Our studio’s financial plan assumes specific attrition rates, but in light of our history over the past three years, our assumptions appear to be very optimistic. What attrition rates are possible with Simply Music studios that operate in medium-sized towns of around 100,000 residents? I should also point out that our studio is in a university town that has experienced no economic growth in the last 10 years, and that the entire town is essentially sports-obsessed. Thanks again for answering our questions!
Evan H., Kansas
Our studio’s financial plan assumes specific attrition rates, but in light of our history over the past three years, our assumptions appear to be very optimistic. What attrition rates are possible with Simply Music studios that operate in medium-sized towns of around 100,000 residents? I should also point out that our studio is in a university town that has experienced no economic growth in the last 10 years, and that the entire town is essentially sports-obsessed.
Thanks again for answering our questions!
Patti P., Hawaii
I’ve never actually done an analysis of the attrition rate in my studio. It seems to vary widely. I live in an area with a large military population, so I have situations where a family might have 2-6 children enrolled. When they move, it affects a lot of classes! It’s just part of life and not something I can really plan for until they let me know they are moving.
That said, that is my biggest source of attrition. Of course a student here or there will drop for various reasons, but it isn’t frequent in my studio.
Darla H., Kansas
I was intrigued enough by this question that I looked at my numbers a little more carefully to see what’s really happened in the 6 years that I’ve been teaching SM. I’m not sure that there is any answer that will hold true for more than one teacher as there are so many components that work together to determine attrition for each. Like Patti’s situation where she teaches military families and has no idea of how long a family will stay. That’s not to say we can’t learn from sharing with each other, but I think the biggest help is to look at what we can learn from our own track record.
In my studio over the past 6 years I’ve almost always had a net gain of 3 students each year. But, the number I’ve enrolled the last few years has dramatically decreased, so my retention has increased greatly. For example, my first year I enrolled a total of 26 students, but 11 of those stayed less than a year. And only 3 of those 26 are still with me. Every year since then, I have kept more students. I have learned about myself that I do best with students who start between ages 6-12. I’ve had a number of adults, but they usually have not lasted very long, and I realized that I just don’t enjoy working with adults. So, now I just take on children. I’m a much more knowledgeable and confident teacher than I was in the beginning which is why my retention rate is so much better.
Because I have chosen to limit my teaching hours to 7-8 a week, I have had all my time slots full for over 2 years now. So, I’ve been very picky about who I enroll. I now include in my introductory session a conversation about long-term relationship and commitment and I tell families outright that I am looking for families who are committed to music education and that this will be a priority. I tell them, if taking piano lessons is totally your child’s decision or if you are just wanting to try it out, please find another piano teacher. In the level 1 groups that I have begun since September of 2012, I have had no one ages 6-12 quit yet, and the families are in for the long haul. And I find myself more in demand than ever. I think people are attracted to the high standards I set and I attract the kind of families that I want to work with.
I now have 32 students and the increase in overall student numbers the last couple of years has been because of increasing my average group size. My students who have been with me for a number of years are mostly in pairs because I didn’t have enough to start larger groups back then. The oldest is a junior in high school, so I’ll soon be getting to the point where I’ll have people leaving because they’re going off to college which I haven’t experienced yet.
I’m not sure that the size of a town makes a lot of difference in attrition rates. I live in a small town of 4,000 in a rural area. The town I live in is a wealthier town and has a Christian college that is very music and arts-centered, so I’m sure that that has a big effect.
I’m sure my story is very individual, but perhaps it may help some of you think about what strengths and weaknesses you have and use that to make your studio a better business for you.
Evan H., Kansas
Thank you very much! This definitely provides some insight into attrition numbers for us, and it is quite reassuring to know that we aren’t the only ones who experience higher attrition at times. It was much higher during my first year of teaching, when I made a lot of “newbie” mistakes (though I think I still do), such as moving too quickly through certain streams in the program. This also confirms a lot of what we’ve been thinking about regarding commitment. Over the past year, we adopted a mentality of, “Let’s accommodate people, because we don’t want to risk turning away a potentially good student,” and also, “We need the revenue!”
However, many of those students have now left us because they weren’t really committed to the program. They were only in it to have some temporary fun with the piano, and when they began to hit valleys (as everyone does), their parents allowed them to quit lessons. We are now adopting much higher standards, and we are making clear the level of commitment we expect up front, before the student even decides whether or not to enroll. We have also decided to become an all-group studio, and plan to complete that effort by the end of the Spring. It’s resulting in fewer people enrolling short-term, but the students who have enrolled will hopefully stick with the program for much longer, and be much more dedicated to practicing. Those students are much more fun to work with as well!