Food for Thought

Consider placing a vending machine in your lobby as a convenience for students who forget to bring snacks.

Making food and drink available at your studio—whether through your main office, a vending machine or a donated refrigerator—can sustain students (and waiting parents) between classes and boost your business. And it can be as easy as making a quick trip to your local bulk grocery store. Here, four studio directors give you a taste of how it’s done.

 

Lauren Taylor

DanceWorks Conservatory (100 students)

Kansas City, MO

DanceWorks Conservatory offers students a selection of healthy, low-calorie snacks, like granola bars, packets of peanut butter crackers and juices. “We try not to totally hop them up on sugar,” says studio manager, Lauren Taylor. Soft drinks and Oreos are also available, but most of the cookie buyers are dancers’ siblings. Taylor prices those offerings higher to discourage students from choosing them: A granola bar is 50 cents for two, while a single packet of Oreos costs 60 cents, and soda goes for 75 cents, representing roughly a 30-percent markup.

Taylor sells the snacks herself and accepts only cash. She stores the drinks in a mini-fridge and the food in a drawer in the main office. She usually spends $15 at Sam’s Club or Costco every two to three months. The $25 or $30 she nets helps pay for studio upkeep.

 

Doreen Keith

Dancers’ Corner (300 students)

White River Junction, VT

Doreen Keith, owner of Dancers’ Corner, keeps a vending machine in the lobby as a convenience for waiting parents and dancers who forget to bring snacks. A local company set up the machine and sends a technician once a week to keep it stocked. She selects refreshments from a provided menu, choosing popcorn and pretzels (which sell out first), animal crackers, granola bars, licorice, M&Ms, fruit juices and Coke products. She warns that not all parents approve of the junk food sales. One parent was appalled at the presence of the sugary drinks and took her child elsewhere. But students who spend hours dancing are entitled to a handful of M&Ms, says Keith. Plus, most of the soda buyers are parents. No item costs more than a dollar; however, the vending machine company keeps the profits. Keith’s only charge is electricity, which varies in cost throughout the year. The studio also sells coffee to parents for $1 per cup. Half of that goes to a scholarship fund.

Younger students who study for more than an hour can eat in the lobby during a five-minute break between classes. Older students, who dance for three or four hours at a time, can snack in class during choreography breaks. Keith has never had a problem with cleanliness, partly because she reminds students to clean up after they eat. “Quite frankly, I pick up more dirty socks than food-related items,” she says.

 

Ashley Bryant

Corky Bell School of Dance (100 students)

Fairfield, AL

The vast commercial-grade refrigerator in the lobby of Corky Bell School of Dance lets Ashley Bryant sell out of about $400 worth of refreshments—mostly sports drinks—every month. A studio family donated the refrigerator when Bryant took over the business three years ago. At first she was surprised that her dancers don’t buy drinks in bulk themselves. “Several of them buy two or three Gatorades a night and dance three nights a week,” she says. Bryant tried selling fruit as well, but it went bad. Instead, she sells fruit snacks, animal crackers, SunChips and Baked! Lay’s. Bryant asks parents to alert her about students’ allergies on the registration form, a policy she put in place after learning one student had a severe peanut allergy. She banned peanuts from the studio as a result, and she makes sure to notify teachers of allergic dancers.

Corky Bell is in a low-income area, so Bryant tries to keep her prices as close to cost as possible. Edibles start at 50 cents, while sports drinks cost $1 each, including a 20-cent markup. Most students pay cash. Some charge items to their accounts and settle up with the monthly tuition bill, while others have their parents put down $10 in advance. She runs the concession primarily as a convenience for her students, because the profits are just enough to pay the fridge’s power bill.

 

Gina Tate

The Pointe! Studio of Dance (100 students)

Greensboro, NC

At The Pointe! Studio of Dance, students purchase snacks on the honor system. And in the four years Gina Tate has used it, dancers and their parents have grown accustomed to honestly putting their change in a basket next to the refreshments. Only three students have been caught not paying—and none were repeat offenders.

Students can purchase bottled water and fruit juices for $1.25 from a refrigerator on the studio’s first floor, or fruit snacks, microwave popcorn, SunChips, Doritos and fruit for $1 from a nearby rack. Parents frequently donate goodies like candy and chocolate. Tate keeps the profits from the donations. She stops by Sam’s Club if the snacks are running low. On a typical bimonthly visit, she spends $45 or $50. A 30-pack of chips nets just over $20 in profit, while a 24-pack of 100 percent fruit juice can bring in $30. The studio contributes $60 to $100 of monthly concession sales to a student scholarship fund that pays for tuition and offsets costume and activity costs. DT

 

Leigh Kamping-Carder is a New York–based journalist who writes about visual culture, the arts, real estate and other topics.

Photos from top: iStockphoto.com/ShawnGearhart; by AJ Taylor courtesy of Lauren Taylor; by Diana Seaver, courtesy of Doreen Keith; by Steve Plimpton/Focus on Kids Photography, courtesy of Ashley Bryant; by Jamie Tate, courtesy of Gina Tate

 

 

 

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