Brandi and Sean Nichols are the owners of Gotta Dance Studio & Company in Bend, Oregon. Brandi loves working with her students and strives to provide them with a diverse mix of classes all year round. To do so, she’s used OnDeck financing to keep her studio up to date and hire more dance teachers. Check out our interview with Brandi below to learn more about how she’s grown her dance studio over the years!
Tell us a little about your background and the story behind Gotta Dance Studio & Company.
I’ve been dancing since I was seven years old. I’ve danced tap, jazz, and ballet, and then as I got older I ended up adding West African and Bollywood into the mix. After I graduated high school, I went to University of Oregon for journalism and then transitioned my career into teaching English. I was given the opportunity to buy this business after working here for several years as an instructor.
The previous owner really wanted to transition her career. She had been the owner for about 15 years and she asked me to take over about three times before I accepted. I thought, you know what? We might as well just do it. This is the third time that we’ve been asked. There’s got to be a sign. There’s a reason we’re here, so why not? Let’s do it. It’s Bend. A lot of people are self-made here in Bend, Oregon. So, we thought maybe that was the best avenue for us here in central Oregon.
What kinds of dance programs do you provide?
We offer many different styles and disciplines: tap, jazz, ballet, contemporary, lyrical, and hip hop. From time to time we’ll also offer Bollywood and West African. In addition to that, we do acrobatic dance. We also have a competitive team that goes out into the local Oregon community and competes. Sometimes we even go up into Washington. Our performance company is more for the kids who don’t want to compete, but who would prefer to advance in a program that allows them to show off their craft. In June 2018 we went to Disneyland and they performed.
What do you love about being a small business owner specifically in this industry?
I love being a small business owner because I can give more attention to my family and include them in our business together. My girls have been a huge part of the dance studio and have actually grown up here even before we owned it. Within the dance industry itself, I love working with children. I actually got that question from a student who had asked me, “What’s your favorite part of owning a dance studio?” And I said, “It’s working with you guys.” The administrative stuff, although fulfilling, I get most of my, I guess self-esteem from being around all the kids.
We treat Gotta Dance like a family. The staff, students, and parents are part of our family. We’re a big community who treats each other like we’re uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, parents to all and so, that’s the best part of being here. We do a lot of things together inside and outside of the studio. We just had a staff member who had a birthday party and a bunch of parents went to support her.
What have been some of your biggest challenges as being a business owner?
I believe that the biggest challenge of being a studio owner is that we wear many hats – we have to balance a lot of projects. For example, we have to make sure that all of our classes are engaging throughout the entire year. Our studio specifically has many different programs, so I am doing my very best as a one-woman band with a really awesome staff, as well as a husband who’s super supportive and helps out with the business (because again, we are a small business). We’d like to keep everything in house and keep it that way because we want to obtain and preserve that family culture. We are making sure that the kids are taken care of emotionally as well as physically, so we keep everything safe and positive and we want to make sure that any child that walks into our building feels loved and appreciated.
The big piece to bringing in more students we have noticed is word of mouth, and if the kids are happy in class, then they’re sharing that with their friends. So again, it’s keeping our curriculum fresh but consistent, as well as challenging and fun. It’s many different pieces that come together.
What was it like looking for financing as a small business?
We looked for something that had an easy application process. Something that we could get pretty swiftly and OnDeck seemed to be that business that we were able to get in with immediately, and the customer service was amazing. I’ve actually never gotten funding that quickly before. The whole process was great, from the application to the advisor that I worked with over the phone. He was awesome and then the person that helps oversee our funding has also been great. The whole process has been beneficial for us. I think with OnDeck, it all boils down to a customer service. Their customer service is supreme.
How have you used the money to grow your business?
We have used the money from OnDeck to consolidate our business credit card debt and to help maintain the inside of the building, as well as buy some computers. We also used the line of credit to pay off the maintenance fee for the air conditioning, so we’ve been able to use that funding to keep this building going and our business running efficiently.
What have been some measurable results of your return on investment?
Our return on investment has been our ability to hire new staff, as well as add new classes. From these investments we have also seen an increase in our student base this year, which is awesome.
What are you most excited about when thinking about the future of Gotta Dance?
The most exciting thing for us probably would be our big vision. We would love to turn this into a place that’s more than just dance. I’m currently working with an awesome group in town called Ovation Performing Arts, and they sing and put on awesome shows. I’ve been collaborating with them on the dance aspect. That’s a piece that they’ve been missing and so, what I envision from this collaboration and hopefully more connections within the local community and beyond, is that we create a hub of many different crafts here at the studio that go just beyond dance. Singing, music, voice, all the above, like a performing arts academy for Central Oregon. It’s something that we don’t have yet, and I think that the community would benefit from that.