By Misty Lown
When I opened my dance studio 17 years ago, registration opened shortly before classes started in September and closed in November. Over the years, however, I lengthened the registration cycle, and now enrollment happens nearly year-round.
The longer enrollment period has played an important role in my school’s growth. But even as the numbers grew, I noticed a downside to the rolling registration approach: it was detracting, in the minds of parents, from any sense of urgency to register. People enrolled later and later, meaning dance classes were falling behind in priority on my families’ calendars, coming after sports and other activities.
How to get back into first position? Shortening the registration cycles was not an option from a business perspective; every registration was critical to the success of a major construction project I’d begun. Waiting six months or more to reach the school’s full enrollment of 700-plus students was impossible.
Instead, I made registration an event instead of a process. I promoted Registration Day heavily via email and print invitations, using language that put parents on alert, such as “Limited spaces available” and “Classes fill up early.” At our open house, teachers notified parents about the upcoming event, and I pumped it up at the recital.
The most productive move was waiving the 3.5 percent convenience fee that is usually charged on credit card transactions—only for payments made on Registration Day.
One week ahead of the big day, students received mailed postcards with personalized placement recommendations. Those who enrolled on Registration Day got first pick of the classes. They also got the personal attention of the staff as we answered questions about placement or managing challenging schedules. We served coffee and pastries, and the first person in line got a prize. One year, the first 100 people to register went home with beautiful potted geraniums.
Within a couple of years, Registration Day had grown to the point where families were camping in the parking lot overnight to get a premium space in line—which, by 6am, wound around the building and into the neighboring lot. It was not uncommon to register 400 kids in the span of four hours. People driving by might have thought we were tailgating for a Packers game!
Then, last year, when I made registration an online process, I needed to come up with a new round of incentives to keep people shopping for classes early. Several promotions have helped to keep the Registration Day numbers strong.
The students still received placement postcards, but they also received directions for online registration. Email blasts amped up the importance of early registration, noting that with hundreds of people being able to register simultaneously, classes were sure to fill up “faster than ever before.” A team of 10 teachers worked the phones and email on the day of the event, which was chronicled on Facebook and Twitter.
The most productive move, however, was waiving the customary 3.5 percent convenience fee charged on credit card transactions—but only for payments made on Registration Day. Many people took advantage of this offer by paying for the year in full. The day was a success, with the same number of kids enrolling in about 45 minutes as we had processed in four hours in the past.
You can also encourage early enrollment by tying it to discounted registration fees, early-bird tuition pricing, priority placement for recital tickets, promos for dress code items, or preferred class times. The key is to know what’s important to your clients and move your registration promotions and processes in that direction.
Misty Lown is owner/director of Misty’s Dance Unlimited, in Onalaska, Wisconsin, and founder of More Than Just Great Dancing™ Affiliated Dance Studios. She co-owns a dancewear boutique and a property development company.