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Charlotte credits Punchpass with helping her turn everyday women into mermaids

Charlotte O'Beirne
Swimming studio
Western Australia

Swimming Women evolved out of Charlotte O’Beirne’s love of the water and desire to connect with other women looking to improve their swimming skills and fitness levels. 

“I live in a town of 6,000 people which is three and a half hours away from Perth, which is on the west-southwest tip of Australia,” said O’Beirne. “So it’s three and a half hours away from the world’s most isolated city.” 

O’Beirne, who swam in Olympic trials in the UK and was an avid Masters Swim club participant in Australia before having her three children, also wanted to give women an alternative to a traditional gym workout.

“I would see all these people swimming and think ‘Oh my goodness if I could just tell them how to swim better, their life would be better’,” she said.

“At Swimming Women, we remove all the barriers women face when rocking up anywhere in public in their bathers, make them feel brave, laugh lots, and turn them into lifelong lovers of water.”

O’Beirne started out by offering three levels of swim classes, in 10-week blocks. She tracked attendance and purchases in spreadsheets. She realized that the lack of flexibility in her pricing options was turning some customers off, but she didn’t know how she would manage more.

“I was second-guessing and just playing with spreadsheets. It was horrific,” O’Beirne remembered. “And then I was able to grow my business and take on an employee with a new location. And I had been wanting to do this but was sort of going…’But how will I manage the money side of things?’ Some people pay me cash, some people pay by credit card, some people bank transfer. ‘How will I be able to manage this money from a different location?’ 

“I couldn’t see how to do it with a spreadsheet,” she said. At the time, Swimming Women had 300 participants, a pretty big deal for such a small, isolated community, and way too many to manage on paper.

O’Beirne and her husband Cam, who has a background in IT, started researching fitness business software.

“I said, ‘I need it to be able to manage all these different things about people: I need to be able to email them. I need to be able to let them know when classes are. I want to have a timetable that I can lock in. I can start at random times. I can start at 10 past 9:00, not only nine o’clock or 9:30.”

“The thing I wanted – and my husband wanted — was for me to stop doing these blooming spreadsheets where I would spend hours. And going, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t write everyone’s name down!” said O’Beirne. “Because you walk up to a class, and sometimes someone would chat to you at the beginning, and then at the end, people were chatting…I’d have to rush off from there to go and do something for the kids. But my head would be on the next thing, and I’d go ‘Who was on lane 2? And who was there? And I don’t know.” And then people would say, “Oh I owe you money.’ And I’d try to be all over it, but I know things fell through the gap.” 

“Then, all of a sudden, I had this piece of software where I could just look at everyone in the lane while they were swimming, and just press their names and it was there.  And it managed that they could buy a pass. And all of a sudden people could buy 10 swims. And I could make (the pass) last longer. So, I was actually able to engage more people who couldn’t commit to a set structure. They had more fluidity with when they could come to my classes. I could offer different passes.”

“It’s helped my cash flow endlessly,” she said. “I would get paid, effectively, four times a year and have to spread that out. Now, I’m getting money almost every day. My kids love it, because my phone pings and they go, ‘Mummy, it’s more money from Stripe’!” 

Punchpass also dramatically improved Swimming Women’s class management with online pre-registration.

“Through Punchpass, I can offer people a level of flexibility to come and go but still belong. So easily!”

“I just got fed up of having five people tell me they were coming to the class and 14 people turn up,” said O’Beirne. “So I did a competition this winter in Australia where if you register and tell me that you’re coming, you get so many points. And if you just turn up, you get one point. And 90 percent of each class would register and start to use it properly.”

For the student swimmers who logged into their own accounts, being able to see all the passes they’d purchased, how many classes they had left, and when their passes expired, not only provided a whole new level of customer service, but helped people improve their training regimen, and stay motivated, she said.

“It’s not only changed my world. It’s changed theirs as well, which is fantastic!” said O’Beirne. “They are loving the ownership they’ve got of the information I have about them, and how often they come swimming. And when they go, ‘Oh, I haven’t improved,’ they can look and go, ‘Well I’ve only been to ten classes this year’ or ‘Wow, you know, I can see before I was only swimming this often, and now I’m swimming this often, and I can really feel the difference!’ 

While Swimming Women does have elite athletes among its ranks, many of the women are trying out swimming – and regular exercise – for the first time, so staying positive about their progress truly is life-changing, she said.

“We’re not talking elite athletes here. We are talking everyday women,” said Beirne. “Some of them have never swum in their life. The first time they get in the pool, they are crying. They won’t go past, like, armpit depth. They are petrified. The fact they’re even exercising, for some of them, is a big thing.”

O’Beirne rewards her swimmers as they track their progress.

“When you come to Swimming Women, when you sign up, you get a swimming cap. When you’ve come 50 times, you get a gold swim cap,” she said.  

O’Beirne also used Punchpass with another incentive program to encourage more swimmers to sign up ahead of time for classes. Her business challenge was continuing to have too many swimmers arrive, without her knowledge, because half didn’t sign up in advance. So she offered a points program for signing up in advance, purchasing a membership, and signing in ahead of time. Many of her technophobic clients realized how easy it was to use Punchpass, and Swimming Women was able to reduce the number of swimmers showing up without passes to its classes. O’Beirne was able to easily track it all in Punchpass.

“They got all excited, and they started turning up, and they started using the technology, and they were going, ‘This is so easy!” and ‘I can do THIS now!’ and “I can do THAT now!” and “Now I know,” she said.

Punchpass has also helped Swimming Women expand its business by offering special events, like swim holidays.

On Swimming Women’s seventh birthday, “we had over 70 mermaids create a mermaid circle on a cold winter’s morning – it was very special,” said O’Beirne. “It’s a free gathering, but I got people to sign up for a free event,” said O’Beirne. “Using Punchpass it was so easy, and then I could see who had come.”

“We’re here for the long term where if you sign up to Swimming Women, you become a mermaid.  And once a mermaid, always a mermaid. And through Punchpass, I can offer people a level of flexibility to come and go but still belong. So easily!”

“Swimming Women has been running for 10 years now and in that time we have helped over 3,000 women learn to swim, improve their swimming, and challenge themselves to do things they never thought possible.”

Looking back now, O’Beirne can’t believe how much has happened and changed and improved. Now “we operate in 4 locations, run sessions in the ocean and pools, and deliver amazing swim holidays around the world. This coming year we aim to expand into the online coaching space. For this, we intend to use all of the fabulous resources and systems Punchpass provides.”

When I started I thought putting a requirement to reserve and pay in advance would put people off. Now I LOVE that functionality and can’t believe I ever shied away from it. If someone wants to come they should totally commit to it and, although I’ve had to help the odd 80-year-old, people are used to it now.

“It’s like this software is being developed for us with our feedback.” And “the Punchpass team has always been on to assist me immediately all the way over in the most westerly corner of Western Australia.”

“Punchpass is a critical part of my business and I don’t even bother engaging with the other companies that contact me and offer to show me their offerings.”

Even after 10 years, “I still love using Punchpass”, says O’Beirne. “I love how it has evolved with me and teaches me new things to make my business better, smarter, and have more relevance to my customers too.”

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