Group Classes Done Right

At The 2018 NAMM Show, Jonathan Shue, education director for Dusty Strings Music Store & School, revealed how offering private lessons and group classes can become a key revenue generator for a business. He also shared his expertise on how to do them right. Here are highlights from the NAMM U session. (And watch the video to see the full presentation.)

According to Shue, there are several reasons to offer group classes. They generate more private lessons, which can create more long-term students. These students become long-term customers, who promote your store and lessons studio. Also, events connected with the classes, such as concerts, student recitals and special weekends, help foster community.

Shue then shared three elements that can help you grow group classes and private lessons. He labeled these: people, purpose and place.

Students. Get to know who they are. What’s their background? Also, remember that anyone who inquires about group lessons is ready. Don’t let them equivocate. Sign them up.

Teachers. According to Shue, his company’s teachers are all professional working musicians. Shue recommended that you ask potential teachers why they want to teach. If they don’t have a passion for sharing their knowledge and the skills to do so, they won’t work out at his lesson operation. Teachers are the people who will connect students with your store. Talk with your teachers regularly, and involve them as much as possible in the store experience. Teachers also provide local access to the music scene to help students reach their goals.

Staff. Shue was adamant that retail staff know everything about the lesson program. According to Shue, his team knows all 40 teachers personally, to the point that staff can pair up students with the right teachers. He mentioned that he treats group classes as products, and staff need the “product knowledge” to direct new students to the right classes. Given that, staff should know about and understand the classes, be knowledgeable about each teacher’s approach and use classes to upsell customers. He added that staff should be able to recognize students when they walk in and also recognize teachers when they arrive.

Don’t make it difficult for students to decide what classes to take. Have a clear mission about group classes and private lessons. (Shue shared the vision at Dusty Strings: to bring music into people’s lives. The company’s tagline is “Come play music!”)

Programming. Shue recommended these guidelines for programs:
• Classes for popular instruments sold in the store
• Simple, consistent titles and descriptions (active voice, avoid jargon)
• Same cost, duration, and start and end times
• Although classes are different, have all group classes teach similar skills
• Teachers share ideas and resources
• Sequential, scaffolded learning

Scheduling. Start planning months ahead of time, so you have a rough sketch of what you’re going to offer and when. Stagger your classes, so you always have something for everyone to ensure healthy enrollment. Scheduling is critical. Shue recommended planning at least six months in advance. Meet with groups of teachers to do a rough plan for the year. Use quarterly and academic calendars and observe holidays. Offer group classes in a variety of instruments, including voice, and host lots of classes during the back-to-school season and around the new year.

Promotion. You want people to identify your store through your group classes. Branding is important for getting people to think of your business as the place for education. Shue recommended to start promoting at least three months in advance. Have a list of upcoming classes at checkout, and mention upcoming classes in e-newsletters. Use free listings in publications and on websites and social media. Always talk about upcoming classes, teachers and guest teachers.

The Feedback Loop. Get regular feedback from teachers. What’s working? What’s not? Have each student fill out an evaluation form at the end of the class. Review and discuss these evaluations with teachers, then follow up with students. Ask customers what kind of classes they would like to take.

Your school and store environment have a lot to do with the customer and student experience. You want them to feel relaxed and enjoy being there. Shue shared that his company recently remodeled and put in a lobby and waiting area to create a mood. Here are a few more tips:

Environment. Make sure it’s warm, welcoming and non-judgmental, and people can easily find out about upcoming classes and events. Books and magazines related to music are a nice touch. Post photos of teachers and students. When you invest, customers invest.

Classrooms. Uncluttered and spacious classrooms go a long way to creating the right experience. Make sure teachers and students are visible for the student’s safety and to advertise your school as you give tours to customers.

Atmosphere. Keep it community-minded and supportive. And always remember that everyone can play music and sing. It’s innate to us as humans.