Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Trying to buck the economic trends

There’s no hiding the fact that the theatre school market is under pressure in the current economic climate.
Parents naturally try to shield their children from the effects of lower income and so they will often continue to fund their child’s discretionary activities for perhaps longer than their own. But inevitably there comes a time when the child has to choose their favourite activity and our plan at Best was to be the last activity the child would want to stop. And to our credit I think we’ve achieved that in many cases.

We’ve done this by trying even harder to focus on proven and added value – this means things like extra shows (Robin Hood and Alice in Wonderland were much more ‘organised’ than our usual end of term showings), little treats (like using the theatre at Christmas - actually that's quite a big treat!) and a concentration on delivering an even more professional service (hence our recent survey).

But yesterday, the mighty  Stagecoach Theatre Arts announced a loss and cited falling numbers and the merger of schools in areas more affected by the economy. And there’s no getting away from it - we at Best are feeling it too.

Up until last term our numbers were relatively stable, despite many of our competitors seeing a reduction in numbers and indeed many similar businesses (dance schools for example) disappearing altogether. But the volume of enquiries has definitely dropped and we, like everyone in our market, are left wondering how next to respond.

We’ve already announced a special promotion in our Saturday afternoon school offering 50% fee reductions for a term to let new students try us out, giving us an excellent chance to prove our value.

But overall in our core businesses we have decided (as we’ve already told parents) to refocus on what made Best best to begin with –caring, inclusive and high quality training where every child has the opportunity to progress. In practice this means reverting to our traditional end-of-term showings rather than full-on shows, so that new techniques, ideas and approaches can be worked on with the children and given a short showcase rather than enveloping them in show. There will be more time to explore, coach and, perhaps most importantly, play!

But there are other things too we might be able to do. In any recession there is opportunity to move into new areas and to take market share – in fact economic theory suggests you take market share simply by surviving! Now we at Best aren’t interested in being biggest or else we’d have franchised long ago – but we definitely do want to be Best. And perhaps we now have a chance to augment our current service offerings in order to protect and enhance our core business.

To this end we are currently engaged in some intense internal and external discussions which hopefully should produce some tangible proposals in the next few weeks. So watch this space!

But in the meantime, please don’t forget to tell your friends about Best – there’s no better way for a child to spend their time than in theatre arts, and no better place to do this than Best!

And any ideas, as ever, gratefully received...