I recently had the opportunity to speak with Renzo Aida, owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Dedham, MA. Fred Astaire Franchised Dance Studios is a ballroom dance franchise named after, and co-founded by the famous dancer Fred Astaire.
My questions are below in bold. Enjoy.
Why did choose to buy a Fred Astaire Franchised Dance Studio?
Over the years I frequented many dance studios (independently owned and franchised) and got to see how they were managed. Some were managed well and some were not. I was able to pick up on things I liked and things I didn’t like so that when I was ready to own a studio, I had a good idea of what worked and what didn’t.
I also knew from my previous career that there was significant value in partnering with an strong franchise: brand awareness, marketing and advertising, operating systems, and an established network of franchisees. From a business perspective the systems that are in place are key to a business running efficiently. Having said that, a dance studio is still a small business that requires a personal touch, thus you need the flexibility to do things differently.
I found the right balance with the Fred Astaire Franchised Dance Studios. The company has great systems already in place to support the franchisee, but is not afraid shake things up and try to do things a little differently.
The very fact that that they gave me the opportunity to own a studio without any prior “dance” business experience is a tribute to that. They looked at my business background and education and said “this is the direction that we want to go in.”
How did you bring it to life?
For me it was the basic private equity approach. Find a business with great fundamentals, but not operating at its potential. I liked everything about the studio. The location, the market demographics, the staff, the student base, etc. When the opportunity came to acquire this particular studio, I didn’t waste any time.
Where do you see your Fred Astaire Dance Studio in five years?
We are still a small studio but we are growing. We have a new vision and direction. The changes we made are setting us up nicely for continued growth. The capacity is there and the fundamentals are right for us to double in size in the next 2-3 years and continue to do so through 2019.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
This is a tough question. I made many mistakes early on, but I learned from all of them and they helped make me better at my job. I guess the biggest mistake was not thinking through my business plan thoroughly enough. It was full of ideas, but lacked a realistic timeline and strategy. Too many resources were wasted early on in the process. Now I have some experience running a dance studio and I am better prepared.
What does your typical day look like?
No two days are the same so I don’t try to plan out my day because if I did, nothing would get done. I usually wake up around 8am and check voice mail and the studio e-mail for new lesson requests, cancellations and other time-sensitive messages. Then I head to the studio to practice my own dancing or head to the gym.
I usually get in a few hours before opening because that’s when I have fewer distractions. I spend time preparing and analyzing budgets, P&Ls, and other performance and financial reports so I know where we stand heading into the day. At 1:30 we open the doors. I spend the afternoon in meetings or calls. Whether its meeting with my studio manager, Rachel, or with staff or customers or marketers, there’s always someone I need to speak with or some fire that needs to be put out. And that’s not even the busy part of the day.
As the afternoon comes to a close, that’s when we start to get really busy. There’s a lot of activity going on in the evenings as that’s when people get off work and come do dance their stress away. I spend time on the floor and reception greeting and speaking with students and observing lessons.
In between I’m usually researching ways to improve and grow the business. Things like what competitions to attend or new events and activities that we can create for our students.
We close up around 10 pm and head home to spend time with my girlfriend before going to bed and doing it all over again the next day.
What is one trend that really excites you?
Dance Fitness. It began with Zumba, but there are all kinds of dance inspired fitness classes popping up, such as Barre, Pole Fitness, etc. We have a great space to incorporate a fitness program and can’t wait to do this.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I can’t say I’ve ever had a bad job, but I did have some bosses I didn’t click with. I feel like I did learn from them, though, especially that to get the most out of someone, you must treat him/her with respect and make them feel valued.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do, too?
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My biggest failure was not trusting my own instinct. Part of it was not having the confidence to follow through on my ideas. I let other people with “experience” tell me how to run my studio and the results were horrendous. Instead of implementing my vision, there was a strong reluctance to change and things kept getting done the old way and I went along with it. It wasn’t until I started to do things my way that things started to improve. Having some success has given me more confidence to follow through with my ideas and trusting my instinct.
What is one business idea that you are willing to give away to our readers?
Add value, not discounts. Value motivates customers far more than getting a discount. Instead of focusing on clever sales and discounts, focus on improving the quality of the product. Your customers will notice the difference and gladly pay more if they understand the value of the product.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I think if people danced more there would be far less stress in their lives and there would be fewer health issues. If I could magically make everybody take dance lessons I would because the world would be a much better place.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Google Adwords – by far still the most effective way to advertise
Facebook – great for promoting events and activities to potential customers
Constant Contact – Keeps your current customers informed
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m not a big reader, especially not self-help books. My advice if you want to learn something, take a class in it. However, when I do if I had to pick just one that everyone should read its Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
@FredAstaireCorp – People would be surprised to learn about the health and relationship benefits of ballroom dance. This is a good account to follow to stay up to date on that.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
We have a great atmosphere here in the studio and there is never a lack of laughter. It’s hard to go 20 minutes without a teacher or a student laughing out loud. You wouldn’t believe some of the things our students tell us…
Who is your hero?
The teachers at my studio are my heroes. It takes a combination of a lot of skill and great personality to be a successful dance teacher. Not to mention the fact that they are on their feet all day. They are the ones that make things happen.
Do you (or did you ever) have a mentor?
I had several mentors early in my career, but I also developed strong relationships with former colleagues and classmates that I continuously consult with regularly on business and personal matters. Having a strong network is just as important as having a mentor.
Tell us a secret.
I started taking dance lessons so I could meet girls.
What’s your website where people can find out more about Fred Astaire Dance Studios?
How about you personally?
Where can people find your Fred Astaire Dance Studio on social media?
Google+: Fred Astaire Dedham