Big Blue dives into Ann Arbor

New swim school prepares first area location

A native of Holland, MI, Chris DeJong started swimming competitively at the age of 8. His love of the water continued through college, where he was a member of the University of Michigan swim team from 2002 through 2006, for a while alongside a kid named Michael Phelps. Before all that, however, DeJong was a young boy in the cold water of the Hope College swimming pool, his teeth chattering as he tried to learn how to stay afloat.

“Large pools, that are typically meant to serve all needs of a community, typically do not have the ability to cater to the needs of families who want their kids to learn how to swim,” DeJong said.

“When you’re a four or five year old, coming to a large natatorium (swimming facility) with all different kinds of activities going on there, it can be kind of intimidating when we’re already asking those kids to tackle one of their first big fears in life that mom and dad can’t do for them. It’s a big milestone.”

Empowering kids

Hoping to aid kids as they take that first step is part of what inspired DeJong to create Big Blue Swim School, a brand aimed specifically at introducing young swimmers to the pool in a controlled environment. 

“We empower kids with the skills they need to feel confident in the water. So kids 0-12 years old are able to come take swim lessons from us in our warm pools that we conveniently locate, that make it easy for parents to get there. And we teach all skills, all abilities for kids, and we help them be happier, more confident swimmers,” DeJong said.

“Our company mission is to show kids they can do anything by unlocking their full potential in the water.”

The first Big Blue location opened in Wilmette, IL (just outside Chicago) in 2012. Less than a decade later, the chain has more than 120 locations in development, including one which is scheduled to open at 914 Eisenhower Dr. at Cranbrook Village in early 2022.

Coming to Ann Arbor

“What we do is, we offer swim training for six month olds up to twelve year olds, but we also include a curriculum for advanced swimming techniques,” said Ann Arbor franchisee Hiag Avsharian. “This really helps prepare kids who are interested in getting into competitive swimming.”

Avsharian has plenty of experience working in Ann Arbor business. For over 20 years he had worked for Shar Music Company, which was started by his grandfather in the 1960s. Eventually, though, Avsharian struck out on his own.

“I was ready for a different challenge,” he said. “I went into tech startups, which was fascinating, interesting and challenging. I learned a lot, very quickly. I had done that for a while, and I think I was really ready to be back in an ownership position, interested in being a business owner again.”

Avsharian also has a passion for working one on one with staff members and customers, as well as plenty of experience working with kids— he coaches his own daughter’s soccer team. The opportunity to join up with Big Blue seemed like a natural fit, especially since he lives only a few miles from the planned location.

“When I heard about the Big Blue opportunity, it just felt like it checked so many boxes for me— being a business owner, but also with a little less risk, because you’re going with a corporate partner,” Avsharian said.

Building confidence

The setting for Big Blue’s lessons tries to be as ideal as possible for young students and their parents to feel at ease. The pools are only four feet deep, and the water is kept at a temperature of 90 degrees. Locations are typically in a mall or shopping center, allowing for easy access for families.

“All we do is cater to kids and their families and help them feel comfortable, so that we can make not only fast progress in the water, but make really positive memories for kids so they can associate swimming with a confidence building experience that they can take with them, even outside of the pool,” DeJong said.

Big Blue’s Ann Arbor location is currently scheduled to open in April of 2022, Avsharian said.

“You want it to be a great experience,” he added. “You want [the kids] to feel welcome, you want to feel like you’re not rushed around, and hopefully you can kind of capture their imagination about advanced swimming and advanced swimming techniques.”

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