Size Matters
May 26, 2010

When a studio owner envisions her business, she often imagines a specific enrollment size. Reaching this number can take time, so be practical when calculating your goal. Ideally, it should generate enough revenue to cover all costs, without cutting corners, but not so large as to compromise your studio’s values and unique image. To help determine the right number for your business, DT asked four studio owners to share their experience.



Neglia Conservatory of Ballet


Buffalo, NY

With a current enrollment of 100, Heidi Halt of Neglia Conservatory of Ballet would like to expand to 200. For Halt, a bigger student body translates into a more stable organization and more support for her company, Neglia Ballet Artists. She feels that doubling her enrollment wouldn’t affect the reputable training she and her husband Sergio have been offering since 1994. “Sergio and I teach almost all the classes, so this number seems like a manageable goal without us having to hire too many teachers,” she says. Her hiring policy is very strict. However, she is prepared to increase her staff if the expansion feels overwhelming. Halt relies on constant visibility to grow her business. This year, her studio collaborated with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to present its first-ever  Nutcracker—the weekend of shows nearly sold out. The school also runs an inner-city program in which it introduces local school children to ballet. “It doesn’t generate income or even revenue, but it does raise our profile in the city, and everything counts,” Halt says.




Beth Fowler School of Dance


Genoa and St. Charles, IL

Beth Fowler has found that an enrollment size of 300 works for her Genoa-based studio, so she hopes to build the same number for her newly opened second location in St. Charles. “My perfect number is the amount of students I can know by name, and by their strengths and weaknesses,” she says. “I teach at every level in my studio, from the little ones to the pre-professionals, so I know what’s happening across the board.” To maintain this approach, Fowler plans to alternate between her two businesses on a daily basis, since they are located an hour apart. And like Halt, Fowler believes that establishing a good reputation is the best way to expand—and keep—your student body. (She boasts a 95 percent customer return rate.) She uses every opportunity to showcase the qualities that sell her close-knit business. “We did two free open houses where our dancers performed, so potential students can see the caliber of dancer we train,” she says. Fowler also found success hosting free workshops and “bring a friend for free” month.




Debby Dillehay Dance Studio


Kenner, LA

Debby Dillehay has had to build her enrollment twice in her studio’s 30-year history. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Dillehay started from scratch to regain her previous number of 350 students—and she’s almost there with 313. To get to this number, she added up her estimated expenses and divided by the tuition. “I also want enough students so that I can place them into classes by age and level, without sacrificing any student’s quest for learning.” Dillehay has found that holding 40 classes per week, with about 15 students each, works well. Her method for gaining students: old-fashioned customer service. “When you call, I answer the phone if I am not teaching,” she says. “We live in a fast-paced world, so if no one answers, that potential student will move on to the next studio.”




Jazzworx Dance Center


Norwalk, CT

When Lauri MacLean relocated Jazzworx to share space with a ballet academy and reduce overhead, she recalibrated her “magic” number from 400 down to 200. At current enrollment of 125, however, she has room for growth. Having a strong network is essential, she says. To help spread the word, she sends e-mails with exciting photos and studio news to current students and influential local people and asks them to forward the e-mails to friends. MacLean is also focused on making her studio visible to the ballet students already in the building who might want to try a jazz, modern or hip-hop class. To that end, she hosts scholarship fundraisers and other events, where her company Jazzart performs. DT


Nancy Wozny writes about the arts and health from Houston, TX.


Photo copyright Aunger

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