Studio Owners
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Summertime is notoriously slow for dance studio owners, but bills don't take a holiday. Learn from three studio owners who figured out how to keep the buzz and cash flowing without breaking a sweat. Their secret formula? Creative summer programming too good for parents to pass up—coupled with quick and easy camps as bonus business builders. Not only do these owners keep their revenue rolling in summer, they use the season to boost enrollment come fall.

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Studio Owners
Summer campers at Center Stage in North Carolina. Photo by Kristi Hedberg, courtesy of Center Stage

Does your studio slow down when the weather warms up? If you don't offer a summer session, June through August can be a cash-flow challenge. One popular—and easy—strategy is to offer weeklong camps instead. We spoke to three professionals to learn how they make summer camp work.

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Studio Owners

Why expecting the unexpected pays off at recital time

So much of teaching dance is about preparation—training and rehearsing your students to do their best, particularly at recital time. “The recital is the culmination of all the kids have done during the year,” says Bonnie Schuetz, a 31-year veteran of owning and operating studios. Yet despite the best preparation—effective training, well-thought-out policies and clear communication—recital mishaps are bound to happen, often at the last minute.

Here’s how three studio owners coped with five unexpected recital issues gracefully and effectively. After all, the show must go on!

RECITAL MISHAP A student loses a costume just before the recital.

SOLUTION Cultivate good relationships with your costume suppliers, because the speed with which you can replace a costume may depend on it.

Get to know your customer-service or sales representatives—let them know you are a loyal customer. Schuetz has operated Boni’s Dance & Performing Arts Studio for 31 years, and while her Spring, Texas, business encompasses three locations and 1,700 students, she orders around $100,000 worth of costumes each year from just two companies. “You don’t have to place consistently large orders to cultivate loyalty,” she says. “But you do want a relationship. Suppliers will be more likely to accommodate you, to find you a costume or make one on short notice.”

Lorrie Sparks, owner and choreographer for Lorrie’s Roxy Dolls in Bernie, Missouri, emphasizes to her dancers and their parents that costumes are very difficult to replace. One tip she offers parents: Hang the child’s costume and its accessories in your closet until dress rehearsal.

FAST FIX See if another student will lend a same-size costume. “Because we do the same show two nights with two different sets of kids,” says Schuetz, “we may have duplicates of the same costume.” Lonnetta Grant, owner of Dynasty Arts & Movement in Temple Hills, Maryland, stocks up on costume accessories. “I always order a half-dozen extra,” she says.

RECITAL MISHAP You arrive at the recital venue and discover the floor is dangerously slippery.

SOLUTION Visit the venue long before the performance. “As soon as we secure the location, I go to see it,” says Grant. Assess the floor’s condition and learn the venue’s policies for laying a temporary floor.

Consider investing in your own performance top floor. “I always bring my marley,” says Schuetz. Whether you rent or own transportable performance flooring, however, it will need to flatten overnight. Schuetz recommends laying your floor the evening before the recital.

FAST FIX Sparks uses an industrial-strength floor cleaner with a slip-resistant formula recommended by her floor supplier to ensure a nonslip surface. In a pinch, she uses Coca-Cola in a spray bottle to keep the stage slightly tacky.

RECITAL MISHAP There’s no one to manage the kids backstage.

SOLUTION Overstaff. Don’t count on parent volunteers, who may not be able to honor their commitment on recital day. Employ older students and staff to wrangle dancers backstage.

Schuetz puts senior dancers or teachers in charge of set groups and uses headsets to communicate from backstage to the hallway or auditorium. To ease confusion about the recital sequence, display posters of the show’s order throughout the venue: stage right, stage left, at the entrance to backstage and in the dressing rooms.

For a small recital cast, Sparks seats some students in the front two rows. “They can watch the other dances, and my helpers exit them quietly when they are ready for the wings,” she says. That way, backstage doesn’t get overcrowded.

FAST FIX Rotate helpers. “Once work in the lobby is over, you can reassign people to help backstage,” says Grant.

RECITAL MISHAP A parent contacts you days before the recital to say her child must drop out.

SOLUTION Be flexible. It’s impossible to force a parent to make her child dance, and certain emergencies, like illness or a death in the family, need to be respected.

Concentrate instead on preserving the other students’ experience. “I turned a trio into a solo hours before the recital and reblocked a few dances,” says Sparks. “It was stressful, but my students stepped up and made it work.” Young dancers may not be so flexible. “Sometimes kids get confused, which isn’t fair to them, so then we just leave things as is,” says Schuetz. “It’s about these kids, even though you want to do a nice show.”

Good communication can head off a lot. “Everyone receives a handbook at the beginning of the year, and they sign to acknowledge they read it,” says Grant, who has an assistant send e-mail reminders closer to recital time. “We also announce the important dates at every class,” she says.

FAST FIX If your studio produces two shows, consider allowing the absentee child to participate in another recital performance—but only if it’s easy for you orchestrate.

RECITAL MISHAP Parents take forbidden photos or video during a recital.

SOLUTION Assign staff to the aisles and train them carefully, explaining that they must be quiet, respectful and brief as they tell parents why they must stop recording or taking photos: Flash photography and videography can distract and potentially injure dancers, and the rest of the audience deserves to enjoy the performance without disruption. “I talk about the safety behind these restrictions and that filming doesn’t allow parents to focus on the entire production,” says Grant.

FAST FIX Tell parents ahead of time that during dress rehearsal, they can take whatever photos and videos they want—allowing them to sit back later and just enjoy the show.

Schuetz actually lets parents take video—but with strict caveats. “I allow videography as long as there’s no flash, no tripod, and they don’t block anyone’s view,” she says. “In the end, they mostly purchase the video anyway.” DT

Charlotte Barnard is an NYC writer who also contributes to Dance Retailer News.

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Studio Owners

Complaints and criticisms, while inevitable, offer opportunities to make your operation more solid and grow your studio.

Need a timeout from incessant parent problems? We’ve got solutions to help you keep your sanity.

As a studio owner, you know that parents are valuable partners when it comes to educating their children. But even the best partners don’t always see eye to eye. What parents believe is right for their kids is not always what’s best for your studio. So how can you make these differences a constructive part of your business?

By having policies in place, thoughtfully listening for what’s behind parents’ concerns and communicating clearly and regularly with them. “We’re also in the business of training adults,” says Phyllis Balagna, owner of Steppin’ Out, in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “Communication and establishing a positive customer relationship are essential. Parents must know what your policies are, and you must set boundaries.”

Here, we break down three common parent problems—from the parent’s perspective—and offer straightforward solutions. As a studio owner, you’ll always encounter problems. Instead of considering them obstacles, think of them as feedback: opportunities to gain new insight and improve and refine your business.

#ParentProb: “Why isn’t my kid ____?”

Disappointments happen. Not everyone receives a solo, makes the competitive team, gets the OK to start pointe or earns the coveted front-and-center spot for recital dances. And often, parents feel the disappointment more keenly than students do. While you can show understanding for a parent advocating for their child, you can also educate them about what will serve their child as a dancer. An important part of dance training is helping students deal with disappointment in a mature and constructive way.

#SOS (Studio Owner Solution)

Form a relationship with parents from the beginning, to establish trust. “I have one-on-one parent meetings at the start of each year,” says Balagna. “I make myself available to parents, sans kids, to discuss customer needs and expectations.”

Discuss student expectations. Amy Blake, who has run Amy Blake’s Academy of Dance in Friendswood, Texas, for nearly 20 years, requires each member of the studio’s competitive and performance company to write an essay about why they are in the company. “I learn their wishes separate from their parents’,” she says.

Establish your policies in writingand have parents and students sign a form stating they’ve read and understand where your studio stands on the authority and decision-making of the faculty. Then post your policy in the studio, publish it on your website and send out friendly reminders at key times, such as just before casting.

Set up a form online and on paper at the studio for parents to request a private meeting. This will allow you to review any concerns in question, create a plan of action and arrange a time to talk. Channeling concerns into a structured discussion helps parents feel their kids are being taken care of.

Always have the discussion face to face; e-mails can be easily misunderstood. Go over the child’s strengths, and stress that comparison isn’t wise or fair. Often people just need to be heard, and once your position is explained and reasons outlined, they will accept it as best for their child, too.

Stay positive. A teacher’s attitude can diffuse many situations. “When a child has a breakthrough moment, I tell the parent personally,” says Balagna. “If parents know I’m excited and pleased, 99 percent of the time, they’re happy.”

#ParentProb: “What are all these fees for?”

Most parents worry about balancing their family budget. And, particularly if they’re new to dance, they see fees—recital fees, registration fees, competition and convention fees, costume fees, choreography fees, master class fees—as a mounting set of bills. But you know you need to balance your studio’s budget, too—and your business has many expenses parents may not be aware of.

#SOS

Be clear. Explain each fee and what it covers. Remind parents that a lot goes on behind the scenes, like developing concepts, selecting and editing music and choosing costumes, and that fees cover these real costs of running a business. Emphasize the value of your business—the best teachers, classiest recital venue, most stunning costumes, top customer service—to reassure parents that these fees are money well-spent.

Communicate regularly. “A parent meeting once a year solves most of the issues regarding money,” says Balagna. “I also give parents whose kids are enrolled in competitions 10 months notice on those fees.”

#ParentProb: “What’s the big deal if my kid misses class?”

Schedules get busy and parents may not understand how absenteeism affects the whole class, especially if it’s preparing a performance. When a class doesn’t perform well, the kids are let down—and so is your business. Most studios have stricter absentee policies for competition team students than for recreational students, but in both cases, parents need to understand what these policies are, and that they’re taken seriously. You can reserve the right to make allowances in special circumstances, of course, but it is important to communicate that ultimately, to succeed, kids need to feel responsibility and ownership.

#SOS

Set a limit on the number of absences. At Jane Carter’s studio, Dance Academy USA, teachers take roll for the competition team, and missing students are put on probation. They get an e-mail notification stating that if absences continue, the student will be dropped from the team. If a student is absent the week before a competition, she is staged out. “We tell them to consider trying next year when they can be more fully committed,” says Carter. “You’re only good to that team if your body is there.”

Institute accountability. Blake’s Code of Conduct, which every student must sign line by line, stipulates that students must notify the studio by e-mail of any absences; this e-mail is printed out and given to the teachers. If a student is gone three weeks in a row, the office notifies parents. “If a student anticipates a few absences, we place them on the end of the routine,” says Blake, “so if they don’t come or they quit, we can exit them and it doesn’t affect the entire recital.”

Treat your students (and their parents) like pros. Demonstrate clearly how important commitment and training are—and that you offer students a professional experience in return—and see them respond like pros. DT

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

Let It Go (Positively)

Sometimes your relationship with a parent may reach the point of no return. Maybe her child has missed several competition team rehearsals without explanation, or she’s being very vocal around other parents about her plans to take her child to another studio. Meet with this parent and address your differences in a positive, constructive manner. Thank her for the time she and her child have devoted to your studio, acknowledge that their needs have changed and let the parent know you understand it’s time for a change. You’ll be letting them go with your reputation and dignity intact.

 

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Studio Owners

Making bold changes to the way you run your studio can pay off big.

At GCDA, students and parents benefit from cloud-computing perks like video streaming and online payment.

Business can hum along for years, but it’s often the “aha” moment—even the crisis—that recharges and changes your business for the better. When Gulf Coast Dance Alliance had a laptop stolen at a recital two years ago, that was the catalyst for Carlos Covo, who owns the studio with his wife Melissa, to rethink all the studio’s technology. He made the move to cloud-based computing. That, in turn, sparked change that extended well beyond accounting and enrollment—it has transformed the way GCDA’s instructors teach and interact with students.

When business is going well, studio owners don’t go looking for change—it means stepping out of your comfort zone and putting up with adjustments until you get it right. But taking a fresh approach can improve operations, increase your market exposure and give your business renewed energy to pull ahead of the competition. Here are three studios that made bold moves and saw the payoff. What out-of-the-box ideas could catapult your business forward?

Good-bye, Hard Drive; Hello, Cloud!

Gulf Coast Dance Alliance

Location: Spanish Fort, Alabama

Years in business: 3 1/2

Aha moment Carlos Covo’s stolen laptop held all of the company’s data back to its launch. “We always back up, but to be left vulnerable was terrible,” says Covo. He took the opportunity to move the studio to a cloud-based system, allowing him and his employees to log in from anywhere. This made more sense for the business—he works for Hewlett-Packard, traveling 40 weeks of the year, while Melissa (co-director, dancer and instructor) helps him run the studio day-to-day.

Making it happen First, Covo switched to the dance software service Jackrabbit. “Only a handful of programs allow you to run a dance business in the cloud,” he says. He also trained Melissa and the office staff to use Google Drive, where he stores all of the business’ documents. He uses Adobe Creative Cloud to share images with his designer, and he uploads the studio’s videos of recital and competition choreography with Vimeo Plus.

Ripple effect Parents benefit from the cloud, too. Built into Jackrabbit is a customer portal that, much like online banking, allows parents to view balances and make and view payments online. The studio is also testing a text-messaging service for announcements and schedule changes. “If you have 400 families, it’s hard to put those phone numbers in your cell phone, and e-mail messages may land in spam,” Covo says. Texting reaches parents right away on their smartphones.

Faculty has more teaching tools on hand, as well. Covo installed a wireless access point in each of the studio rooms. “Using a consumer technology called AirPlay, teachers can control the music from their smartphones,” he says. “They can walk around a 1,200-square-foot studio giving corrections to 20 girls at barre without having to run back and press pause.” Teachers can stream video in class on a 55-inch monitor to show a recital or technique to students, and students can also watch at home for practice. It’s password-protected so only the dancer and parents can view it at home, and it can’t be downloaded. “If kids forget choreography, they can review it later, and teachers know who’s practicing and watching it and who isn’t,” says Covo.

Bottom line The Covos have doubled enrollment each year since their 2011 launch, a growth they trace to educated dance instructors, transparency in billing and payment and the organization that the new system has created. In just three years, they’ve reached more than 600 students.

The Studio That Makes…House Calls?

Char-Mar School of Dance

Location: Lake Park, Florida

Years in business: 60-plus; 42 in FL (Owner and creative director Stephanie Rusinko acquired the business last year from founder Mary Jane Grant and her daughter.)

Aha moment Grant started Char-Mar in her basement, in Illinois. After a move to Florida, she began teaching at a local recreation center, eventually branching out to other after-school programs. Rusinko saw how after-school classes at a child’s school (or after-school program) met a need for working parents. She made a mobile school central to her business model. Char-Mar now travels to preschools, elementary schools and recreation centers, in addition to running a brick-and-mortar location with an enrollment of 55.

Making it happen Rusinko formalized schedules and management of the mobile school. Char-Mar dance teachers visit preschools in the morning and elementary schools during after-school. Mobile students take one 45-minute class weekly. “Communication and clear expectations are the main ways I keep my business operating. My teachers are representatives of my business when I am not there,” says Rusinko. “They’re given a syllabus monthly, outlining steps and combinations that need to be taught. This helps to ensure every child, studio or mobile, is getting quality dance education.”

Keep in mind Building relationships with administrators and parents is key. “I was trying to get into a local elementary school that had never had an outside company come into their aftercare program,” says Rusinko. “Some of my former preschool students attended this prospective school. When the parents learned I was trying to get into that school, they wrote letters of recommendation for me. Within a week, the principal and aftercare director asked me when I could begin classes.”

Ripple effect The mobile branch of Char-Mar has now eclipsed the brick-and-mortar studio—145 students take mobile classes.

Bottom line The mobile school is a valuable pipeline for bringing new dance students to Char-Mar. Each year, a new crop of students arrives at each school location. “Since we teach in six cities within the county, we have great community exposure. And once those students grow out of the preschools and elementary schools, they come to our studio,” says Rusinko.

The Warehouse of Their Dreams

Galmont Ballet

Location: Rockledge, Florida

Years in business: 12

Aha moment Husband-and-wife team Frank Galvez and Lucia Montero are former classical dancers, and they knew their 900-square-foot strip mall space wasn’t ideal for the leaping and partnering ballet requires. After working closely with a landlord to find a wide-open, tall space, in 2006 they took the chance on a 2,000-square-foot warehouse that they could divvy up into a multiroom studio. Admittedly, the space, on an industrial block, was unconventional, but it was much less expensive than commercial space in strip malls.

Making it happen The warehouse was a blank canvas that gave them the opportunity to custom-build the configuration of spaces and facilities they wanted. It took three months of construction to complete while classes continued in their original studio location.

Ripple effect Insurance and utility costs increased in the bigger, better-equipped space—triple the size of the original location, with more studio space, an office, a dressing room and nicer bathrooms. But more affordable rent and increased enrollment have grown revenue enough that the owners plan to expand when the unit next door opens up. And that’s without having to raise tuition rates: “Since 2003 we have only increased rates twice,” says Montero. l Bottom line Galmont Ballet’s success has inspired like businesses—such as a Pilates center and a cross-fitness studio—to open nearby. “When moving to the new location, we were fortunate not to lose any of our former students—in fact, we enrolled new students who lived close by,” says Montero. “Our clients immediately saw the potential and results of our decision.” DT

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

 

Photo by Carlos Covo, courtesy of GCDA

 

Studio Owners

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.

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Studio Owners

Get more bang for your studio buck by hosting events and activities outside of regular class time.

Downtown Dance Factory’s birthday parties rake in extra revenue and help owners Hanne Larsen and Melanie Zrihen reach a wider pool of potential clients.

When “Dancing with the Stars” debuted on television nearly a decade ago, Corey Burns saw the potential for his own business, Burns Dance Studio. “Weddings are an anxious time for families, particularly if the wedding party isn’t accustomed to dancing, say, a waltz in front of an audience,” he says. Burns seized the opportunity to extend his Aiken, South Carolina, studio’s brand beyond its traditional target market. He put together a package for wedding choreography that includes lessons and a full routine. Besides bringing in extra revenue, it’s made him something of a local hero: A year or more after their weddings, clients tell him how their dance routine was the highlight of their ceremonies.

When you’re already paying certain fixed costs to run your studio, why not make it work harder for you, as Burns has? By maximizing the use of your space, either offering new activities yourself or renting it out as an event space to others, you extend its earning capacity well beyond typical class hours. And in addition to adding a new revenue stream—sometimes at a higher profit margin—you can raise your profile in the community and reach a wider pool of future students. Here’s how Burns and two other studios developed new, outside-of-the-box revenue streams.

Hosting Birthday Parties

Downtown Dance Factory

Owners: Hanne Larsen and Melanie Zrihen

Location: New York City

Years in business: five

Hanne Larsen and Melanie Zrihen met when their kids attended the same preschool. The women decided to fuse their skills—Larsen had run a dance studio in Australia and Zrihen had an MBA—to launch Downtown Dance Factory in their Tribeca neighborhood. Dance classes are their main business, but the addition of birthday parties has made a good side business, according to Zrihen.

“We knew from our own experience as moms that there was a demand for interesting, well-run birthday parties, and in downtown Manhattan, hardly anyone has room for that type of party at home,” says Larsen.

Initial investment Low: Tables, chairs and a helium tank totaled $3,000.

Ongoing projected expense DDF provides themed costumes, though clients bring their own refreshments. Studio-provided supplies run $4,000 to $5,000 per year, and instructors are paid by the hour to lead the party. Staff are paid to set up, work a party and clean up.

Projected revenues and profit Parties may be just a sideline (they bring in 8–10 percent of DDF’s yearly revenues), but they’re a profitable one.

Setting the price Zrihen and Larsen did their due diligence first (as you should with any new revenue stream): “We looked at comparable places to come in a little lower,” says Zrihen. “We did the math to make sure we wouldn’t lose money.” DDF’s basic package costs $650 and includes: 50 minutes of dance; 40 minutes for food and cake; supervision; teachers; setup and cleanup; paper products; balloons; a gift for the birthday child; and simple costumes (tutu and wings, cape and mask) for 10 kids. Each extra guest over 20 kids, up to 30 total, costs an additional $30.

Marketing All DDF promotional materials mention the studio’s party offerings. Larsen and Zrihen also keep track of their clients’ birthdays: “We market our clients with e-mails about parties, and we get a good response from that,” says Larsen. “Then other people attend and get exposed to us.”

Lesson learned “Initially, we weren’t confident in our formula, so when people made suggestions—like making the party a half-hour longer—we tried incorporating them, but things didn’t always run smoothly,” says Larsen. “Now that we know what works, we can deliver a great experience.”

Renting Out Studio Space

Jami Masters School of Dance

Owner: Jami Masters

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina

Years in business: 25

Jami Masters found that exercise instructors naturally turned to her when looking for a space to rent. “People would ask to use my space as a favor,” says Masters. “Then I realized I could make it a business.” Rental scenarios vary from one time to weekly or seasonal.

Masters hasn’t advertised in the five years she’s rented to clients. Word of mouth brings yoga and exercise professionals and those who just need studio space on the fly. Clients must sign a contract with a liability clause and put down a security deposit.

Financial benefits Any revenues are pure profit, since studio rentals occur outside regularly scheduled studio class time, when the space is otherwise dormant.

Initial investment None, except creating a contract for renters.

Ongoing projected expense Very low. “We’re already paying for maintenance—cleaning comes every night,” says Masters. “Any after-hours utility costs are not significant.”

Setting the price Fees are scaled on frequency of use. “A lot of it I base on figuring out what works for clients,” says Masters.

Marketing benefits Word of mouth remains key. In fact, Masters doesn’t want to market her rental services, because she’s afraid of becoming overbooked.

Lesson learned “I have clients sign a contract before they use the studio,” says Masters. “They have to provide their own liability insurance for their clients, since they’re not associated with the Jami Masters School of Dance. That way, if something happens, I’m not liable.”

Choreographing for Wedding Parties

Burns Dance Studio

Director: Corey Burns

Location: Aiken, South Carolina

Years in business: 34

When he observed the rising popularity of choreographed routines for weddings and life events, Corey Burns saw an opportunity to create a new revenue stream. He works with clients to develop unique choreography or just teach classic steps, like a waltz or fox-trot. Though many clients are former dance customers, the range of skills in any given wedding party varies considerably.

Burns only works with clients outside of regularly scheduled classes. “It may not bring in a lot of customers, but it doesn’t cost a fortune, and it creates goodwill,” he says. “It’s something clients remember and remind me of when they run into me later.”

Financial benefits Any revenues from the wedding-related business are pure profit, since rental occurs outside classes’ regularly scheduled studio time.

Initial investment Operating costs are already factored into the overall budget and fee schedule. Burns provides two copies of a custom cut of the client’s chosen music on CD.

Projected revenues and profit Burns doesn’t monitor additional revenue closely, but all monies go back into general funds, to buy new equipment or pay for repairs. “If my mother [who used to run the studio] wants to go to a costume show, it covers her travel costs,” he says.

Setting the price $125 for a 1 1/2- to 2-minute duet (mother/son, father/daughter or bride/groom); $250 for a 2- to 2 1/2-minute wedding party routine. Both packages include two to four sessions, depending on the routine’s complexity. “I let them pick out the concept, costumes and music,” explains Burns.

Marketing benefits “It leads to new business, since many of the clients have kids who are interested in taking dance class,” says Burns. Clients post wedding videos on social media and YouTube, which creates community buzz. Burns uses e-mail marketing with custom messaging. “At least four times a year customers will hear from us,” he says. “Even if they don’t open the e-mail, they see our name in the subject line.”

Lesson learned “With a lot of people in the party, scheduling issues arise,” says Burns. He has the bride and groom figure out mutually convenient times for everyone in the wedding party to meet for lessons. DT

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

Photos courtesy of Downtown Dance Factory

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