A Business Plan Built for Change

Dana and Hugo Adames started out in 2004 with two dance studios in 1,400 square feet of space. Through moving twice and opening a second site, they’ve perfected a gradual growth strategy that works.

Hugo and Dana Adames own and operate The Talent Factory in Rhode Island. Photo by Marilyn Demers, courtesy of The Talent Factory

Dana and Hugo Adames are known within their studio community for presenting a united front. As a couple of 18 years, now with two children, the two have a method for how they handle everything from parenting to studio life. Artistic director Dana and general manager Hugo own The Talent Factory Performing Arts Centre, with two Rhode Island locations, 550 students and a third site in the works. They’ve grown their business through sensible business practices—and an ability to embrace change. “We work as partners,” says Dana. “We look at the pros and cons together before making any decisions. We have a mutual respect for each other and really talk about everything, all the time.”

The couple’s earliest business endeavor was starting a dance retail store, an experience that would come in handy several years later. Then, in 2004, they opened The Talent Factory in North Kingstown, Rhode Island—two studios in 1,400 square feet—with a goal of outgrowing the space. Four years later, they moved a mile up the road into 2,500 square feet, and in 2012, they moved yet another mile to their current location: 8,000 square feet with five studios and a retail area.

“Our goal is to always sign a three- to five-year lease on a new venture, depending on the demographics and the square footage of the space,” Hugo says, explaining that, during the first lease term, his plan is to cover rent, overhead and investment. It’s in term two that he plans to show a profit. “Negotiating a solid second term is extremely important, since that is when you will start to see a return on your investment.” In 2015, they expanded to open a second location in Wakefield—located about 30 minutes from the North Kingstown location—in a 2,500-square-foot leased space with two studios. “In our main location, 400 students and a little over 100 classes offered weekly seems to be the magic number. It’s simply what the demographics allow,” Hugo says. “At our second location, we are currently offering roughly 30 classes a week to about 150 students,” he says. “Here we clearly have room to grow, and we believe this space can reach 250 students with the possibility of 60-plus classes on the weekly schedule. Once we get there, we will start discussing our options to expand or not.”

Adding a Retail Division

Onsite dancewear retail is a customer convenience. Photo courtesy of The Talent Factory

The move in 2012 included space for a small, authorized Capezio dancewear retail space. “Incorporating retail was out of convenience for our families, our customers,” Hugo says, adding that they knew from previous experience that residents weren’t willing to drive very far to find brand-name dancewear—they wanted the ease of whatever they could find closest to home. “We strongly believe if we spent time and money to acquire new customers, it’s only right we give them the best experience possible in every avenue they explore within our program.”

The retail division provides about 5 percent of the studio’s overall revenue. Hugo notes that it’s a large investment for a slow return: For instance, it can take a year to sell $20,000 worth of inventory, not including labor—the studio’s full-time receptionist handles the transactions. Still, it provides some revenue, and every bit helps when it comes to a small business, Dana says. “At the end of the day, we believe it’s worth the extra work to make sure our families have what they need,” she says, “and a well-rounded, positive experience.”

And Speaking of Change…

Until recently the Adameses had been actively discussing the possibility of purchasing a building for their third location. The fact that a potential deal fell through hadn’t deterred them. “We believe everything happens for a reason,” Hugo says. “We started discussions with a new space, which potentially could be the first of its kind in the state.”

However, that was before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, which threw every dance studio in the United States into a lurch, scrambling to figure out how to provide online curriculum for students quarantined at home.

“This pandemic has affected every part of our business,” Dana says. “Our office jobs have transitioned to a tech support team for staff and students, and our teachers have had to come up with new curriculums to keep kids engaged in their living rooms and kitchens with siblings and pets running around.”

Because of the pandemic’s impact on the economy, the Adameses are bracing for an enrollment decrease in the fall, which could affect their plans for a third location. “Although we are remaining optimistic,” Hugo says, “we will have to run the pros and cons before making a final decision.”

The Impact of Strong Business Leadership

Performing at The Joyce Theater for New York City Dance Alliance Foundation. Photo by Chris Coates-Mitchell, courtesy of NYCDA

In the meantime, the Adameses take great pride in the way their dancers are getting noticed outside their community. In January, nine dancers earned a coveted spot performing at The Joyce Theater in NYC for the annual New York City Dance Alliance Foundation gala, in recognition for raising $15,000 (in just four months) toward college dance scholarships.

To raise funds, The Talent Factory organized a series of events, including a Black Friday babysitting event where parents could drop off their kids at the studio for $10 an hour. They also sold $20 raffle calendars for a chance to win donated gift cards from local businesses. “It has been a goal of ours for quite some time to perform at a NYCDAF event,” Dana says. “Our families donate each weekend at the regional conferences we attend, and every penny goes toward dancers pursuing their dreams. This is one foundation very close to our hearts.”

Whether The Talent Factory alumni pursue dance or other careers, they are always welcome to take open advanced classes when they are home on break. “Dana and Hugo have created a family business that feels like an extension of home for their students,” says Joy Weisbord, mom to dancer Liana, 14. “The kids have real, meaningful relationships with Dana, Hugo and the staff that last long after their students graduate.”