A lifelong love of contemporary dance, a stint as a journalist and a chance encounter at the Miami Children’s Theater brought two entrepreneurs together to create what they say is a unique experience for singers, actors, scriptwriters and musicians of all ages, particularly children, looking to hone their craft without breaking the bank.
But for Tara Allen, 26, and Monica Rosell, 28, owners of MoonAmie in Palmetto Bay, the decision to open a business focused on several different fine arts disciplines wasn’t easy.
“We’re really a dance conservatory,” Allen said. “It is a unique concept in that we cater to the goals of everyone interested in the arts — from singers auditioning for Broadway plays to students trying to secure the lead in their high school play. All the training you need is under one roof.”
Allen, who began dance lessons at the age 5, went on to graduate from Miami Dade College, try a stint as a journalist — “I wanted to see the world and document it” — and traveled extensively. She ultimately returned to her love of dance: “Seeing the world I think actually made me a better dancer. In every country I visited, I ended up learning the traditional dance and culture. I was able to bring a lot of that back to my students, exposing them to new art forms.”
She met Rosell three years ago at the Miami Children’s Theater. “Tara happened to be there for a class and I was directing a play,” Rosell said. “We hit it off immediately and found that we had a lot in common with each other, including a dream to one day turn our passion for the arts into a business.”
Rosell has a master’s degree in fine arts from SUNY-Stony Brook, has directed nine plays at the Children’s Theater over the past two years, and has even worked as a stage hand in an off-Broadway plan. She also was assistant director for the musical Rock Odyssey at the Adrienne Arsht Center in 2011.
To get MoonAmie off the ground, Rosell and Allen each gave up their freelance businesses. “We basically took all of the clients we were working with individually and brought them here to MoonAmie,” Rosell said.
Using money they earned giving private lessons over the years, Allen and Rosell upgraded MoonAmie’s studio, in a 3,000-square-foot industrial space in Palmetto Bay just off U.S.1, in June. “In order to realize our vision of creating a space where you can take a voice lesson, sharpen your piano-playing skills upstairs and rehearse for a musical on our stage, we needed to renovate,” Rosell said. “It’s a project we had just 30 days to complete,” with a very limited budget.
Now, on any given day, there are as many as 10 to 12 classes held at MoonAmie in a variety of disciplines.
They’re also preparing a production of the musical Rent at the Mandelstam Theater in South Miami. “This will be our first major MoonAmie production,” Rosell said. “The musical opens on Jan.8, so it has been hectic for the both of us.”
Allen’s and Rosell’s lofty goals for their business also including opening a conservatory in New York City — an expensive prospect. “We know we have to put the work in now to make a name for ourselves locally before expanding nationally,” Allen said.
But for now, both Allen and Rosell agree it’s time to focus on the 50 to 60 clients they have at their studio, most of whom are from South Miami, Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay.
“It’s weird to say, but we actually have too much business in Miami,” Rosell said. “It’s hard for us to handle the clientele we have,” she said. “As it is, we have a waiting list now of people trying to sign up for classes. We keep our classes small, around 6 to 10 per class, so we want to make sure we have the resources to keep up with that demand.”
To do that, the duo sought help from the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover.
The Herald turned to Miami SCORE, a nonprofit organization of volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs. SCORE volunteer counselors offer free mentoring services to help small businesses expand and succeed. The SCORE counselors who sought to arm Allen and Rosell with a solid plan to serve their current customers have experience in business, law and fine arts:
Jane Muir is an attorney at the law firm of Gersten and Muir in Midtown Miami. Muir, a former ballet dancer, studied musical theater at the Miracle Theater. She was admitted to New World School for the Performing Arts for musical theater, but ended up attending a private school in Connecticut, where she studied formal operatic vocal music with Ruth Lansche, a former soprano with the Metropolitan Opera. Muir even fronted a jazz band once and has acted in several play productions. Today, she fronts a law practice that focus on commercial litigation and business transactions. And she helps small businesses develop successful solutions to handle rapid growth.
Yuliya LaRoe is an attorney who owns Confident Entrepreneur, a Miami-based company that provides private coaching to small businesses. LaRoe started Confident Entrepreneur in 2011 and has helped at least 100 business owners each year. Through its private coaching, seminars, workshops, and group coaching courses, Confident Entrepreneur helps business owners grow by recommending solid growth strategies.
Luis Zuniga is a seasoned entrepreneur who built a strong 35-year career marketing multinational companies. Most recently, he ran the Latin American division of Apple. He has also bought and sold small businesses and is an expert at teaching owners how to manage and market their companies. Today, he spends much of his time providing advice to small businesses in need through SCORE.
Orlando Espinosa, co-founder of Emineo Media, who has more than 25 years of experience in branding and social media. He has also led training programs for entrepreneurs both in the United States and abroad.
At their first meeting with the SCORE representatives, Allen and Rosell explained what they needed help with.
“Tara and Monica shared that their biggest challenge is not how to attract clients but how to handle all the clients that they already have. They have been placing people on a waiting list,” LaRoe said. “While some might say that this is a great problem to have, it could also negatively impact the business.”
SCORE counselors quickly identified a few issues Rosell and Allen faced in solving their problem. First, the company’s pricing for services needed an adjustment.
“The owners have indicated that their schedule is constantly filled and that it’s becoming challenging to service all of the current clients,” LaRoe said. “The demand for what MoonAmie offers is high. This is typically a good indicator that their prices are below the value that they are delivering to their clients.”
Another issue Allen and Rosell had to address was their website. While the business has built its success on word-of-mouth, SCORE counselors agreed that having a website is a must-have.
“We are very active on social media and online,” Allen said. “In fact, it’s been one of the ways we promote MoonAmie along with word-of-mouth from our existing client base.”
“We noted that there was a dance studio with a similar address nearby,” Muir said. “So we suggested that they improve their web presence by adding a registration for Google Places, Yelp and advertising their address prominently on the Internet. Tara and Monica also said that the majority of their clients came through referrals, so we suggested that they leverage the referrals by requesting reviews online.”
But social media is a tool to bring more business in the door. To get MoonAmie on track to handle the influx of clients, the SCORE team had this advice:
Raise prices. Right now, MoonAmie charges $65 for a private lesson, $40 for a two-student lesson, and $25 per person in a group of five or more; there’s a discount if a package of 10 lessons is paid for in advance. “The recommended strategy would be to raise their prices by 15 to 25 percent,” LaRoe said, noting that other area dance studios in the area charge more. “The price adjustment can Jan.1. MoonAmie should, however, begin notifying its current clients base of the upcoming adjustment. In fact, this is a great promotional opportunity as it allows MoonAmie to offer its current clients a chance to pre-purchase class packages at the current price before it goes up, thus saving them money in the long run.”
Hire more staff. Right now, the two owners are teaching full time. MoonAmie also has a freelance voice teacher and two interns. With the increased income from raising prices, the SCORE counselors agreed that MoonAmie needed more staff to handle the demand. “You can’t build a business like this without having adequate staff,” Muir said. “It’s not efficient for the two owners of the business to do the bulk of the lessons. Tara and Monica need to look at supplementing their staff with additional instructors. If they can’t hire more personnel right away, they should consider creating partnerships with qualified freelancers.”
Make sure to manage cash flow. “This business is very popular now and making money,” Zuniga said. “But there needs to be a system in place that allows Tara and Monica to manage cash flow for the long haul. They need to address things that what happens when a customer is late paying or doesn’t pay at all. Hopefully, this will never happen, but they need to create a plan for it in case they find themselves in that circumstance with a client.”
To help the business grow, the counselors recommended the following:
Get the proper partnerships agreements in place. “Tara and Monica have an LLC, but they don’t have a formal partnership agreement,” Muir said. “Both of them said they had a 50/50 partnership and didn’t need to formalize it, but that they should definitely consider formalizing their dispute resolution procedure to help in the event of a deadlock between them. Even if they were to sign an agreement to let a flip of a coin decide a question that they could not agree on, that would be better than having no agreement.”
Develop a strategic growth plan. “MoonAmie would benefit from developing a strategic growth plan,” LaRoe said. “They can begin by conducting a SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis. In other words, what you as a business are good at, what you are bad at; what sounds like great opportunities for growth, and what risks you have to be aware of and minimize if you can in order to make it happen.”
Whittle down the waiting list. “It’s important for Tara and Monica to spend time handling their waiting list,” Zuniga said. “They need to call each person on the list and work with them to schedule classes. The list contains people who want to spend money with this business. So we have recommended that they pay attention to this group of people who want their service.”
Allen and Rosell said they would implement the advice. “Their advice will help us plan the future of our business,” Allen said.