Puddle Ducks: the story of two franchisees

Liz and Phil Gabriel talk to workingwise.co.uk about what motivated them to become franchisees of the swimming school franchise Puddle Ducks.


Liz Gabriel had been working in a corporate job for 19 years when she decided she wanted to do something different so she could have more control over her work. Her two daughters were aged nine and 11 at the time and she didn’t want to come home at 7pm five days a week. “I wanted to try something new rather than keep doing what I was doing. I’d rather try and fail and if I failed I could get another job. I wanted to be accountable for things I had control over and I wanted work life balance,” she says.

So she decided to become a franchisee because she knew it would provide her with a proven business model, reducing the risks of starting out on her own. She didn’t know initially what area she wanted to move into, but when she met the Puddle Ducks franchisor she fell in love with the brand. Puddle Ducks seeks to teach children from birth up to the age of secondary school age how to be independent swimmers. “I thought it was really positive and unique. Swimming is a life skill. The business seemed sustainable. Even in tough times parents still want to spend on their kids,” says Liz.

Starting out

Liz quit her job and bought the Puddle Ducks franchise for Nottingham. That was in 2010 and initially it was just her doing all the work. She did Puddle Ducks training to be a swimming teacher at the franchise’s headquarters in Cheshire.  That means she understands the business from every angle. 

Within a year she had started hiring her first teacher and she finally hung up her swimming costume after three years to focus on business strategy and management. Around four years after starting up Liz’s husband Phil, who was tiring of corporate life in the telecoms industry, came on board. By then Liz had built up a customer base of 800 and had bought a second territory. Soon after the opportunity to buy a pool in Nottingham came up. Liz sold her second territory to invest in the pool which is open seven days a week. It also has a gym and cafe as well as a beauty room. It was a smart move with many pools closing in the last few years, particularly since Covid.

Phil runs the club, including the gym, cafe and the room which they hire out to beauty businesses. He says running a franchise business gave him and Liz the confidence to run their own business. Puddle Ducks’ support with marketing, HR and finance was invaluable to them in the early days.

Liz says their business relationship works well because they have different skillsets. Phil has an engineering background and is good at fixing things as well as running the business. Liz’s background is in marketing. They do have occasional disagreements, but not on high level issues. “We work quite differently. We approach things in a different way, but generally end up with the same outcome,” she says.


Phil and Liz [pictured right], who are in their mid to late 50s, admit the last few years since Covid have been challenging, although the year after Covid was their best ever.  However, the cost of living crisis and rising energy bills have been particularly hard. Their gas and electricity bills for the pool have gone up significantly. 

They have had to think creatively to cover the rising bills. They have, for instance, cut the number of hours they are open, have installed different, more efficient pumps and have hired out the building more for children’s groups, pop-up clinics and the like. There have also been structural changes to reduce their tax bill. Being franchisees also helps. They get ongoing help with legal issues and access to forums and regular meetings with other franchisees where people share what they have done and best practice examples.

Phil says: “It hasn’t been easy, but one of the reasons I moved out of the corporate world was because I am good at problem solving and I wanted the freedom of it all being down to me and to be able to think outside the box.”

Liz adds: “You have to be a risk taker, especially in the current climate. The rewards can be great. In the good years we have earned more than we would have in our old jobs, but some years we have earned a lot less. You also get the flexibility. If you want to take the day off you can, but you may need to be on call 24/7 in return. It works for us as, unlike as employees, we’re not good at being told what to do and it gives me confidence in myself.”

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your Franchise Selection

Click the button below to register your interest with all the franchises in your selection

Request FREE Information Now

Your Franchise Selection

This franchise opportunity has been added to your franchise selection



Click the button below to register your interest with all the franchises in your selection

Request FREE Information Now

You may be interested in these similar franchises