Staying Afloat in Uncertain Times: How a BC Swim Company Achieved Growth During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Vancouver-based swim education provider Aquaventures Swim Centre is years into an ambitious growth plan that will see their bustling business expand and move into a world-class private swim facility in a new location off Fraser Street.

“It has been four years since we’d started searching for a location, and construction finally began in February 2020,” said Sharron Crowley, Owner and Founder of Aquaventures.

Then COVID-19 hit.

In need of financing to support the project, and upon the recommendation of a lender, Crowley engaged Ashdown Capital Commercial Capital Advisor, Matthew MacGregor.

“Matthew was fantastic from the start,” said Crowley. “He came right out to the site, asked lots of questions, and got a real feel for the business.”

MacGregor undertook the process of finding a lender that could not only provide the financing required, but also match the community values foundational to Aquaventures’ work. He approached lenders within his network to identify the best fit, and soon had multiple term sheets in hand.

Overnight, Aquaventures went from providing swim services to nearly 2,000 clients a week at over 90% daily capacity to a months-long full facility closure. Crowley also faced the simultaneous uncertainty of construction financing as lenders entered a holding pattern and the deals at hand were put on pause. 

MacGregor simultaneously rekindled the financing process with senior lenders; while recognizing that this could take more time than the project could afford, he also investigated alternate, nimble financing options. He approached Five Peaks Capital, and was able to secure short-term bridge financing to support the purchase of world-class Myrtha pools. Without this funding, Aquaventures would have returned to the end of the production queue, resulting in significant construction delays. 

But Crowley, who has spent over 35 years building the business, was undeterred. While the facility was closed, she made plans for managing the challenging times ahead. Aquaventures made the best of assets at hand, incentivizing clients to keep their pre-paid fees in the business to assist with immediate cashflow needs.  Crowley kept construction moving with the support of her business partners and personal resources. 

As soon as COVID-19 restrictions allowed, Aquaventures reopened with a thoughtful COVID plan in place. Although capacity and distancing measures necessitated a complete retooling of the business model, they soon had a full roster of at-capacity classes. As one participant’s parent explained, “Aquaventures has taken every consideration in adapting their program to keep everyone safe – students, teachers and parents – while still providing the same skilled level of instruction to their participants.”

And as Aquaventures business began to recover, MacGregor was able to facilitate a strong financing offer from Aquaventures’ incumbent financial institution, Vancity. They were able to offer favourable terms that would fund the overall leasehold improvements as well as working capital facilities to provide cashflow flexibility. Vancity’s 35+ year record of community-mindedness also appealed to Crowley’s vision for her business.

Aquaventures Swim Centre’s new facility on Fraser Street, under construction.

Come December 2020, the project was fully funded. Aquaventures is targeting an April 2021 move-in to their state-of-the-art 14,000 sq. ft. facility, and is looking forward to expanding their reach across the region.