At 2017 Summer NAMM, Carol Cook of The Music Room shared her lesson program do’s and don’ts—picked up during her 23 years in business. During this session, she stressed that running a retail store with a vibrant music lesson program requires clear rules and communication with prospective students, trained staff and staying open to new ideas.
Here’s Cook’s list. (Watch the full session video and the Q&A at the end for more details.)
Do: Schedule registration appointments. When you sign up new students, do so with registration appointments. Have them come in and sit down with you, so you can talk with them face to face, bond with them and listen to their needs. You can also let them know what they can expect from you.
Do: Sell materials at the registration appointment. This involves a little homework prior to the registration appointment. Cook mentioned that her company just started doing this last month. After scheduling appointments for 10 years, she realized this is the appropriate time to sell lesson materials to students.
Don’t: Leave it up to the teachers. Cook stressed that having teachers sell puts them outside of their comfort zones. At her store, teachers are not salespeople.
Do: Ask teachers to create and submit a supplies list. Cook asks her teachers to tell her what they want in stock across all categories. All the teachers have to do is put materials on the student’s account. “We take the fear out of asking for payment,” Cook said. “Our teachers know what materials they want to use for their students, but we take care of that for them, so they can teach.” Cook’s teachers have told her that they appreciate this procedure.
Don’t: Assume 30 minutes is long enough for everyone. Cook shared that she learned this the hard way. “We have a lot of adult students, and we used to book lessons in 30-minute time slots. A parent and student called and asked if we offered longer lessons. I’m embarrassed that we hadn’t thought of it sooner.” Her advice: Offer a variety of lesson slots.
Do: Reach out to students with special needs. Cook revealed that she received requests for teachers who work with autistic students, and at one point, she thought her teachers wouldn’t have the skills to deal with special needs students. Don’t assume you don’t have someone on staff who can work with special needs students, according to Cook. Keep in mind that this community exists and is looking for music lessons.
Do: Use Google AdWords. Cook acknowledged that she’s not an expert, so she has someone who manages her company’s campaign. It’s worth the time to learn AdWords and invest in a campaign as a way to draw business to your website. Get an account, set a budget and do it. According to Cook, you’ll be amazed at how much this affects your store traffic.
Do: Evaluate your rate structure. Think about how you’re going to charge for your lessons. There are pros and cons to different systems, such as flat fees or per lesson. It’s important to examine every angle that goes into how you’re charging and collecting, and the timeliness of that, and choosing the rate structure that works best for your business.
Do: Require automatic payment. At her business, Cook requires autopay by credit card or ACH (check debit). It’s more expensive, but she said it’s worth every penny—you’re in control of when you get your money. Cook asks parents what card they want to use or if they’d prefer ACH. She only gives them two choices.
Do: Create a house account for every student. Once you’re auto-debiting a parent’s credit card or checking account, make it easy for the parent to buy materials (e.g., method or duet books). Cook said that she tells parents and students: “You have house-account charging privileges.” Parents know that if they’re not with their children, teachers can put new materials on an account. An invoice is then emailed to the parents at the time of the transaction, and it’s settled on the last day of the month (or whenever you’ve set up your monthly billing cycle). It’s a convenience factor and also an easier way to sell materials.
Don’t: Makeup lessons. Instead, consider offering another way to enroll one lesson at a time (instead of occupying a weekly time slot) for a different price. At Cook’s business, students can move a lesson time if they call the day beforehand. She has many students who prefer to enroll this way (based on availability, the day of or up to two weeks out). Cook gives prospective students the choice at the registration appointment. It’s worth it to some students to know they have a day’s notice to change a lesson without penalty; others want to know they have a weekly reserved time slot and are willing to pay for it, if they miss it.