Lately, there have been a number of articles published that examine what it takes to develop a successful lessons component within your business. Personally, I have been fascinated with this topic and I’ve tried to read every one I could find! This is very close to me, because I live it every day. Our music-education division, the Waukesha County Conservatory of Music, has surpassed 2,300 students per week, and it’s recognized as one of the largest in the country.

This success did not happen overnight. The real catalyst for the program’s growth was when Larry and Ellen McDonald created the right environment. This month’s article will focus on the components that set the stage for building a successful lessons program. We’ll examine it from three different points of view: that of the Teacher, the Parent and the Student.

I believe that any music dealer can develop a successful lessons program. Although everybody wants to build theirs as quickly as possible, certain steps must be taken to build a solid foundation. Gather as much information as possible. NAMM has plenty of resources available to help you. The key here is to learn from others who are successful with lessons. Sure, it will take time, energy and effort; however, the benefits of having hundreds of families come though your door weekly will make it all worth it.

In today’s market, finding ways to make your store stand out is critical to long-term success. A strong music lessons program builds credibility, validates your expertise, creates numerous selling opportunities and builds long-term goodwill within your community.

Although having a degree certainly adds credibility and ensures a level of proficiency, I suggest you look beyond that and find teachers (with and without degrees) who have the talent and the passion needed to nurture students. You’ll be able to teach your teachers how to do things in ways that follow your objectives and the overall mission. You have the right to help them understand the culture and environment you want to portray, even if they are subcontractors. You must focus, however, on the qualities that make for a great teacher:

  • They need to be convincing enablers. This means they have the right demeanor and personality to inspire and motivate students effectively. They must create an environment in which students want to grow and succeed.
  • They need to be exceptional communicators. We’ve all met teachers who were incredible performers, but who lacked “people skills.” It’s essential that you find teachers who can effectively communicate with students. You need to find those who, regardless of age, can connect with students both musically and emotionally. One of our most popular and in-demand teachers also has counseling credentials.
  • They need to lead and inspire by example. This means being proficient on their instrument (or with their voice). Staff recitals and gigs are a key ingredient to inspiring students and validating the teacher’s credentials.
  • Make your teachers feel loved and valued. It doesn’t matter if they are employees or sub-contractors; it’s essential to make them feel appreciated and respected. Remember that, above all else, your success is directly linked to their success.

Create a culture in your store that makes it impossible for parents to leave while their children are in their lessons. You’ll build trust and familiarity from the repeated visits, and this will enable you to create many more sales opportunities.

  • Besides the obvious things, such as helping them understand the benefits of making music and the positive effect it will have on their child, make sure they feel welcome in the store. This includes offering a comfortable place where they can wait. The longer they stay in the store, the better the chance for sales opportunities.
  • Instruct your staff to be helpful. One key difference between a customer who walks in off the street and a parent who comes in weekly is the length of time the sales cycle will run. It will take longer to sell parents instruments. They will use the excuse that they want to talk it over with their spouse and let you know next week. Use the extra time and frequency to build a stronger, more effective presentation.
  • Get every family in your CRM and log every meaningful conversation, e-mail and phone call. I can’t stress that enough!
  • Offer refreshments. We have a full-service coffee/snack bar in our store, but it might not be possible for you to have one. At least have coffee and bottled water available for parents in the waiting area.
  • Help them stay connected by providing free Wi-Fi. Parents appreciate this, and they’re more willing to stay in the store while their children take lessons. Be careful of those who hog your bandwidth, though. A few abusers can create a bad environment for everyone! We use a utility program that allows us to see who is on, see how much bandwidth they are using and, if necessary, block them.

They are the lifeblood of your program. Do everything in your power to ensure a great experience every time they come in the store.

  • Make it easy for them to create music. We offer rental programs for every instrument, complete with a purchase option. We make a great effort to ensure they start with a quality instrument…one that will provide an enjoyable experience.
  • Our teachers provide an engaging environment, which helps keep a high retention rate. Retention is the key to the growth of your program. If both the teacher and student are having fun learning and playing music, while also progressing toward their goals, retention follows.
  • Make students comfortable. Our rooms were designed to be soundproof, which keeps distractions to a minimum. Although not every store is built to specification from the ground up, it’s worth the time, energy and money to create an enjoyable teaching/learning space for your students.
  • Give them motivation. Find ways to inspire them from the moment they walk in the door to the time they leave. Our staff says things such as, “Have a great lesson!” on the way in. Then, they say, “Have fun practicing!” on the way out.
  • Get them performing ASAP. Schedule regular recitals and help the student have a goal of performing within 60 to 90 days. It doesn’t matter if it’s a five-note song—parents want to see their children perform. This is a great way to help students set goals and achieve them.
  • Lastly, although they vary in age from three to 99, most of the students throughout your career will be in the five- to 12-year-old range. The better that you are able to accommodate that age span, the more you will have a marketable business. Letting students play musical games, offering fun parties for students, giving away prizes and stickers and, in general, simply being upbeat and energetic will go a long way. Even if most of your students are adults, they will prefer working with instructors who are fun, interesting and enthusiastic about what they’re teaching. Be young at heart!

David Hall is Retail Sales Manager and Webmaster for Hartland Music, Inc., and the Waukesha County Conservatory of Music, a full-line, 15,000-square-foot, freestanding facility with more than 2,300 students per week. Contact him at david@hartlandmusic.com.

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