8 Essential Strategies to Grow Your Lesson Program

At The 2018 NAMM Show, Noel Wentworth of Wentworth Music revealed eight strategies that he used to build his store’s profitable lesson program. Wentworth Music has expanded its lesson program from 90 to more than 1,000 students in one location, in a small city—and its still growing.Here are Wentworth’s top strategies for growth. (Watch the video to see the full session.)

Strategy 1: Focus on student retention.
This is the key to growth. Teachers should retain 75–80 percent (or more) of their students by the end of any given school year. Teachers should also be able to retain their students for three to four years, or longer.

Strategy 2: Find the right team.
Choose your team wisely, and be direct with teachers about what you expect during teacher interviews. Wentworth sits down with teachers and gets to know a little about them before explaining his expectations.

His teacher interview takes approximately 90 minutes and focuses more on what the teacher can expect than on his or her professional background. He explains to applicants that his program isn’t for everyone and stresses the importance of being a team player. This prevents surprises from happening later. Wentworth recommended explaining to prospective teachers what you do and how you are still growing, as teachers that understand this tend to do well in his lesson program and company.

If the vibe is good during the interview, he gives them the information in writing and asks them to come back and teach him a lesson. Wentworth mentioned that a qualification means nothing if a teacher can’t retain students. Ask the teacher to teach you. Open a beginner instruction book and get the teacher to teach a lesson. Ask theory questions based on the lesson example, and watch for friendly, easily understood answers.

Strategy 3: Make a plan for student retention.
Create student opportunities (i.e., goals). Don’t be afraid to try new things, evaluate and revise. Wentworth shared that many of the ideas he has tried have become part of Wentworth Music’s plan. And make sure to get teachers on-board! Explain your plan and the benefits to them—that more students means more secure income.

Make it a priority to give students opportunities to use their instruments or voices. A student goal could be a recital, but Wentworth said he encourages teachers to think outside the box. For example, a drum teacher wanted to create a video instead of hosting a recital. The teacher taught all 40 of his students, from beginners to advanced players, the same song. He shot the video during lesson times, uploaded it to YouTube and sent a link to all of his students’ parents. It got hundreds of views. Using the video, he provided a goal for his students and also marketed effectively.

Strategy 4: Keep students engaged.
Build a lesson culture through excitement and activity. It’s all about the goal! Goals work. Also, making music should be fun. Wentworth said that if he left everyone with one idea, it would be to ask yourself how fun are your lessons on a scale of one to 10.

Include opportunities in your program that people won’t get elsewhere. Twice a year, more than 250 of Wentworth’s students play in a rock concert (recital) in a mid-size venue before a sold-out audience, as if they’re on tour. What are the chances those students will come back next year, they’ll upgrade their equipment and the audience members will preach the gospel of Wentworth’s program? This rock concert provides team-building for the students and helps bring the teachers together. You have to provide people with an experience.

Strategy 5: Build a school lesson culture.
The more students you can involve at once, the better. It helps develop community. Student ensembles lead to friendships and a feeling of belonging. Excited students equal waiting-room buzz. Excitement leads to happy parents, and happy parents lead to referrals.

Strategy 6: Build a visible reputation.
Wentworth explained that he wanted to support the community, so he decided to donate all of the net profits from the student rock concerts. To date, Wentworth Music has raised more than $183,000 to help sick children through the local hospital. Wentworth loves announcing the next amount they’ve raised, and they’re getting closer to a quarter of a million dollars.

Reputation and visibility are key components of growth. Local media coverage has led to top-of-mind awareness for the school and links it to community. Ask yourself how visible you are and how you can find ways to become more visible. Also, show support for the community that has supported you. What do you want to be known for?

Strategy 7: Maximize your lesson space.
Fill every available time slot—and make this everyone’s goal. The small, empty time slots can add up and affect your bottom line. Shared studio space is a necessity. Look for part-time teachers who can fill a few open spots (evenings from 7–9 p.m., for instance). Ask new teachers to open up one morning a week to start. This contributes to maximizing space. Hire adult teachers who are available in mornings and early afternoons while kids are at school.

Strategy 8: Always promote and market.
Promote yourself year-round, be more visible in the community and create top-of-mind awareness of your store and lesson program. Treat every year as if it’s your first year in business. It’s important to promote and market your lessons, brand and business all the time.

Create video; hold big concerts; make charitable donations; host musical petting zoos, festivals and public events in the community; and share your stories in the media. Aim to create an emotional response in people. If you do, they’re more likely to remember your name. Identify and reach out to customers before they are in need. Plant seeds! Realize the importance of promoting your business and being out in the community talking about your business.

“I know that when someone’s already interacted with us, they’re more likely to do business with us,” Wentworth said.