Talk about being close: Dana and Hugo Adames have been together 18 years and have two kids who love to dance—and the couple owns The Talent Factory Performing Arts Centre, with two locations, 550 students and a third site in the works. Dana, artistic director, and Hugo, general manager, have a method for how they handle everything from parenting to business decisions: "We work as partners. We look at the pros and cons together before making any decisions," Dana says. "We have a mutual respect for each other and really talk about everything, all the time."
General manager, Hugo, and artistic director, Dana, handle everything in their family operation as partners—from parenting to business decisions. Photo by Marilyn Demers, courtesy of The Talent Factory
Studio parents notice and appreciate the constant communication and united front. "As a couple and in business, it's clear Dana and Hugo complement each other and bring out the best in each other and their team," says Joy Weisbord, mom to dancer Liana, 14. "They are fun to be around and are always bouncing ideas off of each other, always thinking about how to improve and grow their studio. They embrace change and innovation and constantly seek it out."
Setting a goal to outgrow the space
The couple's earliest business endeavor was starting a dance retail store, an experience that would come in handy several years later. Then, in 2004, they opened The Talent Factory in North Kingstown, Rhode Island—two studios in 1,400 square feet—with a goal of outgrowing the space. Four years later, they moved a mile up the road into 2,500 square feet, and in 2012, they moved yet another mile to their current location: 8,000 square feet with five studios and a retail area.
"Our goal is to always sign a three- to five-year lease on a new venture, depending on the demographics and the square footage of the space," Hugo says, explaining that, during the first lease term, his plan is to cover rent, overhead and investment. It's in term two that he plans to show a profit. "Negotiating a solid second term is extremely important, since that is when you will start to see a return on your investment."
In 2015, the Adameses expanded to open their second location in Wakefield—located about 30 minutes from the North Kingstown location—in a 2,500-square-foot leased space with two studios. "In our main location, 400 students and a little over 100 classes offered weekly seems to be the magic number. It's simply what the demographics allow," Hugo says. "At our second location, we are currently offering roughly 30 classes a week to about 150 students," he says. "Here we clearly have room to grow, and we believe this space can reach 250 students with the possibility of 60-plus classes on the weekly schedule. Once we get there, we will start discussing our options to expand or not."
And speaking of expansion, until recently the Adameses had been actively discussing the possibility of purchasing a building for their third location. The fact that a potential deal fell through didn't deter them. "We believe everything happens for a reason," Hugo says. "We started discussions with a new space, which potentially could be the first of its kind in the state."
However, that was before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, which threw every dance studio in the United States into a lurch, scrambling to figure out how to provide online curriculum for students quarantined at home.
"This pandemic has affected every part of our business," Dana said in March. "Our office jobs have transitioned to a tech support team for staff and students, and our teachers have had to come up with new curriculums to keep kids engaged in their living rooms and kitchens with siblings and pets running around."
During the studio's weeklong spring break, the Adameses sprang into action and signed up their 20 teachers with individual Zoom accounts and trained them so they could seamlessly continue their regular classes online. "I don't know how they put all of it together in such a short time, but my daughter is still dancing and has that structure where she can see her teachers," says Cristina Feden, mom to 12-year-old dancer Aubrey. "These kids need that in these uncertain times, and Dana and Hugo just wrapped their arms around it. It just goes back to their sense of community and family. They are both always there and available to help."
Because of the pandemic's impact on the economy, the Adameses are bracing for an enrollment decrease in the fall, which could affect their plans for a third location. "Although we are remaining optimistic," Hugo says, "we will have to run the pros and cons before making a final decision."
Putting service first
When the north location moved to a larger space in 2012, it included space for a small, authorized Capezio dancewear retail space. "Incorporating retail was out of convenience for our families, our customers," Hugo says, adding that they knew from previous experience that residents weren't willing to drive very far to find brand-name dancewear—they wanted the ease of whatever they could find closest to home. "We strongly believe if we spent time and money to acquire new customers, it's only right we give them the best experience possible in every avenue they explore within our program."
The retail division provides about 5 percent of the studio's overall revenue. Hugo notes that it's a large investment for a slow return: For instance, it can take a year to sell $20,000 worth of inventory, not including labor—the studio's full-time receptionist handles the transactions. Still, it provides some revenue, and every bit helps when it comes to a small business, Dana says. "At the end of the day, we believe it's worth the extra work to make sure our families have what they need," she says, "and a well-rounded, positive experience."
Helping dancers achieve dreams
Solid business leadership allows artistry to shine, and The Talent Factory's dancers are getting noticed outside their community. In January, nine dancers earned a coveted spot performing at The Joyce Theater in NYC for the annual New York City Dance Alliance Foundation gala, in recognition for raising $15,000 (in just four months) toward college dance scholarships.
"It's an exciting opportunity for a local dance studio to have their teenage students share the stage with accomplished professionals at one of the most recognized dance venues in the world," says NYCDAF founder and director Joe Lanteri. "I am grateful for Dana and Hugo, as well as the studio's parents, for spearheading the fundraising efforts and recognizing the uniqueness of the performance opportunity offered to their children. We were proud to include them on the program."
To raise funds, The Talent Factory organized a series of events, including a Black Friday babysitting event where parents could drop off their kids at the studio for $10 an hour. They also sold $20 raffle calendars for a chance to win donated gift cards from local businesses. "It has been a goal of ours for quite some time to perform at a NYCDAF event," Dana says. "Our families donate each weekend at the regional conferences we attend, and every penny goes toward dancers pursuing their dreams. This is one foundation very close to our hearts."
Whether The Talent Factory alumni pursue dance or other careers, they are always welcome to take open advanced classes when they are home on break. "Dana and Hugo have created a family business that feels like an extension of home for their students," Weisbord says. "The kids have real, meaningful relationships with Dana, Hugo and the staff that last long after their students graduate."