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Healthy Retention with Rollover Registration

Star Pose in dance studio

If you’ve ever seen a recurring charge on your monthly statement (and who among us hasn’t?), you’ve experienced the seamless simplicity of an automatic enrollment system, also known as “rollover registration” or “continuous membership.”

Through a rollover system, continued participation is the passive default, rather than an active choice that clients are invited to make. This system can be a game changer for your studio’s retention strategy, both in the short and long term. Think of the scheduling stress and uncertainty that continuous membership would save. Rather than starting registration from scratch each spring, your enrollment base is secure even before the recital curtain goes up!

But switching from traditional registration to a rollover system is a major change, and requires thoughtful implementation and careful communication with your entire studio community. Let’s hear from three experienced studio owners and one director—all who’ve experienced the advantages of rollover registration.

Fantastic for the bottom line

Simply put, rollover registration will transform your retention strategy. That’s what Ann Marie Frank found four seasons ago when she implemented rollover registration at AMA Academy of Performing Arts in Des Plaines, Illinois. “We are now close to 85 percent retention,” Frank says. “Back in the day, it was more like 60 percent. Even though we might have gotten to higher retention by the middle of the school year, [students] trickled in from September to Christmas. Now, we have them on August 1. Rollover has been just fantastic for the bottom line.”

Adrianne Jorgensen, director of operations for Ambition Performing Arts in Airdrie, Alberta, Canada, recounts a similar experience. “We are located in a smaller city next to a larger city, and it’s a fairly transient area,” she says. “Prior to rollover, our goal was to hit 55 percent retention—and we were lucky to cross 50 percent.”

With existing retention efforts resulting in gains of only 2 or 3 percent, the studio decided to make the switch to automatic rollover in 2020 (which Adrianne admits was a challenging moment for such a big change). In 2021, with increased staffing hours devoted specifically to rollover, retention jumped to 68 percent: a 16 percent increase from the 2019 season.

At 3-D Dance in Little Elm, Texas, the switch to rollover registration has dovetailed beautifully with efforts to make those usually-lean summer months as profitable as any month in the regular school year. 

“In the past, we’d earn a profit from our one or two shows a year,” says co-founder/co-owner Michelle Finch. “That profit then became a subsidy that paid rent and fixed expenses during the summer, because in the summer revenue dropped to maybe 20 percent” of a regular month’s tuition. 

The studio switched to a rollover membership system (which they call “ongoing registration”) and year-round programming. In 2021, the first year the studio offered a full 12-month schedule as opposed to reduced summer offerings, summertime monthly revenue increased by 80 percent. 

In fact, 2021 was the studio’s highest revenue year to date—even without a price increase. Per co-founder/co-owner Suzy Simpson, “I once heard an older, more veteran studio owner say, ‘Why are we firing our clients at the end of every season, and then asking them to become our clients again?’ That made Michelle and me evaluate how we were doing things and how we wanted to go forward.” 

Having experienced particularly high turnover in the wake of COVID lockdowns, the 3-D Dance team felt they were in a strong position to make the change. And, as Suzy says, “The families that had been long-term clients were fine with it, because we were actually making their lives easier.” 

retention by rollover registration

Selling the big switch

The heart of communicating this change, says Suzy, is to emphasize how continuous enrollment makes parents’ lives easier—which, of course, it does. “When you require no action by parents other than trusting us and showing up at the time that we tell them to, you’re making their lives easier by easing the mental load,” she says. 

This is the moment when your studio’s relationship-building practices need to shine. “Ongoing registration works because, whether a family’s been with us for one month or 10 years, we’ve used that time strategically to build a trusting relationship,” she says. “That trust means they’re on board when we say, ‘Here’s your dancer’s schedule and training path for the coming year.’ ”

Transparency and repetition will smooth rollover communication for parents and staffers alike. After springtime parent-teacher conferences, Ambition Performing Arts sends each family an online rollover registration form with three options: 

  • Renew membership with no changes 
  • Make changes to an existing payment plan, class schedule, communication preferences, number of siblings enrolled, etc.
  • Opt out of renewal

“We make opting out super easy—literally two clicks,” Adrianne says. For families that request changes or don’t reply, “We pick up the phone and go through everybody’s details, double-checking on a spreadsheet to make sure they have what they want.” 

What if, despite consistent communication from the studio, a family never responds? “Our communication does say that if we don’t hear from you by a certain date, you will be charged,” Adrianne says. “But it’s important to us as a business to never charge anybody unless we know they want us to.”

At AMA, Ann Marie also avoids any unpleasant credit-card surprises for studio families. Rollover registration (and any other additional fees, such as for costumes) are charged on the 15th of each month so those payments aren’t confused with tuition, which is charged on the 1st of the month. Two weeks before rollover registration payments are processed, each student is sent home with a paper that emphasizes the convenience and ease of the upcoming continuation.

“We also email and text them, put it in our newsletter and on the bulletin board, and of course, it’s in the forms that they signed when first registering,” Ann Marie says.

Even with such extensive efforts, a very small percentage of families express surprise at the rollover—and if they feel like they truly didn’t know, Ann Marie says, their perception will still be that they were blindsided. 

The studio’s response—to apologize for “not getting that message to them in a better way” and to issue a refund—is something Ann Marie considers an example of the studio’s continued trust-building with families. She’s also learned to prepare answers in advance for any queries that might arise. 

“A parent might ask, ‘Why would you do that now? The next school year is so far away’,” she says. Her response might be: “Because we want your child to be in the class they want. If you commit now, we can make that happen for you. If you wait, I can’t promise that.”

A compelling narrative

Incentivizing rollover registration with tiered fees can nudge families to stay enrolled instead of opting out. AMA clients can decline continuous membership to instead enroll for the school year in August or September, but they will be subject to a higher registration fee at that time.

At 3-D Dance, the studio traditionally processed an annual enrollment fee for active students every May 1. Since changing to a rollover system, that annual charge is now the “membership fee.” 

“We’re creating the narrative that ‘registration’ or ‘enrollment’ only needs to happen one time,” Michelle says. “It no longer makes sense to say that we’re charging you every single year in order to enroll.” 

At Ambition Performing Arts, “We’re preparing families for what is about to happen with a consistent, streamlined message” that starts with phone calls to “those families that we know get really fired up about changes.” These personalized points of contact allow staffers to explain how rollover will work, answer questions, and stress the studio’s appreciation for all its families, Adrianne says. The messaging continues via written communications sent home with dancers that all use the same eye-catching infographics. 

“Everything in our Google Forms is the same as our infographics, which match exactly to our emails,” Adrianne says. “We spent a lot of time making everything visually appealing because getting one more long email is hard on the eyes and hard on the heart.”

Rollover registration is all about getting proactive with enrollment in order to make life easier for parents. In turn, it ensures a continuous membership base, which improves financial stability, increases retention, and relieves pressure on your business. Spend time developing a solid rollover registration plan and say goodbye to the stress of scrambling for enrollments. 

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