Take Your Lesson Program From Break-Even to Breakthrough

At the 2015 NAMM Show, Donovan Bankhead and Misty Kristek of Springfield Music revealed how their music lesson program went from faltering to active and strong. They also offered ideas to improve a lesson program—and make more money with it.

Bankhead admitted that the old business model, where product is king and lessons aren’t profitable, stopped working at his retail business.

“I realized change was needed, and we took a different approach to invest and build our lessons program,” he said. “Lessons are now one of our top profit centers.”

He advised retailers with lesson programs to get back to the basics and think of lessons as a retail service that is sold. His philosophy is to offer a lesson program that sells the experience of playing music. He acknowledged that many retailers are already doing this well and achieving business success as a result.

Bankhead then noted some key fundamentals to operating a breakthrough lesson program that have worked for his business. (Watch the session video for more information.)

Have clean, organized spaces. Let teachers personalize their lesson rooms without junking them up. You have the final call.

Feature cool, current gear in your lesson rooms. Feature equipment that students will aspire to buy.

Put teachers on your payroll (if it makes sense for your business). You keep whatever’s left after you charge the customer and pay the teacher. Although hiring teachers as employees is a hotly debated topic, Bankhead shared that this model works best for his stores. “You pay employer taxes, but you also have more control over your lesson programs,” he said. Bankhead added that it’s important to know the margin you need to survive. Some teachers will take less pay because they want to do what they love and work at a great place. Try to sell the teachers on your program and get them excited about it.

Charge tuition versus per-lesson payment (if it makes sense for your business). Springfield Music charges a flat monthly rate, paid in advance, like a college course. Bankhead suggested that the simpler you keep it, the better.

“The challenge is not to undercharge,” he said. “Compared to other activities, like karate or dance, the monthly tuition should be comparable, especially since it’s one-on-one time.”

Bring in a lessons coordinator. Kristek manages Springfield Music’s four locations, including more than 70 teachers who teach 1,175 students. She visits each store regularly, makes sure each store’s ready to go, manages the teachers, and oversees payroll and scheduling. Bankhead advised that you’ll need someone to administer a program when you have more than 50 students. When hiring teachers, Kristek shared that she looks for an engaging personality, musical ability and passion. Springfield Music often hires young, technically minded teaches who are continuing their own education.

Bankhead left the audience with some final takeaways:

• Create a fun, exciting lesson program that people will pay real money for.

• Create a sustainable profit margin for your lessons.

• Hire people who would love to teach for you at the price you are paying.

• Delegate and pay someone to coordinate, administer and sell your new program.

If you build the right program, you might be surprised at what you can do.