Making the (Up)grade

Posted on February 8, 2009 by

As the saying goes, it takes money to make money: Spending a little now to spruce up your studio may do more than energize existing students—it could help attract new ones. Here, we offer ideas for every budget.

Major Overhauls: $$$
A stellar dance floor is essential to any great studio—and one of the most expensive components to upgrade. To make the most of your investment, be sure to do your homework. Contact companies that specialize in dance flooring, and they’ll provide samples and discuss the best options for your individual needs.

No matter what, investigate installation options before making a decision. Nancy Solomon Rothenberg, owner of Studio B Dance Center in Eastchester, New York, says it’s important to check your lease. “Sometimes when you’re leasing a space, there are certain things that have to stay,” she says. “Make sure you have portable floors so you can take them with you.”

After the floors, pristine mirrors are a must. If your studio has five-foot-tall mirrors, it may be time to upgrade. When Sarah-Jane Measor, co-owner of Menlo Park Academy of Dance in Menlo Park, California, decided to renovate her studio to coincide with the opening of a second location, she made sure to install mirrors that were eight-feet-tall to modernize the space. It’s also wise to upgrade to shatterproof glass. “Kids run into mirrors on purpose,” says Solomon Rothenberg, who adds that it can get tricky when ordering online, so make sure to ask the appropriate questions. If you prefer to buy from a local company, be prepared to make a specific request for shatterproof products.

The third most important part of any studio is sturdy barres. If you have only one row, update your space by adding another row at a varying height for students of different ages: “one for the adults and teenage kids, and one for the younger kids,” says Measor. Portable barres are another good transitional purchase for accommodating more students as your studio grows.

Ask local merchants if they’re willing to donate goods or give you a price break in exchange for helping to build a stronger community. For example, a paint store donated a good portion of the paint Measor used for her recent renovation and offered the rest to her at the wholesale price.

Minor Boosts: $$
Regularly upgrading your tech equipment is a must to keep your business competitive. For a renovation that will likely appeal to parents, consider installing a closed-circuit TV system. “When there are windows in the hallway, everybody stands around staring in, tapping on glass and disrupting class,” explains Solomon Rothenberg. “I put TV cameras in each room, and we have monitors in the lobby so parents can watch their children. You can do a split-screen or have the picture switch from room to room. When the doors are closed, the kids don’t know which moms are watching and which ones left to run a quick errand.”

A local security system company installed Solomon Rothenberg’s entire circuit, and the same company put her stereo speakers into the wall, giving her studios a clean look. Additionally, she upgraded her music system by adding iPod docks, eliminating the need to plug and unplug wires when switching between CDs and iPods. Investing in a laptop with music already downloaded onto it is another option to keep your CDs from getting scratched or lost, says Solomon Rothenberg.

Cosmetic Fixes: $
After your building’s facade, the lobby is where students’—and parents’—impressions of your studio first take shape. Make yours inviting and functional with some inexpensive improvements. Solomon Rothenberg recently set up a reading nook in her waiting area, which has been a huge hit. “We bought a crate and asked people to donate books to it,” she explains. “A lot of siblings wait with parents, and I don’t want to encourage food and toys in the waiting room. Instead of running up and down the hallways, kids rush over to the reading bin. There are also a couple of magazines for adults, to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome.”

Make your studio instantly look bigger by installing stackable cubbyholes from stores like Ikea or The Container Store, so students can stash personal belongings quickly and easily. Toy boxes in your waiting area can double as seating and additional storage. “Kids put stuff in piles against walls and take up a lot of space,” says Solomon Rothenberg. “Even if you have a small studio, bins give you room to accommodate more students as business grows.”

As more people are going green, get with the movement by making your studio more environmentally sound. “We switched all our cleaning supplies and soap to all-natural products,” says Solomon Rothenberg. “We also keep hand sanitizer in the studio and started using reusable, recycled water bottles instead of buying water,” she explains, adding that she prints both the studio’s logo and each student’s name on the individual bottles. Solomon Rothenberg also has recycling bins in her lobby.

Often, it doesn’t take a lot of money or effort to make transformative improvements to your studio. Make it a habit to pop into other businesses to see what they’re doing. “I always go into other studios when I’m traveling,” says Solomon Rothenberg. “Just stop in and get their fall brochure. That’s how you get a lot of good ideas.” Sometimes the smallest changes stand out the most. “Step back and look at your studio from a parent’s point of view,” suggests Solomon Rothenberg. “Make people feel like you care about them and their children.”

Sara Jarrett is a freelance writer in New York City.

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