Spotlight Events, Inc. is excited to announce the acquisition of Leap! National Dance Competition — now offering two unique brands under one company! Individually, each competition has strong reputations in the industry, but together they’re proving that two are better than one. Each competition will continue to keep their separate brand identities. However, now operating under one parent company, they will be able to offer even more to all the studios that have been attending both competitions for many years. Dance Informa had the opportunity to chat with Leap! Executive Director Drew Vamosi and Spotlight Dance Cup CEO Michelle Webb on the new acquisition.
Vamosi grew up in Nebraska, but eventually made his way to Broadway. He was introduced to the world of competition dance as an adjudicator. Several people suggested he begin his own competition, and through a series of events, BravO! Dance Competition was born, and in 2011, he started Leap! National Dance Competition.
Webb was “born with dance shoes on.” Her mother owned a dance studio, which Webb ran for a time before operating her own studio in Colorado, and then moving to California. There, she began a decade-long banking career. Eventually, her family moved back to Idaho, and Webb desired to return to the arts but wanted greater flexibility than typical studio hours offer. Spotlight Dance Cup’s first tour began in 1996.
Webb’s banking experience provides her a unique perspective on the dance world. “I gained a lot of business knowledge in banking. At the time, there were many mergers and acquisitions in the banking industry of which I was heavily involved, so I understand a lot about the due diligence process and have a deep financial knowledge. Being able to combine the left and right sides of my brain in this industry has been awesome!”
Webb and Vamosi’s relationship began about 15 years ago through the Federation of Dance Competitions (FDC). Both have tremendous respect for the other and the strengths each one brings to the table.
In 2017, Vamosi suffered a major heart attack. At that point, he considered selling, but the offers were undesirable. In February 2021, Vamosi had another health scare and shared a message on Facebook about it. He shares, “Michelle saw it and reached out. She said, ‘I want to talk to you about an exit strategy.’ I said, ‘okay’, but I wasn’t ready to leave the business just yet. She said, ‘You can leave on your terms, when you’re ready.’”
Webb adds, “Behind the scenes, Spotlight had been doing research into potential companies to acquire. We were looking at companies that were a little smaller, in a region we weren’t yet fully tapped into. Then the opportunity with Drew presented itself. Because we had a personal relationship, and he was needing a succession plan, I felt like the opportunity to cross-market was there. Also, I’ve seen his competition, he’s seen mine, and from a client perspective, I think they’re quite similar.”
Ultimately, Spotlight’s acquisition of Leap! was driven by a growth strategy for Spotlight, as well as the need for an exit plan for Vamosi. For him, selling was unappealing, as it posed the risk of not finding a buyer, and left room for questions about the company’s future.
However, Webb had already crossed that bridge and shares, “At the end of 2017, I was very close to selling the company to a private equity firm. I had gone through months of due diligence, had an Asset Purchase and Sale Agreement in place, but made a last-minute decision not to sell for several reasons, but mostly out of concern for my numerous employees who had been with Spotlight for 10, 15 and even over 20 years. Meanwhile, I had explored an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). In January 2019, I sold the company to an ESOP trust. This allowed me the opportunity to choose the time to exit, while still having the financial transaction ironed out. I’m still the president and CEO of the organization, but in essence this is an employee-owned company.”
But what exactly is an ESOP? Webb explains, “It functions like a retirement plan; however, in an ESOP, there’s no employee contribution outside of their time and labor. After an employee’s first year, if they work at least 500 hours or more annually, they qualify to receive a share allocation based on their annual income, of which they vest over a period of six years. As the value of the company grows, so does the value of the employees’ shares. The longer the employee stays with the company, the more shares the employee earns, proving to be an extremely valuable retirement account.”
Both Vamosi and Webb agree that despite the mindset shift, an ESOP provides tremendous payoff for those involved. Vamosi says, “A lot of people who start companies think, ‘Why would I want my employees to own it?’ It depends on what you’re trying to do. Do you want to leave a legacy? What about your employees? What’s going to happen to them? In an ESOP, the employees who run it…own it. As much as you help it to profit, it helps you.”
The acquisition closed in October, so the two companies are knee-deep in the integration process. “Everything can’t happen overnight. It’s one step at a time. What can we accomplish now? Six months from now? A year from now? A full integration will probably be at least two years,” shares Webb.
Both have high hopes for this upcoming season and envision the benefit to dancers from the joining of these two forces. “If Leap! is good, and people have enjoyed it, it’s now expanding. There’s now an opportunity for more people to see Leap!” shares Vamosi. Webb adds, “It gives Spotlight dancers peace of mind knowing they’ll get that same quality experience attending a Leap! event and vice versa.” Amongst the client opportunities in the crossover, Leap! competitors can now qualify to participate at any of Spotlight’s three national events in the summer.
Despite many details to iron out, Webb and Vamosi are excited for the next chapter. “I’m most excited to see how our companies grow and become more fully integrated as one organization with two unique brands, and for the launch of the expanded 2024 Leap! and Spotlight tours!” Webb shares.
Vamosi adds, “I’m excited that we grew so much and we’re going to see so many people. Because it’s an ESOP now, I’m allowing greater opportunity for my team at Leap!, and I’m excited about that.”
Leaving a legacy is a goal that Webb and Vamosi share, and it’s clear both are already doing so. “I enjoy the business side and developing relationships. It’s fun to watch someone from the time they’re five years old and then they grow up and have a career on Broadway, become the studio owner, or are successful in any career they choose,” Webb says.
“If you’re in it long enough, you start to have those special moments,” Vamosi adds. “That’s why you don’t want to close-up shop so early. There’s more to come that you can’t know until the years have gone by.”
After weathering a season of great uncertainty in 2020, Vamosi and Webb have a new fire under them as they soar into the new year. Vamosi shares, “There are times that people, me included, might be apprehensive about pulling it all off, but at the end of the day when the curtain goes up, it doesn’t matter. The show begins!”
By Melody McTier of Dance Informa.