By all accounts, the Gretchen Greene School of Dance is a Savannah tradition. Founded in 1969 by a Savannah native who danced as a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, the school now teaches the children and grandchildren of many an aspiring young ballerina and tap dancer who first graced its studios.
So many new young dancers are coming through the doors, in fact, that the school’s partners – founder Gretchen Greene Dodd, her daughter Trina Dodd and son Travis Dodd – realized demand for their programs had outgrown the 2,400 square foot leased space they had moved into in 2009. With the property fully occupied and no way to expand, they decided to build their own facility.
“Our peak dance times are between 3:30 and 7:30 p.m., and with only three classrooms our enrollment is limited,” says Trina. “A new facility will increase our capacity over 60 percent.”
She and Travis turned to their accountant for advice on getting an SBA 7A loan, and she suggested they contact the Savannah office of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center for help. Travis met with Business Consultant Becky Brownlee to get projected numbers that would show how the new space would affect their income.
“Our challenge was to demonstrate to the lender that once the facility was built, the revenue increase would be sufficient to cash-flow the payments on the new loan amount,” says Brownlee.
Travis told Brownlee about their current operations, then they worked together on a financial analysis with revenue projections and assumptions to support the projections.
“We looked at their multiple streams of revenue and figured out which revenue streams would be affected by the expansion, and by how much,” Brownlee says. “They know the numbers. It was just a matter of asking the right questions and drawing out the right information. There’s a story behind the numbers, and you have to understand that story.”
“The projected numbers for the new space was a huge help, both for the bank and for us to know that this expansion would work for our business,” says Trina. “Becky has been very helpful. Wherever we were in the process, she had something to contribute.”
They received the loan and began construction on their new facility in April 2016. From its original 800 square foot studio and one dance instructor, Gretchen, the school has grown to 10 employees who will move to a new 5,000-square-foot facility in September 2016.
In follow-up meetings, Brownlee has helped the family determine how to maximize business in their current space with targeted marketing “to make our move to the larger space go smoother,” says Trina. After their busy recital season, they will meet with her to discuss their work on the plan.
“We will continue to be one of the oldest continuously operating businesses on Whitemarsh Island,” she says.
Brownlee, for her part, feels the school’s success reflects the siblings’ commitment. “You have a brother and sister working in the business, and that’s a rarity. The majority of what we see in small family businesses these days are sales to a third party or closures. Generally, children are not interested in taking over.
“Trina and Travis both went out for their own careers and then came back into the fold. They are very important to each other. They complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses and, together as a team, they’re very strong.
“The Gretchen Greene School of Dance is an icon in Savannah,” she says. “So many children and grandchildren have gone to the school that I feel fortunate in helping it to expand.”