Tightening the Dance Belt

Pictured: Chamberlain School of Performing Arts. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Five ways studio owners can protect their bottom line in down times

We are watching our budget. We have to cut back. We just can’t afford it right now. Dance studio owners in North Texas are hearing these things more frequently thanks to the unstable global economy. While many studio owners say the economy has had little impact on their 2009-2010 fall registration, they are still taking some precautions in order to protect their businesses bottom line down the road. Big or small, new or established, here are some tips any studio can use when looking to tighten its dance belt.

Marketing Smarter. One way studio owners can save some money is by consolidating and rethinking their marketing. Kathy Chamberlain, founder and artistic director of the 32-year-old Chamberlain School of Performing Arts in Plano, Texas, says she learned early on that spreading spending among several different advertising channels was not the most cost-effective way to promote her business. This is why she currently advertises with a few select organizations which cater to a targeted market of dance enthusiasts. Outside of running ads in select publications, studio owners are finding that many aspects of promoting their business can be taken care of in house. Amanda Dalton, owner of Amanda Dalton School of Dance in Dallas,maintains her own website and makes her own flyers. Dalton,who opened her school’s doors two years ago, says that this helps her save money, as “this way it’s my time and energy going into my advertising.” She adds, “Your best form of advertising is you.” ChristyWolverton-Davis, owner and director of Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, Texas, also has found ways to publicize her studio’s message without outside help or additional staff. “I write our own press releases for our website, and I also send stories in to the newspaper,” Wolverton-Davis says.

Spatial Awareness. To save money many studio owners are finding new ways to use their space more efficiently. Instead of raising tuition by 10 or 15 percent, Chamberlain has recently opened a boutique within her school. “This way, if a student forgets her leotard or tights or other dance related items she can purchase them right there,” Chamberlain says. Renting also has become a popular way for studio owners to protect their bottom line. “I have a couple of people who rent my studio’s available space and that is always nice to have some extramoney for bills,” says Bessie Waddill, owner of Studio B in Dallas. But when it comes to working with renters Dalton has two pieces of advice. “Do not rent to someone that teaches your same style and make sure they sign a contract.” For teachers interested in renting space Holly Seeley, owner of the brand new Preston Hollow Dance in Dallas, recommends that they keep in mind what’s most important to them. “For me, I wanted a space that is adequate, appropriate and aesthetically pleasing to teach in,” Seeley says. When asked why she decided to rent instead of getting her own space Seeley replied, “I wanted to focus on teaching and customer service rather than scramble to fit into a commercial spot.”

Share With Others. Some studio owners are considering sharing as another cost saving concept. “I have heard of studios sharing recital props and backdrops and I think that is a great idea,”Waddill says. “Production costs are always increasing and sharing materials with other studios is a great way to save money,” she adds. Dalton continues that if worse comes to worst dance studios also could share recital costumes and venues. Speaking of costumes, it is not uncommon for studio owners to have their dancers purchase costumes from retail stores. Wolverton-Davis says she had her dancers do this last year and then they embellished the costumes themselves. Helping parents save money is extremely important to Wolverton-Davis. “About 75 percent of my studio is made up of competitive dancers,”Wolverton-Davis says. “So any where we can save their parents some money we will do it.”

Keep It Simple. Simplicity has become a mantra for many studio owners in North Texas.
Dalton says she believes the reason why she hasn’t seen much of a change in her enrollment this year is due to her small overhead. “I teach all my classes out of my one room studio,” she says. For larger schools keeping it simple might not be so easy. For example, Chamberlain says this year she noticed a change in the number of students enrolled in her jazz and composition classes. “So we decided to limit the number of class offerings,” she says. Unfortunately, this also meant Chamberlain had to let go a couple of teachers. But on the upside, Chamberlain says all her other classes, including her ballet and company programs are full. For a competitive studio such as Dance Industry, keeping it simple means reevaluating this year’s competition schedule. While Wolverton-Davis says
she has not cut back on the number of competitions her studio is attending, she has made nationals completely optional. She also says she is concerned about this year’s solo program. “Parents are tighter with their money than they were in the past, so only time will tell,”Wolverton-Davis says in regards to the number of solos her students will request to do.

Be Committed. The best advice Chamberlain can give to studio owners right now is to really examine what made them want to start their own business in the first place. “They need to realize that what they do won’t make them financially rich, but it will make them rich in other areas of their lives,” Chamberlain says. Wolverton-Davis adds, “If you stay true to what you do and what you love then you will reap the rewards.” As for new studio owners, Seeley says it has been her peer’s encouragement that has kept her committed. “They keep telling me just to be myself and that business will grow in due time,” Seeley says.

This article was first seen in the Nov-Jan 2010 issue of DANCE by the Dance Council of North Texas.

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