Written by Ben Stokes
I opened my dance studio when I was still in my teens (sooo not recommended). Worked hard, committed to “dance outside the box” and provide a unique, fun experience for my students, and my numbers grew. 15 years later, with over 500 students enrolled, there was one thing missing… my mansion! (Jokes, I’m a dance teacher). But seriously, I had really low pre-school numbers. About 60 students in my Tiny Tots (ages 2 to 4) department all together. Not that I even called it a department back then. It was just 5 classes with about 12 kids in each, often less. And don’t get me wrong, I was fairly content. I thought that was pretty decent at the time. But it did occur to me that building numbers in the pre-school age group at the studio would be the best way to ensure (and insure) the future success of my business.
Then along came READY SET DANCE. I’d heard the raving reviews from fellow dance studio owners who had purchased the program, and I already had a lot of respect for the team that created the program – having worked with them individually on various dance projects and events in the past. I bought the program and honestly, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my business.
But… HOW did I attract so many pre-schoolers to my studio? I had a great program, though really that helped more with retention than anything else. Actually, getting new students in the door was all about the marketing. Here’s 5 things that worked (like magic) for me…
• I posted a really awesome promo video, all about our pre-school classes, onto our dance studio Facebook page and it got dozens of shares from our existing customer base. Then I set it up as a paid advertisement on Facebook, with a small budget and a very carefully targeted audience. I decided to invest $50 a day for 2 weeks to see how it would go. No joke – I think we got over 80 new enquiries in that first 14 days, and about two thirds came in to do a free trial. Now I keep the video promo running for a few months every year and it’s like a virtual faucet of constantly flowing enquiries.
• I made an active decision to commit to greater brand consistency and (proud) exposure on our studio website, Instagram and Facebook when it came to our pre-schooler classes. Previously focusing most of my time and energy promoting and celebrating the elite teams and older students, I started to balance that out more – showing off all parts of our business, especially the vibrant fun of our youngest programs.
• I sought out local performance opportunities for my pre-schoolers. In the past I would have never ever even considered letting my 4-year-old dancers perform for the public at a local carnival, festival, show etc. but as soon as I started doing this, it increased our exposure to the community – which I believe is key. Now I send a few of my pre-school teachers in their bright and colourful uniforms along with a dozen or so young dancers to every event in the area, and they’re ALWAYS a hit with the crowd. The audience doesn’t expect perfection, they just see happy kids having fun doing cool moves to cute songs and their hearts melt.
• I sat down with my team and planned out a bunch of what we like to call “wow-factor” experiences for our pre-schooler dancers and their parents. Magic moments that capture a sense of adventure and excitement, and are so cool that parents just can’t help but take photos, share them on social media (tagging our studio of course) and tell all their friends about. Mothers Day and Fathers Day “watching weeks” with gifts and a special mini performance in class. Visit by a real ballerina. Cupcake party. In-class disco time with bubble machine and funky lights. Easter egg hunts, class visits by Santa, Halloween dress-up week, stickers, candy, gifts and more. All this, on top of a dance program that was high-energy, value-packed, and impressively delivered by bubbly bright teachers, meant that the word-of-mouth engine was optimised to maximum effectiveness.
• I pushed hard on advertising. Using traditional methods like letter-box drops with eye-catching flyers, and non-traditional methods like creating a “pop-up” enrolment stall at the local shopping centre and having our teachers there in their bright uniforms and big smiling faces, offering free trial passes and handing out class schedules. We also went to the source, and reached out to all the local pre-schools and childcare centres offering free dance workshops in return for writing about us in their newsletters and giving our flyer to all their customers.
As it turns out, as dance studio owners our pre-school departments are the easiest to market and the best possible way to really build and grow our businesses. The lifetime value of a young student is HUGE – if we can get them to stick with it – and getting to train these dancers from the very beginning means that we can develop brilliant talent and exquisite technique.
Literally one third of my whole studio is now pre-school dancers and more than anything else, I take great comfort in knowing the future of my dance studio is secure because (most of) these students will feed into my Juniors, then my Intermediates, then my Seniors.
So here’s why READY SET DANCE changed my business (in a great way):
• All 5 dance rooms in my studio were already pretty much booked solid in the afternoons, but were sitting empty during the day. Now my pre-school READY SET DANCE and READY SET BALLET classes run 6 mornings a week, and the whole program operates outside of our “peak times” for older classes.
• Pre-schooler parents are the first to pay their fees, will jump at the chance to buy any and every new piece of branded merch at our shop, and always purchase the most tickets to our end of year recitals.
• I’m seeing significantly bigger class sizes and growth in our 5 to 7 year-old classes, because of the number of pre-schoolers continuing to dance in the next age group up.
• Thanks to the well-designed structure of the program, the cleverness (and catchiness) of the songs, and the included resources available to my teachers… I don’t ever have to teach another pre-school class myself, because I have complete trust that my staff (even some of my younger teachers) are equipped and prepared to provide quality lessons that I’m genuinely proud for my studio to offer.
Ben Stokes is the director of Commotion Performing Arts in Narellan, NSW Australia and the creator of Studio Savvy – an online support group and resource library for dance studio owners around the world. More articles about marketing dance studios and creating outstanding customer experience for dancers and their parents can be found at www.studiosavvy.dance