HOW DID I START HIRING OUT MY COSTUMES?
I went the hiring route right from the beginning. I was still dancing at Brent Street when I opened my studio, and that's how they did it. It's funny how we just usually do things the way we know it to be done. I was 15 at the time so I don't think that there was a whole lot of thought behind it.
I've often thought about switching from hiring the costumes out, to parents just simply purchasing them - but I like that for $60 my customers can get a really decent costume to wear, and I can still make a healthy profit margin on that (when I'm clever enough to plan properly and make good choices).
The words of my mum swim around in my head, she always used to complain that she would have to pay a fortune for these extravagant outfits that I'd wear once, then would sit in the cupboard for years.
And with such a high turnover of age groups, it's fairly easy to recycle most costumes - especially for little kids where the costumes are less based on trend and more timeless in their style.
From a financial point of view, I try to use this simple rule: Never spend more than the hire fee on the costume itself. That way I know I'm ahead. So my MAX budget on any costume in my studio is $60. And that's what the parents pay to hire it. We tend to have about a 40% recycle rate at the moment (and I know that with some better effort on my behalf I could increase that up to around 70%).
For end of year concert it's easier. For Troupe routines (my studio has about 40 new competition troupe routines per year) there are greater challenges. One is that the costumes need to be worn all year. This is a lot of wear and tear, so depending on the costume, sometimes they're so worn out by the end of the year that they're not really recyclable. My students in Troupe pay the same amount of money to use a costume for a year as my recreational students who use a costume for just photos and concert at the end of the year. I suppose it should be different, perhaps... but if I charged more for Troupe hire, then they may as well buy it. And if I charged less for recreational concert costume hire then I wouldn't be able to cover all my costs.
I've also considered hiring for recreational only, and selling to Troupe students - because of the amount of use they get out of a costume - but to be honest, some of the best "recycling" I get to do is using the really awesome Troupe costumes (because I do tend to spend more money on those ones) on a recreational class the following year... or more often a couple of years later so that people have forgotten about it.
The second big challenge with the Troupe costumes is just that the pressure is higher to create a unique and impressible look for competition. A recreational parent is easily impressed, and if you have the same Weissmans clearance costumes as every other studio it doesn't matter because those parents only see your concert, they're not comparing it to others. But at a competition, that is a different story.
- If you're considering moving to a hire process for your costumes, understand that it's a LOT of work to keep it managed. In my studio pretty much any money I "make" on costumes literally pays the staff member I've hired to manage the costume department.
- It takes a ridiculous amount of space. I have two decent sized rooms full of costumes, and realistically if I didn't then I could be running two more rooms of classes. That's something that needs to be considered. What impact would it have on your space and what's the potential missed income opportunity of that space.
- I always try to order large sets of costumes, even if I'm only needing a small number of them. This way it makes them more usable in the future. I try to do this whilst still staying under my budget of $60 per person actually in the class. My classes range from 10 to 30 kids, so the more sets of 30 costumes I have, the better. It just gives them so much more chance of being reused.
- Hip Hop costumes are the hardest to recycle, because they're quite trend based, and things that were cool 3 years ago mostly aren't now. - There's a big percentage of breakages, damage, loss and theft of costumes that needs to be factored in. (Another reason I try and buy really big sets of everything). -I buy for an age group and always always always buy spares at extreme ends of the sizing range for those age group outliers that will inevitably exist in the future uses of the costume. There's always a tiny child and a very large child. - Most of the sewing that happens now at my studio is alterations. Making things fit. And you would be surprised how often we've turned two dresses into one very large dress so that it will fit a particularly large child, so that we can use a set that is otherwise ideal for the class. -My "repeat" policy is just simply that we TRY really hard not to have the same child ever wear a costume they've previously worn. Sometimes it happens on a random single child in a class of 30. Maybe they've changed days, or gone from being a Troupe student to a recreational student etc. In those situations I'll usually discount their hire fee, just because I feel bad charging another $60 for the same thing they've previously paid $60 to wear. - $60 costume hire fee is actually a lot. I've gradually increased it to this price, and I've also played some consumer psychology tricks to get here too. We charge it as $1.50 per week, and it's billed along with term fees. So it *feels* a lot less for the customers. All I'm saying is, that to jump from being a studio that charged say $70 to buy a costume to suddenly hiring them out for $60 would be met with all kinds of backlash. - I use a fair bit of sales pitch with my wording for the reasons WHY we hire it out. I make it clear that it's for the convenience and affordability of our parents and it's a service we provide. It's to "save them money", so that they don't waste money buying something they'll likely never get the opportunity to ever wear again. - I also communicate that the COSTUME HIRE LEVY... and I call it a levy on purpose, is a "contribution" to the costume department which costumes all of our routines. The reason that all costumes are the same price, even though they have varying quality, looks etc. is because the costume hire levy is more like a tax to cover that service. I often talk about how our costume department is non-profit. I also make it clear that the actual costume itself is just a small part of the total costs involved, which include laundering, storage, alterations, shipping, wear and tear, repairs, sourcing, fittings etc. and that it also helps towards the budget for props. - I hire out costumes to other studios and to schools, which brings in a fair bit of extra money. This takes more work hours though. - Every year I try to get rid of at least 10% of my collection, to make room for all the new stuff I buy. (I've spent well over $50,000 on new costumes this year.) Although second hand costume selling doesn't bring in a brilliant return, it does help bring in some extra budget for the costume department. We sell it on Facebook, and one of my staff organises the selling of it in return for a commission. That way I don't have to think about it.