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