How to motivate clients to spend more—without giving away the store.

Every parent loves a discount. Make sure those you offer support your goals.

Studio owners have long offered discounts on tuition to attract new clients and encourage existing clients to register for more classes. Laura Sciortino, who has owned her Turning Pointe Dance Studio in Falmouth, Massachusetts, for 11 years, began offering discounts her second year in business—so many clients inquired, she felt compelled to do so.

But while discounting has its benefits, if not thoughtfully administered, it can be a money loser. Here, we offer seven tips on structuring your discounts to bring in the volume you want while keeping your business profitable.

1 Use discounts strategically

Though discounting is integral to the studio business, savvy owners don’t let it define them. Successful studios usually don’t compete on price. Instead, they focus on quality and community. Target your discount policy on making classes financially accessible for families with multiple children or frequent attendance. (Or as it might be framed from your point of view, getting your existing customers to spend more.) “The ultimate goal of discounting is to get kids dancing as much as possible,” says Sciortino. “The more classes they take, the stronger dancers they become. Producing better dancers gives your studio a better reputation, which then leads to more customers.”

2 Keep it simple

Discounting should be simple for customers to understand and for owners to implement, but often that isn’t the case. “If you sent a NASA scientist into the average dance school, he or she would not understand it; that’s how complex it is,” says CPA Sean Dever, whose business manages payroll for 300 dance, gymnastics and swim schools. “I’ve seen people get a discount if they come more days, if they pay in advance, if they have multiple family members—and sometimes all three are stacked on top of each other. By the time it’s done, the studio is paying for the kid to take class.”

Remember: The ultimate goal of offering discounts is to have students dancing as much as possible.

To make it easier to see just how much money you’re giving away, Dever advises discounting on a percentage basis, rather than just subtracting a few dollars from a monthly tuition. As a rule of thumb, your discount percentage should always be considerably less than your profit margin. “The average dance studio makes a 10 percent profit,” says Dever. “Say you give a 10 percent discount for paying full tuition up front. You’ve already lost all your profit on that student.”

Always keep in mind how much money you need to clear before setting a discount. The kind of thing to consider in your calculations: As you fill a class with new students paying a discounted rate, you may have to hire another instructor—and you might inadvertently eliminate slots for full-paying students. How will that affect your overall profit?

3 But not too simple

Dever recommends working with odd numbers, because it makes your discount structure less obvious. Don’t make the total fee easily divisible by the number of classes, for instance. “Instead of 10-class sessions, offer nine,” says Dever. “In lieu of a 50-week calendar year, make it 49. This makes it more difficult for clients to figure out how much they’re saving or to compare your discount to other schools.”

4 Time it right

Travel discount programs offer bigger discounts closer to departure dates. As the start of classes approaches, a studio might consider a deeper-than-usual discount if that puts a student into an empty spot—as long as it’s not a prime-time class. “Once a session is locked down, and you know which classes have empty spots, send a notice to your e-mail list advising them of a ‘special’ discount,” says Dever.

5 Learn from the experts

Family discounts are a mainstay of many discount strategies. Typically, as a family adds more hours or students, the price per class goes down. Take your cue from theme parks, which discount for groups. “At Disney World,” says Dever, “everyone pays full price for the first day. Then, as the number of days for your visit increases, so does the discount.”

Dever recommends discounting in tiers, to give clients an incentive to register for more classes. “For the first one to three hours,” he says, “charge full price. Then, for the next three to seven, you might offer a seven percent discount.” Make the hours cumulative for a family, he advises. With this approach, two children taking two hours would qualify for the three- to seven-hour-range discount.

Sciortino’s studio has found success with this model (as the number of hours goes up, the fee per hour falls). “By discounting their tuition,” she says, “it’s easier to encourage those important extra ballet classes.”

6 Only use Groupon for special occasions

Deal-of-the-day websites like Groupon make it possible for restaurants, nail salons and even vacation packagers to entice customers with discounts. But does this type of discounting make sense for a business based on building a long-term relationship? No. “In the class environment, it’s disruptive because you get dabblers,” says Dever. “Parents typically try it to get a child in an activity, then switch to something else when the session is over.”

Instead, use Groupon for special events and one-off occasions, such as birthday parties or a trio of dance lessons for an upcoming wedding. These offers won’t cannibalize your regular business, but they will allow dabblers to experience how great your studio is and be inspired to sign up for a real session.

7 Think twice before offering cash-in-advance discounts

Many studio owners, like Sciortino, offer a discount to clients who pay in full up front. “This discount lessens the time I spend on invoicing throughout the year,” says Sciortino. “And as studio owners, our time is money.”

But beware of discount doubling-up.Families who already take advantage of the cumulative class discount could exceed your profit margin percentage if they get a discount for paying in full, too. Consider using an automatic payment system to simplify your billing, and save this discount for students registering for the first time. DT

Charlotte Barnard is a New York City writer who frequently covers retail and design.

©Thinkstock (2)

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Is teaching for an after-school program a good way to find a job in K–12?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences

It was the morning of November 8, 2018, and Jarrah Myles' first-period choreography students were in last-minute rehearsals for their fall dance concert that evening. "All of a sudden my students' phones started ringing like crazy," says Myles, a teacher at Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, a Chico, California, high school whose dance and theater programs Myles helped establish in 2010. "And once they answered, I saw these tragic faces staring back at me."

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

abezikus/Getty Images

"Dancers can do everything these days," I announced to whoever was in earshot at the Jacob's Pillow Archives during a recent summer. I had just been dazzled by footage of a ballet dancer performing hip hop, remarkably well. But my very next thought was, What if that isn't always a good thing? What if what one can't do is the very thing that lends character?

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Courtney Schwartz and Jake Mcauley perform a Talia Favia combination at Radix Dance Convention Nationals. Via Instagram

Summer intensives and Nationals make June, July and August some of the richest dance-video months of the year. There is so much fabulous content out there, we can hardly contain our excitement!

We have spent hours down the rabbit hole of class videos this week and thought you should see some of our favorite findings.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

While taking class in 2006, Marisa Hamamoto felt a tingling sensation in her elbows, then suddenly collapsed to the floor. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with spinal cord infarction, a rare spinal stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down. Despite being told by her doctor that she may never walk again, let alone dance, Hamamoto miraculously walked out of the hospital two months later.

Since her stroke, Hamamoto has found a new lease on life. She has channeled her indomitable will to overcome adversity into a dance company that marries her love of ballroom dance with her passion for social activism. Los Angeles–based Infinite Flow is the first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company in the U.S. Over the past four years it has become a torchbearer for social change, performing worldwide and offering workshops and school assemblies to educate audiences about accessibility and inclusion.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox