For many studio owners, purchasing a building—or building one from scratch—is a major life goal. The benefits of owning a building abound! Chances are good that you can plan for more classroom space, better parking and custom features, not to mention the biggest attraction of all: no more paying rent to someone else.
From the financial preparations to the build-out phase, the process is known for being long, detailed and absolutely worth the work. Below you will hear from four More Than Just Great Dancing® members who all represent different stages of buying, building or remodeling:
Rana Poley, Owner and Artistic Director of NEW Fusion Dance and Performing Arts, completed construction on the building for her Green Bay, Wisconsin location in the fall of 2017. Rana has two other locations in Appleton and Waupaca. Melanie Boniszewski is the Founder and Director of Tonawanda Dance Arts in Tonawanda, New York and recently completed the renovation of the building she purchased just down the street from her former location. Lori Weil is the Owner and Director of Creative Dance and Music in Harvey, Louisiana and has just entered the construction phase of her new building, after securing financing and drawing up architectural renderings. Erika Hogan, Owner and Artistic Director of New Attitude Performing Arts Center, recently remodeled an existing building for her second location in Locust, North Carolina. Erika hopes to buy this space in the near future.
Keep reading to learn what these four studio owners have to say about their experiences and what advice they have for jumping into building ownership with both feet.
Deciding to Buy or Build
Sometimes the want to buy or build becomes a need. When Lori Weil took over her mom’s studio in 2004, she knew she’d eventually want to find a space to buy or make plans to build. By 2017, as the retail businesses around her studio transitioned, the goal of building began to feel much more urgent. Lori’s new retail neighbors weren’t exactly what she envisioned for her family-friendly business (a bar, a pool hall and a drug rehabilitation clinic) and she needed to make a change. When she found a local property which was subdivided and needed to be sold quickly. Lori and her husband Dane acted quickly on the purchase, securing the land and diving into the next steps of financing and architecture.
Rana Poley felt a similar need to build in 2015. After being misled by a dishonest landlord at her Green Bay, Wisconsin location, she had to make a quick decision about whether to build or find another home. The decision became much easier after meeting with a builder who was able to help her attain land for free—a major boon. She never dreamed that building her own space would happen so fast, but after such a bad leasing experience, she was ready to take on the new challenge and offer her dance families an amazing
new space to be a part of.
Speed wasn’t necessary for Melanie Boniszewski’s decision to buy a building, which she was grateful for. Since opening her studio 22 years ago, she knew she would want to own a building at some point, but it would have to fulfill three criteria: it couldn’t be too far from her existing location, it had to have enough parking and it had to fit the studio’s needs for future growth. Time and patience eventually led her to just the right space and location,
less than two miles away. She purchased the building in 2017 and began the build-out, officially opening the new space in June 2018.
For Erika Hogan, taking on a second location meant inevitable changes to her lifestyle, schedule and business operations. When the opportunity came up for the second location to take over a 12,000 square foot building and enter a lease-to-own agreement, she knew it could offer her business the chance to grow in a major way. Once she realized she could make it work financially, the decision was easy. The encouragement from her dance families was the icing on the cake. They couldn’t wait to lend a hand during the renovation, offering to clean and paint and contribute in whichever ways were needed to spruce things up.
How to Prepare
Know matter the circumstances, all four studio owners agree that knowing your finances is the top piece of advice they would give others who are preparing to buy, build or remodel.
“Make sure you have your financials organized and know everything you can about your business,” says Rana, who had to comb through her numbers and build a five-year projection before seeking financing. “The financial part was the most challenging and unknown to me.”
“I recommend saving a lot of money first and getting a handle on the building costs,” adds Lori. “Everything costs twice as much as you would expect. I didn’t believe it … please believe it!”
Lori says that while her budget doubled, which was certainly nerve-wracking, she was also able to find local programs that guide small businesses through the financing side, making it a painless process overall. She was able to get assistance from a financial planner for free through her local Small Business Development Center, where she also met area small business lenders and was able to pitch her project to them.
Melanie says there was simply a lot to learn about commercial property and the costs involved in purchasing and renovating.
“I was surprised at how much we didn’t know about the process,” she says, noting that purchasing a commercial building was nothing like buying a house. “Everything costs more than you anticipate. If you buy, save as much money as you can throughout the process so you can do the extras that you really want.”
Erika’s experience with renovating her new space has been similar; she says the cost and up-fit was the most challenging part of all.
“Definitely check, check and re-check your finances,” she says. “Ensure you are able to cover any surprises that pop up, because they will. There are things that don’t come up until you move in; for example, how long it will take to cool a space that size.”
Another important point? Allot plenty of
extra time for everything.
“A big challenge is getting everyone to move at my pace,” Lori explains. “Things just take so much time. It took us one year to get the architect moving, get the project out to bid, select a contractor and have the financial piece approved. There are just many details like revisions, permits, adjustments, budgets, meetings and more.”
Melanie has a similar cautionary tale: “Everything takes longer than you can possibly imagine. If they tell you it will be done in two weeks, then expect it to take four.”
The lessons here seem to be clear: save as much as possible, plan a budget which is higher than you anticipate and be prepared for the timeline to get extended. Even if all goes according to plan, the four studio owners say, you’ll have peace of mind from your extensive research and preparation.
Erika says that one of her favorite parts about gaining such a large space and building it out for her studio’s needs is that she’s able to grow her programs, something her dancers and their families love.
“We were bursting at the seams where we were before,” Erika says. “The dancers deserved more and I wanted to provide that for them. In addition to dance, we now have space for a cheer program, music rooms, a classroom and a yoga room.”
Rana says that although some of her dancers were sad to move away from the location they’d danced at for ten years, they were over-the-moon excited when they saw the studio’s new home.
“After the first week in the new building I could feel a new vibe,” says Rana. “It was a happier, more relaxed vibe. Everyone was so excited and proud to be a part of it all.”
Melanie is ready to ramp up her studio’s growth with her new space and has been working on projecting what those growth benchmarks will look like.
“We are hoping to increase the number of students we serve to at least 500 and increase our revenue as well, within the next two years,” she says. “We want to increase our units too, so that we have a higher average number of classes per student.”
And although Lori is still in the construction phase of her project and hasn’t unveiled the new plans to her dance families yet (she’s waiting until the terms of finishing out her current lease are finalized), her team members are in on the news and recently celebrated the groundbreaking. Lori is keeping her eyes focused on the goal.
“Having our own place will make all of this work worthwhile,” she says, knowing that her hard work is going to pay dividends once she sees this project through to the end. “I keep thinking about how we won’t have to ask the landlord’s permission to change something and we won’t have to live with things we don’t love. I’m truly excited because it will be my own space.”
If these four studio owners are any indication, there are more Tribe members who will be experiencing the purchasing or building process of a new space and they will be able to lean on each other during the experience. It is an advantage not every studio owner has, to have an entire group at their fingertips for advice, tips and to learn from their personal experiences. It is simply part of the More Than Just Great Dancing® way.