This article originally appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of Canadian Music Trade magazine.
By Andrew King
In many cases, the summer months are the off-season for music lesson programs, and as any sports fan will tell you, that’s when the big moves are made to prepare a team for a fresh run at glory.
Looking through the NAMM University programming for Summer NAMM 2019, happening July 18-20 at the Music City Center in Nashville, TN, there’s no shortage of educational sessions to help retailers enhance their lesson programs. Canadian Music Trade reached out to some of those speakers, along with one Canadian who presented at The 2019 NAMM Show in January, to explore their topics and offer some practical advice for owners and managers in anticipation of their upcoming presentations.
Here’s a diverse collection of ideas to consider implementing in order to prime your program ahead of the big back-to-school push, and be sure to check out the full sessions if you’re down in Nashville for even more.
NEW STRATEGIES TO GROW YOUR LESSON BUSINESS
Noel Wentworth, Wentworth Music, Kelowna, BC
Noel Wentworth, the VP of education and media for B.C.’s Wentworth Music, is no stranger to the NAMM U stage. The lesson program he and his team have built, specifically at their flagship location in Kelowna, is impressive by virtually any metric, welcoming nearly 1,100 students per week in a city of 157,000.
This year, he’s sharing some low-cost strategies to help other managers grow their lesson businesses by attracting, engaging, and retaining more students. At the core of these efforts, he says, is developing strong relationships and boosting your brand’s overall profile in your community.
One particularly effective example is Wentworth Music’s musical petting zoos, where staff will bring an assortment of instruments to community events to let people of all ages get hands-on and indulge their curiosity.
Wentworth Music is set to host one as part of the Downtown Kelowna Block Party in mid-July, which typically welcomes 20,000-26,000 visitors each year. “It’s a great opportunity to get our name and branding out there to anybody walking by,” says Wentworth before delving into some specifics.
“I’ll be talking about the 10 per cent rule,” he divulges. “So, if you’ve got 20,000 people at an event, 10 per cent will come by the petting zoo – 2,000 people – and that might not seem that big. Then it’s one or even half a per cent that might register for lessons,” he shares. “That doesn’t seem like much, but we’re talking 10 to 20 students, and that’s new income and keeps our teachers busier, all on top of the general brand recognition we get for being out and involved in the community.”
On that note, he advises not to evaluate your efforts based on short-term results, but to instead think a few years ahead.
Another successful initiative has been incorporating communityminded events into more standard retail ones. “So for example,” he offers, “if we’re doing a big sales event, we set up a side event within it like the NAMM-inspired ‘Food for Strings,’ where we basically ask people to come in for the sale and bring in their guitars and we’ll give them a free set of strings and put them on in exchange for a non-perishable food donation or household supply, or even a small cash donation.”
The benefits to such an initiative are mutual and many, with donations going to the local foodbank, customers getting some value out of a good deed, and the store attracting plenty of attention for its sale and goodwill for its brand. Their last one brought in over 400 lbs. of food and a small cash donation that went to the less-fortunate.
An added bonus, Wentworth says, is the media attention they can generate before and after the event. “We can do separate press releases and stories, both before and after, about the main event, but then also what we accomplished with the food drive,” he says.
And then there are the twice-per-year concerts that Wentworth hosts for its students and community, where they’ll put a full sound and light package into the local community centre and let their students be rock stars in a packed house for a night. To date, the events have raised nearly $250,000 for the local children’s hospital.
“That’s a big part of our strategy,” Wentworth adds, noting it checks several boxes in terms of community engagement and goodwill and also providing an exciting experience that keeps the students invested and engaged in their learning. “It’s kids helping kids, where we can give back to the community while getting our students excited about something – a major component in retention,” he shares. “We do two of them a year, and so between those and some of our other activities, we have our name out in the media for a good eight or nine months of the year.”
Those events tap into an essential question: why do students enroll in lessons in the first place? “If you think of McDonald’s, why do kids want to go to McDonald’s? The food is the afterthought; they want the toy or to play in the Play Place. It’s about identifying the real reasons why people are here in the first place and then giving them opportunities related to that.”
5 LESSON PROGRAM CRISES & HOW TO FIX THEM
Melissa Loggins, Music Authority, Cumming, GA
Generally speaking, the MI industry does a pretty good job of championing the many benefits of music education; however, as lesson instructors and administrators can tell you, there are some inherent challenges that come with offering that education that don’t get nearly as much discussion, despite the way they’re handled being integral to any program’s success.
That’s why Melissa Loggins, one of the owners of Cumming, GA’s Music Authority, is taking up some common lesson program crises and sharing solutions to effectively address them in her NAMM U session in Nashville. Her goal is to offer real-world advice on how to turn a crisis into an opportunity to deliver a memorable customer experience.
One of the topics she’ll touch on is how to deal with frustrated parents, and that almost always has to do with money – billing, late fees, cancellation policies... “Really, any time you’re dealing with money, it can get sticky,” says Loggins.
While Music Authority’s cancellation policy is about as clear as they come – at least 24 hours’ notice or the lesson is billed – it’s still been an ongoing point of contention.
She realizes that automatically debiting accounts would minimize much of that potential conflict, and yet that measure would make it prohibitive for some of their students to take lessons. “We have a significant percentage of people that are only able to pay cash,” she says, “and for us, it’s more important that we make lessons attainable to anybody.”
As a result of that mindset, they’ve come up with ways to diffuse potential conflicts and offer compromises that appease the parties on both sides of the counter. In many cases, that means getting away from the counter altogether.
“There’s a look that people get on their face before they explode; you can see it coming,” she says, drawing on years of experience. “What I’ll often do is step away from the desk and have a seat somewhere nearby. We have a few stations in the store with a couple of chairs and a table, so I’ll sit with them there as it removes the physical barrier between us.”
In her experience, just having the counter there communicates that people are inherently on opposite sides of an issue, “and just removing it relieves some of that tension. It sounds strange, but it’s worked time and time again.”
Another common occurrence that can breed conflict without some proactivity is having a teacher leave, regardless of their reason.
“I’ve literally had a parent tell me that it was so emotionally devastating, their student couldn’t play the drums anymore,” Loggins shares. She’s also had parents unreasonably threaten to take their children elsewhere for lessons if the teacher didn’t stay.
“Really, a lot of that potential drama is just the product of fear – fear of the unknown, fear that the new teacher won’t be as good as the last one,” Loggins offers. “To be successful, we need to understand that fear and meet them at that level.”
When one of Music Authority’s instructors recently informed Loggins of their plans to move on, she and her team took the time to call each one of said instructor’s students with options tailored to their individual needs and learning profile.
“Those phone calls were so helpful in de-escalating that fear before it even started,” she reveals. “There wasn’t time to stew in worry – they got a call with a solution before they got the problem.”
Part of that solution is making it clear from the outset – and, really, in any interaction at any point in time – that they have the best interest of the student in mind.
“So say we have a student who typically takes lessons on a Thursday, but the teacher we’ve brought in to replace theirs isn’t an ideal fit, we’re going to be clear about that and offer them other options,” says Loggins. “Honesty and transparency are very important to us. We’re going to work with the best interest of the students in mind, even if it might hurt our bottom line for a bit.”
There are many potential crises that can arise from running a business that’s so dependent on interpersonal relationships, and Loggins has some proven solutions to share on how to address them – from common ones to one of the biggest nightmares of all: what to do if some of your teachers decide to set up their own shop a mile down the road. Hear about all of them at the Music City Center in July.
ENCORE PRESENTATION: Unlock Your Lesson Program’s Full Potential by Abandoning Industry Norms
Michael Cathrea, Resonate Music School & Studio, Edmonton, AB
Access the article on Michael’s NAMM U session at: www.namm.org/nammu
When Michael Cathrea delivered this session at The 2019 NAMM Show in January, a significant portion of the presentation was devoted to the experience that teaching studios offer – not just for their students, but for parents, partners, and anyone else that might take part.
“There’s so much more to the experience than just the 30-minute lesson in an eight-by-eight room and then a recital at your typical hall,” he tells Canadian Music Trade. “I mean, music is awesome. People are coming to learn because there’s something inherently cool and exciting about music, and I think the lesson experience, from top to bottom, should reflect that.”
Often, he says, music lessons get a reputation for being dull or, worse yet, akin to a babysitting service. “I loved music as a kid, and obviously, I still do,” he shares, “but I quit music lessons prematurely due to lost interest even though I had a great teacher.”
Subsequently, when Cathrea and his team were preparing to launch Resonate back in 2012, they considered everything from the customer’s perspective. “I looked at it as, if I was going to start taking lessons right now, what are the components I’d want for a complete experience?”
A few key components? First, what you see and hear upon walking through the door. “You know people are coming in and spending, at the absolute minimum, 30 minutes in your space. If you make your aesthetic feel like a medical office and have dull colours, a few chairs, and some magazines on the table, you have to seriously consider whether that’s a vibe that inspires and creates excitement.”
Resonate’s current Northern Edmonton location (they have a Central Edmonton location opening mid-June that Cathrea says will include amenities that further elevate both feel and function) boasts a 1,300-sq.-ft.waiting area with: comfortable seating for 40; music playing around the clock outside and in with playlists specifically catered to the time of day and the demographics in for lessons at said time; a pair of 50-in. screens displaying custom content; a selection of books and magazines; a colouring corner for kids; complementary beverages; and the pièce de résistance: an iPad bar with 10 devices loaded with music-related apps and more.
“The iPad bar is a huge hit,” Cathrea enthuses. “At first, people are going to look at that and say, ‘I’m not going to spend thousands of dollars on a magazine replacement,’ but for us, it was a matter of catering to today’s consumer, and it’s proven to be very effective for us.”
Another component that caters to both the teachers and students inside the studios and the people waiting outside of them is the elaborate sound treatment in each studio. Of course, that also come with a significant expense, but one that, for Resonate, has offered a good return on investment.
It’s ideal for the teacher who spends hours each day in their studio, for the students that get to learn and perform in an optimal sonic environment, and for those in the waiting room, who can enjoy the programmed playlists or carry on conversations without a cacophony of instruments.
“In general, we pay a lot of attention to overall aesthetics to make sure this is somewhere people want to spend their time,” Cathrea says, generally speaking. “There are probably details someone might not specifically notice or pick out; it’s the collective of all the little things together that can make a big difference.”
Bottom line, cater to your customers and anyone they might have in-tow. Consider their needs and then think outside the box on how the overall experience will and should appeal to them.
Music is awesome; learning how to make music should be awesome, too.
HOW TO END NO-SHOWS FOREVER
Mike & Miriam Risko, Mike Risko Music, Ossining, NY
“With no-shows, we were always stuck between a rock and a hard place,” begins Miriam Risko about the inspiration behind the session she and her husband, Mike, will deliver at Summer NAMM 2019. “We want our teachers to be paid for their time but also want to avoid conflict with our students, so we were trying to find a compromise.”
Mike Risko Music School currently counts 30 instructors teaching in eight lesson rooms, so needless to say, the potential headaches from no-shows could be plenty. Early into their brainstorming on how to buck the trend, a solution presented itself out of basic practicality.
“One of our very good customers called very last minute and was stuck at home with a car issue,” Miriam recalls, “so we used FaceTime to do a lesson, and both she and the teacher were very happy with it.”
And so, the school’s “Zoom Program” was born. The Riskos turned one of their lesson rooms into the “Zoom Studio” with a basic webcasting set-up and started offering remote lessons via the popular video conferencing platform on a case-by-case basis. So far, they’ve found it to be remarkably successful. “Now, instead of no-shows, people are calling in to say they can’t make it and specifically requesting the video lessons,” Miriam reports.
While there’s no shortage of audiovisual tools and treatments you could employ to deliver a slick experience, even just a basic set-up with a computer, good monitor, camera, mic, and audio playback solution would get you off the ground.
In addition to the aforementioned auto mishap or last-minute scheduling conflicts, the remote solution has proven successful in the summer time, when students will often travel with their families to cottages or summer homes but can now keep up with their instruction. Plus, its benefits go the other way.
“One of our favourite staff members was moving to California, and we were so disappointed to lose him that we made arrangements so he’s now teaching for us from California once a week,” Miriam adds. The pair is also excited by the future potential of the idea, with plans already in place to outfit more of their studios with videoconferencing technology.
“We’ve also been looking at getting started with a webinar platform,” Mike shares. “That would give us the ability to schedule a session where we can have up to 1,000 people watching, where they can make a profile, watch the lesson or show live, and ask questions and interact with the presenter.”
He notes that many of the popular webinar platforms now offer PayPal integration, so it could be a significant revenue generator in a “remote masterclass” kind of setting.
Circling back to other ideas for avoiding no-shows that the Riskos will share in their NAMM U session, Miriam mentions using their group lessons as something of a backup for missed individual slots. “That enables us to still pay our instructor and give the student something of value,” she says.
From a wider perspective, though, she says one of the keys to reducing the number of no-shows is starting a dialogue with the students and their families right at the outset about the importance of their lessons, and the value of consistency and continuity in reaching one’s goals.
“I think music lessons often have a reputation for being very flexible or that they can be missed without much consequence, and so we talk about the value of consistency and also about the value of other people’s time,” Miriam explains.
Finally, there’s also the basic idea of being flexible and open to compromise or other ideas. “We’ve had our business for 25 years and we’ve seen the dynamic change,” says Miriam. “Parents have changed, the ways people respond to things have changed, so we try to avoid any kind of negative situations with our customers and with our instructors by coming up with solutions. If somebody really can’t make a lesson, we’ll put together an assignment for them or something that presents an alternative that takes everybody’s interests into account and results in a win-win.”
Andrew King is the Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Music Trade.