Branching Out

In an unpredictable economy, is it wise to expand your business? Opinions differ, but with the proper amount of preparation and field research, many dance entrepreneurs say the venture can be worth the risk. For those considering making the new-location leap, DT consulted three multi-studio owners about their experiences.

 

 

 

 

Sabrina Miller-Helma

Miller’s Dance Studio

(1,400 students)

Aurora and Parker, CO

 

In 1978, Sabrina Miller-Helma opened her first dance studio in south Aurora. Successive locations followed in Parker in 1994 and in southeast Aurora in 2007, all within about 15 minutes’ drive of each other. Miller-Helma takes advantage of the proximity by enlisting dancers from each location to take part in the studio’s competition company, Tour de Force. “The satellite studios are good feeders; we really pool the talent from different areas and can utilize many more advanced students than you’d normally get at just one location,” she says. The southernmost studio is composed of 70 percent children, while the Parker studio attracts high school students and cheerleaders.

 

The proximity also works well for students, who have the option to take classes at any location. “If students can’t do ballet on Monday and Wednesday, they can mix locations and take it Tuesday and Thursday,” she says. Busy parents appreciate the flexibility. Owning three businesses allows Miller-Helma to utilize her 30 instructors’ talents by having many of them teach the same class at all three locations. This also ensures teaching consistency and affords more staffers with full-time status. Miller-Helma visits her studios weekly, and she relies on each location’s full-time manager to keep an eye on things. These managers handle registration, accounts receivable, inventory processing and parent/

teacher relations.

 

Jody Phillips

Jody Phillips Dance Company

(380 students)

Overland Park, Pittsburg and Prairie Village, KS

 

For more than 20 years, Jody Phillips has owned dance studios in Colorado, Illinois, Nebraska and Kansas. Currently she runs two full-time studios in Overland Park and Pittsburg, with a third space that she rents on an as-needed basis in Prairie Village. Because attendance isn’t enough to justify consistent class offerings in Prairie Village, she uses that location for seasonal events, including annual drill team and children’s workshops.

 

Phillips credits much of her success to smart staff selection and good communication. “I use the analogy that I’m a head football coach, but the sideline coaches are the ones who make all the action happen,” she says. It’s essential to tailor details like rate structure and class schedules to each studio’s surroundings, she says. Pittsburg is a smaller town, while Overland Park is an upscale urban area, so Phillips must compensate for higher rents and business expenses there. She also offers more classes in Overland Park to meet the higher demand of a larger population. Efficient systems are a must—from payroll services to bookkeeping (she uses Studio Director software). “When you have multiple locations, you can’t afford to do anything incorrectly,” she says.

For Phillips, multiplying locations means multiplying impact: “My whole philosophy is making a difference in a child’s life through the art of dance—and being able to do that on several levels is very rewarding.”

 

Alana Tillim

Dance Arts

(500 students)

Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, CA

 

Alana Tillim and partner Steven Lovelace had talked for years about expanding. When a nearby studio owner made them an offer to acquire her business, they jumped at the opportunity.

 

Though their new location in Carpinteria is just a few towns away from their original studio in Santa Barbara, Tillim felt it was key to get a firm grasp of the area before making the final decision. She researched the town’s economy and demographics, and she assembled an “advice team” of local families referred by the former owner to help her pinpoint optimal schedules and cater to local interests.

 

She learned that Carpinteria has a huge cheerleading interest; in Santa Barbara modern and ballet are more in demand. To that end, tumbling classes are now only offered in Carpinteria, and Santa Barbara offers aerial arts and Broadway classes. Other than that, the studio schedules mirror each other for the most part. There are 25 employees and contractors between the two locations, with five teaching at both to create a network.

 

Tillim stresses that it’s important to have a strong handle on finances when considering expansion. A good rule of thumb is to expect your primary location to pay for your second in its infancy. DT

 

A former hip-hop, dance fitness and cheerleading instructor, Jen Jones is based in Los Angeles.

 

Photo from top: istockphoto.com/appleuzr; courtesy of respective studio owners

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