no shame telling
them what we can do for them.ï¿½
Finding a timely hook that turns a teacherï¿½s head can be
critical in any OnBoard pitch. John is well versed at tapping into what Year 5-6 are studying at a particular moment and linking their approach to that.
And when you get a lead, donï¿½t let it go.
ï¿½Exactly,ï¿½ John continues. ï¿½We live in permanently connected digital world, thereï¿½s literally no excuse to take a week to get back to someone. Even if itï¿½s acknowledging youï¿½ve received their email or voicemail as soon as possible and going back to them with more detail later, that customer service can be the difference between a school signing up or going elsewhere.ï¿½
The personal touch
School visits are a massive part of Johnï¿½s approach. First thereï¿½s the pre-visit, meeting the contact, old or new, and going through the safety aspects and risk assessments so they can complete their due diligence.
Most of these meetings take place in October-November, but if a lead comes mid-season a meeting is set up asap. Even if itï¿½s a school or teacher thatï¿½s worked with Exmouth for years, and itï¿½s a five-minute meeting, John goes, as communication is key to repeat business, more groups coming from the same school and referrals.
Then itï¿½s time to impress the kids. Or is itï¿½
Assemblies and class visits, complete with cool videos and heaps of funky kit to show off, might look geared to the young audience, but who are you talking to really?
ï¿½The teachers,ï¿½ John admits. ï¿½You might have seven minutes to get everyone excited about watersports. So when I get a kid up to hold a sail and say ï¿½Feel how light it is, isnï¿½t it easy, itï¿½s not like when I learned, come and have a goï¿½ Iï¿½m telling the teachers ï¿½Whatever youï¿½ve heard about windsurfing, itï¿½s not like that now.ï¿½
Then use your nous to keep that conversation going after the kids have left - ï¿½When youï¿½re packing up and a teacher offers to help, always accept. Itï¿½s another chance to have an extra chat.ï¿½
That chat doesnï¿½t have to be about the activity itself.
At one school John inspired a teacher to set a task for pupils to design the ultimate Exmouth Watersports brochure, assessed on use of eye-catching pictures and maps, accuracy of course information and using as few words as possible. The kids loved seeing theirs appear across the centreï¿½s social media channels.
Building and maintaining relationships is fundamental.
Inspiring your instructors
As Exmouth Watersportsï¿½ owner, John still does most of the school visits himself. Last year they did 15. He acknowledges kids like being taught by young people closer to them in age and, at 55, they might not relate to him like a young instructor. But John is cautious when it comes to using his instructor team for visits.
While their teaching capabilities on the beach arenï¿½t in question, standing in front of 400 schoolchildren and connecting with everyone in a room is a different and difficult skill. He doesnï¿½t think itï¿½s fair to put a young instructor in that situation until they have the confidence or experience to do it effectively. That confidence or experience comes from investing in their instructor training.
John continues: ï¿½You never know whoï¿½s going to talk to a teacher during a session. If that person isnï¿½t knowledgeable and enthusiastic, the hard work thatï¿½s gone into getting the school along could be undone.ï¿½
Training instructors in customer service is important at Exmouth. So is preserving their enthusiasm. Instructors notoriously donï¿½t get enough time to do the sports themselves. But at the end of a session, if itï¿½s windy the team is encouraged to pack up quickly and get out windsurfing. Or when they arrive in the morning they might be surprised with a paddleboard up the River Exe. Itï¿½s all about maintaining quality.
ï¿½Reputation is everything,ï¿½ John insists. ï¿½Whether youï¿½re a centre during the school holidays or a club running post-season OnBoard sessions, instructors still have to be 100% enthusiastic about teaching the kids. Anything less is a disservice to the school. Itï¿½s also a disservice to you as negative word of mouth can do a lot of harm.ï¿½
A large, successful commercial operation, Exmouth Watersports can invest resources in engaging with schools. But there are plenty of lessons even small, volunteer-led OnBoard clubs can learn from their approach.
As John concludes: ï¿½Nothing beats being attentive and working really hard at it; pressing the flesh of teachers at sessions, telling them whatï¿½s going on, what you can do for them next year. By the end of a session or course I want them signed up again for next year. It never stops, but the long-term rewards of seeing kids enjoying being on the water makes it worth it.ï¿½