We had the good fortune of connecting with Katie Collins & Lisa Lewis and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Katie & Lisa, what do you attribute your success to?
Truly, believing in what we do has been the most important factor behind our success. We aren’t “selling” something we don’t believe in. The family environment paired with the quality of our classes/instructors and programs is what draws people to us (or so we’ve been told) but it’s also what keeps them coming back. We have a handful of students who have been with us since we opened our doors nearly 12 years ago. Our number one goal has always been and will always be for our students to feel safe, comfortable in their own skin and like they have a place here. We work hard to connect with our students, both young and mature, equally. We also love getting to know our dance parents. Another really important thing to note is that we are a non-competitive studio. We have so much respect for competitive studios and dancers, but it’s certainly not for everybody and that’s where we come in. We also are incredibly selective when hiring our staff. We believe in chemistry, both with us and them, and with students and teachers. It’s so important to jive and we love mentoring our staff. They aren’t just our employees, they are our family, friends and co-conspirators. We work together. They teach us as much as we teach them. We said from day one that we will hire people that are better at what we do than we are. And in so many ways, that has remained true. Lastly, staying present. My mom and I are physically present almost every single day at the studios. Greeting our students and their parents and getting to know everyone as a person and not just a customer. You are nothing without your (happy) customers. But, making customers happy came naturally to us from the start. Sure, we definitely had some learning moments (to say the least); and we continue to learn and grow every single day. However, we had a vision that we would run a professional, organized, honest and love-filled operation and we have made every decision from day one from the heart. We put so much thought into every detail, every student, every parent communication and every event that we host. So, I would have to say the single most important decision we’ve made that has contributed to our success is doing it for the right reasons and with integrity.
What was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Owning our own dance studio was something my mother and I talked about for over a decade. I was lucky enough to find my “dance home” when I started my formal dance training at the age of 12. Within a year, I was assistant teaching, and while in high school, taught many classes of my own. I discovered my passion early in life. My dance studio was truly my “home away from home”. As a single parent, my mom traded my dance training by working in the office at my dance studio for many years. Fast forward ten years and given both of our backgrounds in dance and our business sense, as I entered my junior year of college my mom and I had serious discussions on making this a reality . Having completed a few corporate internships while in college and several part-time jobs throughout high school and college, I didn’t find myself passionate enough about anything else. And so, the process began. During my senior year of college, we wrote a business plan, searched for a site, came up with a name, applied for a small business loan, managed the buildout, hired instructors and proudly opened our doors in August of 2009, just three months after receiving my degree from SDSU.
What is one thing about your industry that outsiders are unaware of?
The single most important thing to know about this industry is.. don’t do it if you’re in it for the money. If you want to sit back, work a few hours a week and bring in a good salary, turn around…do not pass go. This is not for you. But…more seriously, you have to be IN IT and ready to work hard…and I mean really hard. The reward isn’t in the salary, but in the joy of watching your impact on the students, families and community as a whole. We are in it for the art itself, and the joy of watching our students flourish as dancers, helping them become grounded young adults. You will work harder than you could have imagined. The hours are endless, the sacrifices are plentiful, weekends are long and the demands and challenges are great. Being an artist comes with a littiny of challenges. Being a small business owner in the arts…well, you can imagine where we’re going with this. But, if you really love what you do, it’s all worth it. And we really love what we do.
How do you feel about taking risk? What role has taking risks played in your life/career?
Well, it was 2009, we were in a recession and opening a business from the ground up. Was it risky? You better believe it was. But without risk, is there really reward? We were well aware of the risk we were assuming and continuously told each other in those first few years “if it doesn’t work, at least we know we tried”. With a lot of hard work, dedication, and perseverance our business began to flourish and in fact led us to opening our second location in 2018. We had clearly made a mark for ourselves in the Mira Mesa/Sorrento Valley Community and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to pour the same heart and soul into the Rancho Bernardo (and surrounding) Community.
What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
Ooohh, honestly? Deciding whether to keep going in 2020. We hit a fork in the road about halfway through the stay at home order where we were getting numerous drops. Our income was cut in half and my mom and I took ourselves off of the payroll for 6 months, in order to continue paying our instructors and our rent. We had to decide how far we would (and could) go and how much of our own savings we were willing to put back into the business. But, it was the community support that kept us going. It was the people who showed up on Zoom for all of their classes every day that kept us going. It was the parents who would email us saying “please keep charging us, we want you to still be standing when this thing is over” that kept us going (you know who you are). It was our families who continued to pay their tuition and donated extra funds, including scholarship funds, that kept our dream alive. We had gone through growing pains in previous years which we survived so we knew we needed to push through this fork in the road. And, we are pleased to say that we believe there is a bright light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel. We are incredibly optimistic that our business will survive and come out stronger on the other side.
Work life balance: How has your balance changed over time? How do you feel about the balance?
Work/life balance is something that I struggle with every day. Not just because being a business owner is non-stop, but also because I love my job so much that I want to be there and be as involved as possible. I want to continue to make sure that things are constantly improving, that we are growing and that our staff feels like they are supported 100%. Luckily, each year we learn a lot and we make changes and tweaks so that the work/life balance is achieved. There was a time when we were working 18 hours a day and could not keep our heads above water. When my son Jack was born I knew that I needed to relinquish some responsibility which is when we promoted a few of our staff members to take on key roles. My mother also retired from the corporate world in 2018 so that we could expand the business. She supported CEO’s her entire career in the corporate world, up until just (3) years ago. She would go to work from 7am-4pm every day and then head straight to Dance & Company for the rest of the night to run business operations. It wasn’t until 2018 that she “retired” fully into Dance & Company and now runs our Rancho Bernardo facility. We have become really good at supporting each other when needed and at reminding each other to take a day off when it’s time.
Do you have a favorite quote of affirmation? What does it mean to you/what do you like about it?
Katie: “Knowing is not enough. We must apply. Wishing is not enough. We must do”. I love this quote because it says so much in just a few short words. You have to show up. You have to put in the work. Don’t just wish it, don’t just hope for it. DO it. But…don’t go in blind. Do your research. Talk to people, crowd source. Explore your options. What will make you happy? What are you willing to sacrifice? Because there will always be sacrifices.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Oh this is so tough because since the pandemic hit, I feel so “uncool” and out of the loop! I would say that one of my favorite things to do is spend the day down by the beach, exploring all that San Diego has to offer. Maybe start by having brunch, walking around, going paddle boarding on the bay, grabbing some yummy Mexican food and then enjoying the sand and the water. San Diego nightlife *used to be so great, but it’s going to be really interesting to see how everything adapts as we come out of this pandemic. Another really fun thing that I love to do as a day trip is going Wine Tasting. We have a lot of great wineries and breweries here in San Diego that you can make a day of it and hire a bus or limo if you’re feeling extra bougie. And for kids? Well, I have a toddler so I’m always looking for great activities that are great for kids, but also (selfishly) equally as awesome for adults. We love the Safari Park & Zoo. The Waterfront Park downtown, the new park at Mission Bay, feeding the ducks at Poway Lake or likewise. We have so many great things to do for families. Greatest city in the world where it’s 75 degrees in the middle of winter!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to dedicate this shoutout to my mom, my biggest supporter and business partner! Without her, none of this would have been possible. I reference her a lot in this and she deserves just as much recognition!
Ramon Gallo Photography Lauren Tran