It doesn’t seem that long ago that studio owners were making last-minute changes to their recital plans last spring in response to the pandemic. And yet, recital season is upon us once again, and though the end of the pandemic is (hopefully) in sight, there are ongoing unknowns and financial stressors for studios and families alike.
Here’s how to have a profitable recital on a pandemic budget—even if some plans are still necessarily up in the air.
Figure out how much of your overall budget is normally dedicated to recital costs, and then make adjustments.
Take a look at all of your expenses for a typical year and separate out those associated with producing a recital. After data-mining 120 dance studio profit-and-loss statements, studio education company Studio Expansion found that most earmarked about 6 percent of their overall budgets for recital costs. That being said, the pandemic has changed the game: It’s possible you’ll be spending less this year (perhaps you’ll be renting a smaller space, or doing a scaled-down show), and you may be bringing in less revenue than usual. Make adjustments in your budget accordingly, and ensure you’re setting the right amount aside.
Know how much you need to make.
From there, calculate your desired profit and then factor that into your total revenue forecast, says Joe Naftal, marketing director for Dance Connection in Islip, NY. “Figure out what that total is per student, and then you can decide how you’ll get to that number,” he says. That might mean charging a different amount for tickets, selling program ads, adding a specific upcharge per costume or promoting tiered sponsorships to local businesses.
Map your expenses on paper.
Use a spreadsheet—there are plenty of free templates available online—especially if you’re a visual person like Kelly Peckholdt, owner and director of Positions Dance Studio in Babylon, NY. Every month she analyzes all of her studio’s expenses, from recital expenses to utilities, payroll, insurance and memberships, and sees what was spent where and how improvements can be made. This method helps her see her big financial picture as she gets closer to recital season.
During a typical year, Positions Dance Studio holds two shows in a 1,000-seat theater on Long Island. The studio spends $15,000 to $20,000 on venue costs, merchandise and staff payroll, and typically takes in $35,000 to $40,000 in revenue just from ticket sales. This year, the plan is to perform in an outdoor amphitheater that typically holds 1,000, but as of late February, Positions cannot sell more than 300 tickets to each show due to social-distancing regulations. Peckholdt will likely charge for the livestream of the show to make up for the loss in ticket revenue.
Repurpose elements when possible.
One of the mistakes Studio Expansion CEO and founder Chantelle Bruinsma sees some studio owners make is feeling that they have to buy everything brand-new every single year. “There’s a cyclical nature to recitals, so think about maximizing and utilizing everything that’s purchased,” she says.
Another innovative way to keep production costs low: Experiment with digital projections of images or video. Deborah Lysholm, owner of Heartbeat Performing Arts Center in Apple Valley, MN, has found it reduces rental costs associated with backdrops and gives her choreographers a new creative challenge.
Take advantage of the all-inclusive tuition model.
If you use an all-inclusive tuition model—where all recital costs (costume fees, a set number of tickets, rental fees, etc.) are already baked in—it could be key to saving recital profits this year. “From a marketing perspective, everything is taken care of. Parents can see the value up front and it means that you’re not going to have to be reliant on ticket sales, hoping that you’re going to be able to pay for the venue,” Bruinsma says, adding that any extra tickets sales will only help increase your profit.
You do not need to adjust those fees or give refunds, even if your recital looks a little different this year. “The intention here is to sustain revenue,” Bruinsma says. “However, you don’t want families to feel like they’ve gotten a secondary experience, so if we can’t deliver the experience that we originally intended, we have to add something back in.” If the recital ends up having to be different than what families usually expect, offer them something extra, like hiring a teacher to work one-on-one with students prior to the show so they feel especially prepared, or providing professional headshots.
Prepare for multiple situations.
Since it’s difficult to make solid recital decisions right now, have multiple options ready to go. That might sound expensive, but it doesn’t have to be, says Naftal, though it may be time-consuming. “Most things are just about getting quotes ready to go so that you can pull the trigger once you have a concrete answer on restrictions,” he says.
Dance Connection hopes to have its traditional theater experience this year with eight performances, but Naftal has several refundable deposits out for a theater and outdoor locales. The studio is also prepared to repeat last year’s events, with an in-studio theater space that included a red-carpet experience for young students who performed solos for immediate family. Older students danced socially distanced pieces that were filmed, edited and then premiered during a drive-in movie event in the studio’s parking lot.
“It’s all about being up-front with vendors. They know we’re in an unprecedented situation, so I think it’s OK to say, ‘We’re putting a plan B in place. Things are a little up in the air. Are you willing to work with us on planning an event, even though we don’t know all the particulars just yet?,’” Naftal says. “Most vendors understand and are happy to be as flexible with us as they can.”
Relationships with vendors are just as important as the ones you have with your customers, Lysholm says. “When a vendor has done an exceptional job or their product is top-notch, tell them,” she says. “I have found that this kindness benefits on so many levels, from continued high-quality goods or services to receiving discounts without asking for them.”