Denise Gosney, Razzamataz Theatre Schools

Denise Gosney, Razzamataz Theatre Schools

Appearing on Dragons' Den and not being afraid of hard work have delivered big wins for Denise Gosney, founder of Razzamataz Theatre Schools, a franchise business providing classes for children.

What was the inspiration for your business?

I used to be a dancer, gymnast and choreographer, and had performed in the Millennium Dome, but I knew that a dancer’s working life is quite short. So when I was 27 I decided to start a theatre school for young people, teaching dance, drama and singing classes after school and at weekends. I was a really shy child at school and lacked confidence and self-esteem and finding that I was good at dance and the arts gave me a massive confidence boost, so I wanted to give other young people the same opportunity. I opened the first school in 2000 in a little theatre in Penrith in the Lake District, where I lived, then I launched a second school in Carlisle in 2001. When I had eight schools I decided to franchise it because there was huge demand from parents and students but also a huge demand from my teachers who wanted to have a business of their own.

How did you finance the growth of your business?

Initially I funded the business myself from money I had coming in from two other jobs I was doing, as a choreographer and dancer, and as a fitness instructor. The first few schools didn’t really need much money to start up and run - it was quite easy to put a few posters up and hand out flyers and maybe put an advert in the newspaper. When I franchised the business I did take a bit of a risk though and re-mortgaged my house to fund it.

I also went on the television show Dragons’ Den in 2007 and got an investment of £50,000 from Duncan Bannatyne in return for a 25% stake in the business. I bought the shares back from him 7 years later.

What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?

Making time for my family while trying to build my business at the same time.

What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?

At the start of the first lockdown we pivoted the business and moved all our classes online. We completely rewrote the operations manual and had lots of training webinars over Zoom to support our franchisees through the process. Over the past year there have been chunks of time where we have been able to hold face to face classes but we are back online now. The plan is to reopen the classes face to face as soon as we are allowed to.

We saw an initial drop in attendance when we moved online, especially in lockdown 1, when we dropped to about 50% uptake. But in lockdown 2 and 3 people got used to the situation and the uptake has been about 80%.

Have you changed your business in any way as a result of the pandemic?

The whole ethos of Razzamataz is about social skills and confidence, making friends and having fun so the core business will definitely never go online, but we have found that there are little elements that actually do work better online. This year we had to hold our annual training conference for franchisees online, for example, and actually it was still really great. We found it was much easier and more economical for everyone to do it online, so in future instead of doing six days face to face we will probably keep five days online and do one day face to face, to keep everyone’s costs down.

What key lesson have you learnt about setting up and growing a business?

Surround yourself with a brilliant team people who are better than you and don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know all the answers.

What has been your biggest mistake?

While I was running Razzamataz I also decided to open a hair and beauty salon. I know nothing about hair and beauty other than I like getting my hair done and having a massage and I didn’t do any research but I stupidly thought it would be good idea. I invested in premises and got sunbeds, forgetting that I had full time employees to pay. It was open for about five years but eventually I thought, this is enough, it has to go, and I had to admit that I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to shut it down and lost lots of money on it.

What has been the secret of your success so far?

Not being afraid of hard work.

What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?


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