By Paul and Tiffany Henderson for Dance Informa.
Eight years ago Tiffany wanted to try something new. For those of you who do not know, Tiffany Henderson is my wife and together we own 8 dance studios in California, CostumeManager.com and Twinkle Star Dance.
After four years of adorable pink costumes for her youngest dancers she wanted a little variety in her next recital. She selected a full class of ten two year old dancers that would be perfect for a cute song she found called “Boogie Woogie Piggie”. The music was fun and the dancers were adorable and then we made a really BIG mistake. We selected a costume that looked like a cute little piglet. It even had piggy ears and a little squiggly tail.
Here’s a video to prove it:
Oh sure, you can laugh…and we laugh now, but here’s the economic reality of that decision that personally makes me cry. A class of ten happy two year old dancers dwindled to three happy dancers and three sets of uneasy parents.
The math for studio owners: Our tuition was $50 per month at the time. Losing seven dancers at $50 per month is $350 per month. Assuming they quit right around November, we missed out on at least seven months of tuition that season. Seven months x $350 is $2450 of lost revenue.
Wait, it gets much, much worse. What if those dancers who were two years old at the time never returned to dance at our studio ever again? What if, had we not selected that costume, they had continued dancing with us until they were 17/18 years old? Even if they only took one class a week, 15 more years of dance at $50 per month would be a staggering tuition value of $57,750! Of course, this is the worst-case scenario. I don’t really know for sure if the dancers switched to another class or came back the following season. The point is to illustrate how important every costume decision is to creating a successful dance studio.
So how can you as a studio owner avoid making costume decisions that upset your dancers and their parents and end up costing your business dearly?
My advice…take total control. As a dance studio owner it’s your responsibility to make sure the business stays solvent. Make a plan and stick to it. If you have instructors working for you, don’t be afraid to set price limits and strict costume design elements that are acceptable and unacceptable.
- Begin with the end in mind – this may seem obvious, but having a recital theme will help narrow your costume selections before you even begin.
- Is the costume age appropriate? – Beware of necklines and bottoms that are not appropriate for 2-8 year olds. In our area, parents prefer a cap sleeve to a camisole bodice for babies and shorts that are a little longer for the school aged dancers. Trunks, although popular and widely accepted in the 80’s, are not as well received in 2013.
- Will it be comfortable? – Itchy costumes are not good for babies. 2-6 year olds don’t yet understand the “beauty over pain” rule yet. Watch out for sequin lined straps and bodices for your younger dancers and costumes that are not fully lined.
- Does the costume distract younger dancers? – Often times the very cute hat or accessory that completes the outfit in the catalog image, may not fit on a very young dancers’ body. For example, the sailor hat may envelop the entire head of a 3 year old and cause distractions onstage as she tries to push it up out of her eyes. Look for accessories that are made for their little body parts and can be easily secured.
- Will it work for my boys? – If you have boys in your classes look for costumes that have a matching boy vest that the dad can be proud of. It is as important to costume your boy as well as it is the girls.
- Is every costume size you might need available? – Make sure to think of the wide range of body types in any given class and choose costumes that come in a wide range of sizes. You don’t want to select a costume that only comes in Child sizes if there is the possibility that a dancer or two will need an Adult size. – or vice versa. You don’t want to disappoint one dancer that happens to be taller at their age or be forced to switch costumes later.
- Don’t be afraid of the instructors that you employ and pay – I’ve seen it a thousand times. Studio owners who are actually afraid of saying “no” to one of their instructors who has selected a costume that is either not appropriate for the dance or is too expensive, resulting in a higher than necessary cost which will anger dancer’s parents. If you’re a studio owner, you’re the CEO of your company and the buck stops with you. There are thousands and thousands of costumes to choose from. Don’t be afraid to ask your instructor to choose a different one that fits more in line with your vision and budget.
- Start early. Don’t be afraid to warn your instructor staff that if they haven’t selected a costume by the deadline you’ve set, that you will do it for them.
- Determine your price range, but don’t be afraid to work the averages. Most studio owners must add a markup to their costumes in order to cover the high costs of costuming (labor, shipping and handling, exchanges, etc. ) That’s a given. It’s okay to make exceptions now and then. You might find a costume that is so adorable that you just have to have it, but adding your normal markup to the costume price might cause sticker shock to your dancer’s family. It’s okay for a few costumes that you select to carry a smaller markup as long as your average markup is enough to cover your expenses.
- Give them what they want and expect. Young recreational dancer’s parents have a vision in their mind of what they want their dancer to look like on stage. This includes the color and style of the costume. It’s okay to give them what they want! Artistic integrity is one thing, but risking your annual tuition over a single performance and a single costume is risky business.
- Pair your classes and select fewer styles of costumes. At our studios we have two types of shows. We have a “big show” for dancers age six and up and a “Twinkle Star Showcase” for dancers ages two to six. The Twinkle Star Showcase is a short 30 to 40 minute show with about 10-11 numbers in it. This allows us to do six shows a day with 70-80 dancers each and an audience of about 450. It allows us to also repeat the same exact choreography and music on different casts of dancers. The benefits of this are multiple, but the point is that by limiting the number of styles you are ordering, you are also limiting the work and the potential problems of managing so many special orders.
- Stop paying for costumes – just because you’ve always had to “buy” costumes in the past, doesn’t mean you still need to do that…ever again. Consider using a service that allows you to create “lists” of products for your dancers to purchase online or via phone. At our eight Tiffany’s Dance Academy locations, I select costumes via CostumeManager.com in late September, create a list for each class and publish it online. The service that I use completes the transaction with the dancer, places orders with the costume companies, receives, sorts and bundles each dancers’ costumes and then sends them to directly to the classroom. All my instructor has to do is hand the packages out to the dancers. Exchanges are also handled by CostumeManager.com.
About Paul Henderson
Paul Henderson is an expert on administrative technologies for the dance industry and has been around the business for almost 30 years. His sisters were elite state champion gymnasts and dancers and his mother owned a dance studio and eventually a dancewear store. He managed the dancewear store for a few years before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife, Tiffany, currently own and operate Twinkle Star Dance™ – an online choreography and curriculum system for recreational dancers ages 2-11; seven successful dance studios in Northern California (www.tiffanydance.com) and one in Southern California. Tiffany’s Dance Academy’s annual enrollment of over 4,500 students caused Paul to invent ways to automate most of the day-to-day business transactions that take up so much of a studio owner/instructor’s time. Paul’s goal has always been to smooth out the business side of the dance studios so that his wife can spend more time in the studio doing what she loves…teaching. Automating online registration and monthly automatic tuition payments was achieved eight years ago but perhaps the most revolutionary invention is his web-based application – CostumeManager.com.
For the past six years, Paul Henderson has worked tirelessly with most of the major costume and dancewear manufacturers to consolidate their catalogs into one searchable website. Developing relationships with these companies has been crucial to the success of CostumeManager.com and his efforts have paid off for studios all across the United States and Canada. By creating one searchable website, it is possible for a studio owner to browse all catalogs simultaneously, assign items that they like to a dance class, establish their profit margin, create an online store or print a color worksheet for dancers explaining how they can order their required and or/optional items online or via toll free telephone. Dancers purchase their items securely online and CostumeManager.com orders, receives, sorts and ships the individually packaged items to the studio owner. The studio owner or instructor cashes their “commission” check, hands the bags of goods to the dancer and goes back to teaching. CostumeManager.com eliminates 90% of the work and all the worry associated with distributing costumes and dancewear to dancers while preserving all of the profit margin…if not more.
Video courtesy of Tiffany’s Dance Academy & CostumeManager. Video is streaming from youTube. Dance News International LLC/Dance Informa Pty Ltd is not responsible for any content viewed from youTube.
Photo: © Yykkaa | Dreamstime.com