Stages Performing Arts is one of Pearachute’s most popular partners. We sat down with Owner, Emily Pinas, to talk about what it was like to start Stages, how she operates without a brick and mortar space, and what has surprised her about being a business owner.
Please give a 2 sentence summary of what Stages is all about.
Stages Performing Arts offers one-of-a-kind classes, camps, and birthday party entertainment for children ages 2 months to 12 years throughout the Chicagoland Area. From fun, developmentally appropriate infant/toddler classes (that are also entertaining for parents and caregivers) to a training ground for the next generation of performers, Stages has it all!
How did you come up with the idea?
After graduation from NYU with a degree in Musical Theatre, I started teaching Broadway themed baby music classes as a way to pay the bills without having the wait tables 🙂 I fell in love and within six months had stopped auditioning and accepted a full time position with the company! When the time came for me to move back home to Chicago, I started looking for similar programs I could work for and realized there was nothing like it in Chicago, so I decided to create it!
What was it like to launch your business?
It was like jumping off a cliff. I had been working on a business plan for close to 6 months when one day my boyfriend looked at me and told me that I was clearly unhappy at my day job and it was time for me to just do it. So I created a website, made a Facebook announcement about free trial classes, and went for it. It was terrifying but also thrilling. I’ll never forget the feeling of getting our first registration notification. That was the moment when it finally felt real.
Stages does not have a brick and mortar space. How have you made that work? Any tricks or tips for other businesses renting space in multiple locations?
The simple answer: my apartment has become Stages headquarters! Unlike most pop-ups, our Broadway & Me classes require a lot of stuff which can be physically taxing at times (I live in a 4th floor walk-up) but the upsides to being a pop-up have far outweighed the down thus far. Renting space from other businesses has allowed us to keep our overhead down and grow organically without having to take on business loans or investors. It has also given us the ability to test out neighborhoods and see what the market is like without the commitment of a brick and mortar and reach more families than we could have having only one location. My biggest piece of advice when it comes to renting space at multiple locations is to be picky. Don’t say yes to everything and make sure you trust the businesses you are working with.
So much of Stages’ success is due to your personal celebrity. How has that hampered your expansion (or not)?
Aww thanks! From the very first post announcing Stages, I have always used “we” when talking about the company even though at the time it was just me. My goal has always been to build something that was bigger than me, that could sustain and continue to grow when I’m ready to take some time off to start a family of my own or get too old to dress up like Moana. But when working with young families, especially in a weekly capacity like we do for our classes, it’s impossible to not build relationships with the children and parents and get attached. So, in the past when I have had to take myself off of a class in order to grow the business, it’s been difficult not because my staff isn’t incredible but because it’s human nature to feel a sense of attachment to your first teacher. That said, I am very picky about who I add to our teaching artist team and I think that has helped minimize some of those transition woes. If I’m being entirely honest, my FAVORITE thing isn’t when parents say how much they love me, it’s when I sub on a class I don’t normally teach and people have no clue who I am and ask me where their usual teacher is. Those are the moments when I know I’m building something that’s bigger than me.
How do you find new customers?
Pearachute has been HUGE for us in finding new customers. Other than that, it’s primarily been word of mouth. People posting pictures from classes on social media, recommending us in mom groups and nanny groups, and bringing friends to class. We also try to participate in any and all events we can. The more families we can get in front of to share what we do, the better!
What has surprised you about being a business owner?
The good surprised has been the community- how invested our families are in the program and what we’re doing here at Stages. And how it really does feel like the Stages Family. The not so good surprise has been the anxiety. When it’s your business, the buck stops with you and that can be overwhelming at times.
Anything fellow business owners should know – or learnings from your last few years.
Embrace your community!!! Coming from NYC, where the family services industry seemed to be more competitive and less collaborative, I was astounded by how genuinely supportive and welcoming the community of children’s businesses has been here in Chicago. Businesses that I was sure would view us as a competitor and freeze us out have opened their arms to us and through that we have created so many exciting partnerships and collaborations. We as business owners can only get stronger by supporting one another and lifting each other up. That has been the most valuable lesson I’ve learned over these past few years.