Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won’t survive—no matter how crisp your dancers’ technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.
Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business’ investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners’ tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.
It’s just what it sounds like: Promote free giveaways or sell your products or services at lower-than-normal rates (often called a “loss leader”) to boost the sales of other, related products or services.
Bring-a-friend week As the new co-owner of his Orlando, Florida–based studio, Will Tijerina improved on the classic bring-a-friend-week enrollment-boosting strategy. “We had dancers bring a friend for a free trial class at Dance 360,” he says. “If the friend signed up, the family already signed up with us received a $35 credit toward their tuition.” Tijerina reports that he added 25 kids to his studio that week.
But he didn’t stop there. Knowing that many of his students had siblings who might also be interested in taking dance, Tijerina tried a bring-a-parent week to entice sibling sign-up. “We invited our parents to participate in class with their dancers. It was a great turnout for us—parents with multiple children signed up their other children,” he says. By week’s end, he’d added another 30 dancers to the studio roster. “Between the two events, we went from 280 kids to 335 in two weeks,” he says.
Engage existing customers in an active dialogue, speaking to the needs and wants of this particular group. You’ll promote greater loyalty and higher levels of engagement within an existing community—which can lead not only to steady, repeat business but also to word-of-mouth marketing, one of the most effective marketing strategies.
Movie and karaoke nights At her studio in Winnsboro, Louisiana, Lindsey Williamson Butler offers parents a valuable extra service: time to themselves without kids. At the same time, she makes a tidy sum of extra revenue and gives her enrollment a jumpstart with themed studio nights, open to dancers and any of their nonstudio friends.
Movie nights last two hours, and Butler uses the back of her step-and-repeat banner as a screen for her projector. “The $10 price covers drinks and popcorn,” she says. “The kids bring blankets, bean bag chairs, whatever they want.”
For her youngest dancers, she holds hour-and-a-half glow parties where, for a $10 entry fee, participants receive glow necklaces and bracelets and blacklight-reactive face paint. “I put a blacklight strip above my mirrors for the length of the room,” she says. “I make a playlist of fun songs and put it on shuffle. We dance around and sing and have a blast.”
For her older dancers, she holds karaoke nights. “I have a Fender sound system that will accommodate three microphones,” says Butler. “I plug my phone into my projector and sound system, and we pull up karaoke versions of songs on YouTube—so the words are projected huge on the wall.”
Butler routinely makes $1,000 in one evening, but best of all, many of her dancers bring friends who leave wanting to sign up for classes at the studio. “Even if movie night happens too late in the year for them to sign up, they’ll keep asking their moms about it until registration opens again,” she says. “It’s the best form of advertising without really advertising—it’s just kids telling kids, ‘Oh, my god, we have so much fun! You should come with me.'”
Rather than always trying to sell your existing customers something else, why not focus on building a relationship with them? This type of marketing emphasizes customer retention and satisfaction.
Referral contest Jen Philipp Shebetka’s Iowa studio, Extensions Dance Academy, is in its fifth year, and she’s found that a referral contest works best for boosting enrollment. “Each person who refers someone who joins gets a $10 gift certificate to our dancewear shop and an entry into a drawing for a month of free tuition,” she says. “We got 15 new students the first year and 21 last year, just from referrals in the months of August and September.” That also means 36 existing families walked away with gift certificates, and one lucky dance student received free tuition for a month. Shebetka let existing parents know about the contest during August registration and also included it in a “welcome back” letter that went home with students during the first week of class.
With this strategy, you identify potential customers and promote products and services via channels that are likely to reach that customer base.
Preschool partnership Colleen Mathis Overfield has been teaching in local preschools for 20 years, and it’s been a great feeder program into her Jacksonville and Oxford, Alabama–based studios, Alabama Christian Dance Theatre Studio. “We allow those preschool students to perform in our recitals,” she says. “It adds revenue, and then when they turn kindergarten age, they feed into the studio in the primary levels.”
Make sure you lay the groundwork first for your partnership with a preschool. Overfield recommends offering preschool administrators references and a marketing portfolio that describes your studio’s past successes, plus research-based articles from an education journal that prove the arts enhance learning. Ask if you can conduct a parent survey to initiate and promote interest in dance classes. She also suggests giving the preschool a commission and first offering a trial class for students.