From inflation and supply chain issues to changing expectations from families, the new dance year is sure to come with its own set of unique challenges. Start prepping now to start your season on a strong foot.
Ready or not, here comes back-to-dance season.
The good news: The start to the 2022–23 dance year will probably feel more like normal than the past two have. (And even if it doesn’t, at least now you have the tools—and confidence—to manage.) The less-good news: There are already signs (rising inflation, global supply chain issues, the ongoing pandemic, changing expectations from families) that this dance season will come with its own set of unique challenges.
But with ample preparation and a smart strategy, none of these issues need throw you or your studio business for a loop. Take these tips from savvy owners to set the stage for a strong new dance season.
Your studio isn’t immune to inflation.
“Notoriously, dance studios have been fearful of raising prices,” says Suzanne Blake Gerety, co-founder of DanceStudioOwner.com and vice president at her mother’s Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. She notes that in a normal year, your prices should rise between 2 and 5 percent to keep up with costs. This, however, is not a normal year: Inflation is at a 40-year high, and you’re likely seeing increased costs for everything from rent and utilities to staffing to goods and more.
Raising your prices is a must to keep your business sustainable, says Gerety. There’s no one-size-fits-all on how much to raise them, which will depend on how recently you’ve done so and by how much, and the extent to which inflation is impacting your business and community. You also have flexibility on where exactly you want to adjust: In addition to tuition, consider registration and competition fees, rentals, dancewear sales, and any other places you bring in money. (Gerety notes that raising prices on these non-tuition revenue streams could be a workaround if you’ve already published your tuition rates for next year.)
Neisha Hernandez, owner of Neisha’s Dance & Music Academy in Chula Vista, California, is raising her tuition by 10 percent for the upcoming year. She says there’s no need to make a big deal about the change or try to explain yourself—just publish your rates as normal, and most families won’t be surprised, as they’re seeing the effects of inflation in every other area of their lives. “Don’t apologize—your price is your price, and your value is your value,” Hernandez says. Do it now, while people are expecting it, she suggests—if you wait too long, “you’ll be going backwards” as costs continue to rise.
Will you lose a few students to inflation? Probably, says Gerety. Expect your enrollment to continue to fluctuate this year with the unpredictability in the larger world, but know that you’re making a decision for the long-term health of your business.
More than ever, your staff needs to know they are valued.
Remember that just as your studio’s budget is feeling the squeeze of inflation, so are your teachers’ wallets. Hernandez says that it’s more important than ever to take care of teachers and staff through raises and/or other benefits, both because of the current seeker’s job market and because the pandemic has opened many employees’ eyes to other potential career opportunities. “If you don’t take care of your teachers, you’ll lose them,” she says.
Hernandez’s 10 percent tuition increase will allow her to increase staff pay by a similar percentage, she says, as well as up benefits like retirement, health insurance, continuing education and paid time off for both her full-time and part-time employees.
If staffing for the new dance year is already of concern, now’s the time to start upskilling the teachers you have, says Gerety. Looking for an acrobatics teacher? Send one of your current staff members to get certified, she suggests. See where the gaps in your teaching roster might be, and begin filling them with people already on your payroll. Start building a solid substitute list, too, as increased teacher absences from COVID-19 exposure will likely persist in the next year.
Flexibility and convenience will be the keys to the 2022–23 dance year.
What do studio families want right now? Flexibility and convenience, says Annie Hackett, owner of Kenosha Academy of Dance, Music & Drama in Wisconsin. The pandemic gave parents a taste of what it feels like to not be overscheduled, and many of them liked it: Both Hackett and Gerety report increased requests for classes to be “stacked”—meaning students have several classes in a row on one day rather than coming in on multiple days—which is causing them to rethink their schedules. Hackett says this has worked to her benefit, since her studio also offers music and drama classes, so parents can bring kids to multiple activities all at one location.
Another way Hackett is making parents’ desire for convenience work for her: a new rollover registration system, wherein clients no longer fill out paperwork to register for the following year—they just respond to a text asking whether they’d like to continue with dance, and then they are automatically reenrolled. Hackett hopes this boosts her retention numbers, and that it gives her a sense of her enrollment for the year earlier than usual, which will help her better anticipate her needs.
Ongoing supply chain issues will likely force you to be flexible when it comes to costumes and dancewear, so be prepared with a plan B or even C, says Gerety. Order as early as you can, even if it means collecting costume deposits early and explaining to parents that you’re ensuring that their child will have something to wear onstage. Hernandez suggests over-ordering in case of any additions to your classes, since many costume companies these days are happy to take back extras for a refund as they usually need them for other customers.
And in case you get in a bind, join one of the many Facebook groups for studio owners that have recently become lifesavers as costume companies have gotten backed up: Hernandez says that when some of her costumes got stuck in China, another studio generously shipped her their gently used ones.
Prepare to loosen up about uniforms—maybe having the same color leotard is sufficient, rather than a particular style or brand. Even for competitions and performances, keep in mind that whether or not your students’ jazz shoes have laces is not the point, says Hernandez. If you can, Gerety recommends purchasing some in-stock items that your dancers commonly need to have on hand, keeping in mind that pointe shoes have been particularly affected by supply chain issues. Hackett is even opening a small shop in her studio’s lobby, which she anticipates will both help her have the dancewear she needs when she needs it, and add a new revenue stream to combat inflation.
Keep flexibility in mind as you plan your calendar for next year, too: Gerety suggests using a pencil rather than a pen when possible, especially when it comes to scheduling picture days, which were a big stressor for many owners this year as costumes were delayed. (Hackett decided to have her photo week after recital for this reason, and may continue to do so.) Upticks in participation and rescheduled performances after the pandemic pause could mean your usual spots at competitions, conventions and theater venues are booked. Get in early if you can, suggests Hernandez, and if you end up having to try something new, find a way to sell the bright side (like when she had her recital in a parking lot but didn’t have to charge for tickets).
And keep your options open when it comes to navigating COVID-19, suggests Gerety: Even if you aren’t requiring masks, make it known that your policy could always change with local health guidelines, and thank clients for their flexibility and cooperation in keeping your studio safe.
Having a flexible mindset is easier said than done, of course, and will require both thoughtful communication to studio families and a problem-solving attitude. “Don’t go into the day saying ‘I don’t want there to be any problems,’” suggests Gerety. “That’s magical thinking. Instead, say ‘Who am I going to be when I have to solve a problem today?’”
Lauren Wingenroth is a New York City–based writer and a former editor of Dance Business Weekly.