Updated: Aug 7, 2019
That is the question!
It's an interesting debate. Personally I'm such a firm believer in the free trial. I credit it with my studio's consistent growth. I think it's silly to expect a parent to commit money to their child doing something that they may not fully understand if they're not an ex-dancer themselves. The educating of the parent is such a huge part of our job, and anything we can do to ease the transition I think is worth it. I reckon I could count the number of free trials that haven't actually enrolled immediately after their trial lesson on one hand, and that's over many years of operation.
I've never had a problem with anyone just coming in for a free trial for the sake of getting something free. It's a chance to win the customer over.
But I know there are plenty of people on the other side of the fence. It's just so interesting. I love this topic!
The concept of the free trial exists throughout many similar industries as us... like Martial Arts, Clubs and even gyms. And outside of our industry free trials or samples exist everywhere. Like the sample cooked sausages near the deli, that make you taste them and decide to buy them... that works! It's why they still do it. And when products are handed out at the train station... when I used to commute to school every week we'd be given a new breakfast bar, or nutella cup or something. The other day they were giving our Snickers bars. Why? Because it's a chance to show the customer how great it is, in an attractive zero commitment, zero cost proposition. Like a sample chapter of an ebook, or a one month trial of Spotify, or a lap around the shoe shop when you're trying on a pair of shoes... imagine if Footlocker charged for that?
I think it makes the most sense in our industry. Kids are unpredictable. And let's face it, the quality of service and education differs SOOOO much across our industry. As a parent, I'd like my child to try something before committing anything. Personally would I mind paying a small fee to trial? No, I wouldn't care. It's not much money. But I would also feel like I was being "nickel and dimed", which I think I would resent. Especially when I knew in the big scheme of things my value as a customer was thousands of dollars.
I just don't think we should be placing any obstacle on the path between initial interest and enquiry, and the enrolment being signed on the dotted line. If anything we want to upgrade that path to a travelator that propels the potential customer forward to the destination, with as little effort or opportunity for foot-dragging as possible.
The free trial is an act of generosity and a proclamation of "we feel so strongly you will love us, that we invite you to try it on our dollar". Plus it doesn't cost us as studio owners a cent to have an extra student in a room, so there's just no need to try and profit from the customer acquisition process.
I do LOVE this topic!!! Many successful studio owners I know disagree with my opinions on this. And there is no actual right or wrong. One day we should all invest in a giant study to find out the most effective way definitively. Maybe it depends on the demographic of our specific area.
But I just can't get my head past the idea that we are not always dealing with parents who are already fans of dance. Dipping the toe into the pool is crucial when someone has never been in water. I can think of parents who have been customers of mine for 10 years who I remember started reluctantly when their child walked past our stall at the shops and said "mum, I want to do dancing", and they didn't even have a clue what might be involved. The parent's instinct was to say no. But the invitation of a free trial meant they could come along and see what it was like, and whether or not their kid would even like it. And once they saw it... once they experienced it... they were hooked!