By Paul Henderson.
I must admit, traveling through Europe has been an eye-opening experience. You see, my wife, Tiffany and I are on a “trip of a lifetime” this summer after an exhausting season running our seven dance studios. We’re currently in Scotland and I’ve discovered a piece of my heritage that I never really new existed.
The Scots, widely known as “frugal”, have some proverbs with which I’ve been driving my wife and kids crazy for the past decade. The one that drives them most insane is “A penny saved is a penny earned.” I typically shout this to the upstairs portion of our house every few hours when I notice they’ve left the hall lights on…again. It drives me nuts and I, in turn, drive them nuts.
Another saying I use all the time is “waste not, want not”. Which I take to mean that one should not waste anything or they’ll be sorry later.
I also say “calm down” a lot…which, I realize, is quite annoying, but it’s easy to get out of sorts when running dance studios.
So, a typical morning at our house goes like this as the kids are about to leave the house for school.
Me: Turn off the lights! A penny saved is a penny earned!
Tiffany: Eye roll
Me: Seriously!? Waste not want not.
Kids: Gaw! Jeez! Ugh!
Me: Calm down! Turn off the lights! And check your bathroom light and your fans!
What does this have to do with anything dance? I’ll explain. For 15 years we’ve been busy building our dance studios and customer base. We’ve worked really hard and we’ve been successful and we’ve begun the process of sharing what we’ve learned with the rest of the dance community that we love so much.
As I lay awake the other night suffering from jet lag, but completely unable to sleep, it dawned on me that my “waste not, want not” and “a penny saved is a penny earned” proverbs had a deep and profound application for dance studio owners. This, after all, is what I call the death zone of the dance studio. Let’s face it, the months of July and August are horrendous and frightening because it’s possible to completely run out of cash. The effects can last well into November if a reserve of cash isn’t available and student enrollment doesn’t peak until December or January.
I’ll explain a way to earn some cash without spending a penny in a minute, but first I want to touch on one other very important aspect of dance studio life. It’s an issue I’m not entirely comfortable talking about, because I’m a man. I do; however, spend most of my life in the company of women and female dancers. I have three sisters and no brothers. I have a wife that is very comfortable explaining to me “women’s issues” so that I understand my environment better. I have about 50 female dance instructors and my entire staff at CostumeManager.com are female.
Here’s what I’ve learned. Women are pleasers and they make decisions based on pleasing people. I often hear Tiffany and her instructors say the following when making a decision on whether or not to implement a policy or a program at our dance studio. “Oh, THEY will LIKE that,” or “Ew, THEY WON’T like that”. This brings me to the dirtiest word in the dance industry. Can you guess what it is?
Wait. Before I tell you the word, I’ll explain a bit more about the “THEY” in the above statements made by Tiffany and her instructors and staff. Who are THEY? Let’s say you have 200 students at your dance studio and you want to increase the price of your recital tickets by $2 each. You might say “Ew, THEY won’t like that”. When you say “THEY”, who precisely are you talking about? In my experience the “THEY” are the 2% of your customers who complain about everything, no matter what you do. Yes, if you increase the price of your tickets by $2 (half the price of a latte at Starbucks) you can expect 2% of your customers to be absolutely livid. If you have 200 customers, you will upset 4 of them. They may or may not quit. However, 196 of your customers won’t be bothered by the decision enough to say or do anything and you will have earned an extra $2000* to help you pay rent in August. * 200 students will yield ticket sales of 5 tickets per dancer. 1,000 tickets x $2 = $2,000.
Can you guess the dirty word now?
One more example before I tell you…
Let’s say you have 200 dancers at your studio and since it is summer, most of them are traveling around and not taking much class. They are all coming back in August or September. You are running low on cash, right? It’s okay…it happens to the best of us. Let’s put two and two together. Dancers coming back from summer vacation need shoes, tights, leotards, skirts, warm-ups. You are in need of cash. It seems like there is a win-win situation brewing here.
The answer is “Mandatory Dress Code”. Wait! Don’t say “Ew, THEY won’t like that,” just yet! Hear me out. Picture in your mind the mother of a four year old girl who has dreamed of enrolling her daughter in dance class since she was just a baby. Put yourself in that mom’s shoes. Try to imagine what the mother perceives as the ideal dance class. In almost all cases, moms imagine their dancer in a ballet class with a black or pink leotard, pink tights, ballet shoes, hair neatly in a bun with a professional looking dance instructor leading the way. In almost no case does a mom picture a frumpy instructor in sweatpants holding a latte with 8 or 9 kids in all sorts of different clothes running around in disarray.
Yes, 2% (maybe 4 or 5% in this case) of your customers won’t like the idea of a dress code because they won’t like the idea of anything ever. 96% or so won’t have a problem with it. Your reputation in the community will immediately become one of professionalism and seriousness, which is what you want when you are handling people’s children.
I’m going to tell you the dance industry’s dirtiest word now. Hold on to your leotards! It’s P-R-O-F-I-T.
Before I tell you how to earn more PROFIT, I’ll share with you the two most important aspects of running your dance school.
- Profit – A lot of studio owners I’ve talked to over the years equate profit with a perceived disregard for dancer’s and their parent’s feelings. Studio owners feel uncomfortable with both their customer’s perceptions of “making money” off of children and their very own feelings about making money. That’s understandable because you are living in two worlds. The world where a very large percentage of children’s activities such as soccer, softball, after school programs and public school are non-profit organizations where the cost to the parent is minimal. The world you as a studio owner are living in; however, is the world of business because you own the risk associated with having a dance school. Without profit you can’t pay yourself, your staff, your electric bill, your phone bill, your marketing expenses, your rent. Without profit, you are not a business and your business will fail. Become comfortable with being a real business owner and employer with a lease and create profit to ensure your business lives.
2. Your vision. You and only you can decide what your vision is for your studio. You must have excellent training, an amazing curriculum, exciting choreography and the passion to continue day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Your vision should be the rock that you live on. For example: Tiffany’s vision is to train dancers in a “triple track program” that will serve them well on any audition they attend after they graduate high school. This means, intensive ballet for 5+ hours per week along with jazz, tap and even hip-hop. She trains versatile, employable dancers and she doesn’t care if she has 500 or 1. It’s her philosophy. This philosophy and stability has resulted in an enrollment of over 4,000 and seven studios. If people like your vision, they will flock to you in droves.
Notice how PROFIT is still the most important part of the equation?
It means that even with an amazing vision, you must still earn more money than you spend.
Here’s one way to increase your profit without spending a penny. It’s also possible to earn a massive profit on dress code items (about $100 per student per class per season) without wasting your money on inventory or running a boutique in your studio. Remember: waste not, want not. If you’re doing the math, that’s 200 students x $100 = $20,000 extra PROFIT per season.
Implement a mandatory dress code via an online service. Check out the following companies and go with one of them…today.
Revolution Tap Tap – coming soon
Full disclosure: I founded CostumeManager.com in 2007. I did it for Tiffany and for all studio owners and their instructors to make their lives easier and their businesses more profitable.
Have a great and PROFITABLE summer!
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.
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