Meredith Kinman and Allison Spencer grew up in a swimming family. The older of the two, Allison, was an accomplished swimmer who swam competitively through high school and college. Afterward, she went back to coach her younger sister Meredith’s swim team, where they eventually won a swimming state championship during Meredith’s senior year of high school.
After continuing to coach together as time went on, the “Sides Sisters” (their maiden name) were eventually named to the Metro Hall of Fame. The pair’s accomplishments and involvement in the local swimming world made their maiden last name “Sides,” one to remember.
While the sisters’ careers led them to teach, they maintained a dream of working and coaching together once again. The opportunity to do so presented itself in late 2019 as the owner of a local swim school, Barb Graeve, decided to sell her business and placed a call to Meredith and Allison. Their dream was about to turn into a reality.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic made buying a business difficult in early 2020, the Sides sisters were officially able to take over the school in July 2020. Today, they have 30 staff members and serve between 300-350 students per week, thanks to the popularity of their private lessons-only approach. We sat down with Meredith and Allison to hear more about their future with their swim school and what it means to them to be a female and family-owned business.
What goals do you have for your swim school in the future?
Meredith Kinman: “Finding the space and finding the staff to help us expand. Trying to find that balance of being a mom, running a business, and keeping everyone in line. We just put an employee on salary so there is room to expand. We’d love to add swim schools around Omaha.”
What challenges do you face in your business and the industry?
Meredith: “Staffing, just like everybody. We have some really great instructors and we try to treat them as wonderful as possible because they’re really great people. But we just gave everyone a raise to stay competitive because there are so many places paying a lot of money.”
Allison Spencer: “We hire kids who are involved in everything and we don’t want them to miss their choir concert and other activities because of work– we don’t want to take anything away from them so we have kids that work as little as 2 hours a week and it’s OK.”
Allison: “That’s really our only major challenge. We would like to start making money on social media but we aren’t very good at that right now!”
What does it mean to you to be a family-owned and female-owned business?
Meredith: “It’s been life-changing. The females in our family are very strong females– everybody works and is high-up in their jobs. And now we fit into the rest of the family because we’re the bosses. We’ve had a lot of help because of the strong females around us. Our cousin is an attorney and offers plenty of advice which has saved a lot of time and money.”
Allison: “We also could not have bought the business without Barb Graeve (former swim school owner) because she had everything built and ready to go. We took over what she had already established. It was just a dream to own a swim school before, but she had everything set so that we just needed to know swimming.”
Meredith: “I like being able to financially provide for my family now. It’s nice that I get to control how much money we’re making– if we want to make more we open the pool for more lessons.”
Allison: “We work pretty well together too because we each have our little jobs and we communicate and trust each other. It’s your sister so it’s not somebody you HAVE to work with you chose this.”
What advice would you give future female business owners
Meredith: “I wish I had a job for everybody– I wish I could hire all of my friends that are amazing at what they do because it’s so great. Bet on yourself, you’re doing all this work for somebody else you might as well take a chance on yourself.
Meredith: “Take a chance on yourself. You are never going to know you can do it until you try– it can’t be worse than what you’re doing right now. If I stay up all night working my butt off at least I’m doing it for myself.”
About Sides Sisters Swim School
Teaching children to become water safe is the ultimate goal of The Sides Sisters Swim School. Once water safety skills are achieved, we take pride in providing a strong swimming foundation allowing your child to take their swimming journey to the next level. Learn more