Following on from my last blog....
RECAP: After my recent disappointment in a certain business owner ghosting me on social media, I sent them an email stating that I would still be willing to give the feedback they asked for.
Their response was possibly the most professional piece of writing I've experienced from them. It was suspiciously like it was written with aid from someone with more business aptitude, tact and diplomacy (and rightly so) while still retaining their down to earth tone of speech. They fully admitted that they ghosted me although it seemed like they took offense to my use of the word 'block' and insisted that they didn't do so on social media, only 'muted' me. Strange....because I was pretty sure that when someone's profile disappears from even the generic Facebook search bar, that's because someone has blocked you from finding their page. Maybe I'm wrong, but I digress.
Anyway, they explained that they've chosen to disengage in conversation with me because it's bad for their mental health and that their 'admin' team will be dealing with any further emails from me. As someone who suffers greatly from mental health issues, I responded that I completely understand and respect their decision, and that this would be my final correspondence. I added that I wanted them to have every opportunity to hear me out as this individual has said repeatedly in the past that if people have an issue with them or the business to "come talk to me first".
I had hoped when I got that initial text that the truth will out and I would finally be able to unburden myself of the long buried grievances I held and be a martyr for those who wanted to speak up but were afraid to.
I spoke to dozens of close acquaintances & friends from the studio whom I knew had issues in the past and present, hearing their stories and addressing their concerns. I have compiled a concrete list of poor business practices, and personal shortcomings that have been a detriment to this individual’s business. I had hoped that I would be able to bring forth this agenda to the studio owner in a calm and constructive way. This was not meant to be a ‘bitch fest’ (although with the level of unprofessionalism shown in the past it very well could have been). This was meant to be a chance to hear feedback, open up a discussion, and move the business forward so that no one would have to suffer the same way I or anyone else did.
There are those who have drunk the cool-aid for far too long, but I’m hoping that anyone who knows the business and reads this in disbelief will wake up and run like many others did. Believe you me…once you are out of the hazy mushroom cloud of toxic behavior and sketchy dealings, you begin to see a lot clearer and things from the past start to click and make sense. So without further adieu, here are the reasons why I and others turned away from this business after years of loyalty and support.
Please note the following key: 🔼= This is to note a first hand account, meaning I have witnessed/experienced this myself.
➤ = This notes a 2nd hand account, or something that someone else whom I've spoken to has personally witnessed/experienced, so I'm trusting them that it truly happened.
💢= This is something that has been filtered down through a couple of people, so it may only be rumor, but there is plausibility that this actually has happened.
POOR BUSINESS PRACTICES:
There is something to be said about small businesses, that their charm lays in the very human mistakes that get made. They aren't big companies that thrive on a perfect image and cannot afford to make any minor PR mishap. However, when all of the minor offenses all add up it seems more like poor business decisions rather than careless mistakes.
- There are no policies on pregnancy or post natal procedures on the website, health waiver, or any other public forum. During both my pregnancy and post natal period I was told that I could come back, but I couldn't do most anything. I was told on the spot and expected to follow the rules even tho there is no procedure on this. 🔼
- The Course Descriptions on the booking page are rarely updated and significant changes can be seen as false advertising. Someone I know signed up for a 'sexy music video style' chair dance class and was very disappointed when they were taught a contemporary piece. 🔼➤
- Reluctance to offer full refunds/admitting admin mistakes. Many MANY times students have been told they 'read information wrong' when they have evidence of admin mistakes that effected them. 🔼➤
- Changing dates of events (showcase) with short notice and only in a private sector (private FB group). The annual showcase date was announced a year prior in front on a public audience, however mere months before the actual showcase date, the date was changed and only those in the private Studio facebook page were notified. 🔼➤
- Changing dates/times of classes/workshops. Again, MANY times a class or workshop's time would be altered with little to no notice and the business owner denies changing it even though they are the only person who does the admin. 🔼➤
- Extortion/Charging students to get the business free advertising. A personal bulletin was made by the studio owner looking for people who were willing to have their photo taken (on the equipment in the studio with a professional set up) that the business could use on advertisements. Volunteering should have been enough, however, they not only needed to give their consent for their picture to be taken and used publicly, but they needed to pay the professional photographer, absolving the studio owner of all advertising costs. 🔼➤
- Flippant employment status: A few employees/past employees of the studio have made it known that the employment practices of the business owner are less than desirable. This ranges from changing a clause in the employment contract (ie: period of leave) or student agreement (restricting any competition by banning students from opening their own business or teaching within a period of time after leaving the studio) all the way to the confusion over status of employment. For example, the business owner insists that all instructors are self employed, however they are still treated like normal employees with certain contract agreements in place. Another example of this is that instructors were paid per class(including a cushion period before and after the actual class) instead of per head, which is how most self employees exercise classes work. ➤
- Double Standards/Favoritism: There are so many examples of this, and although it's not a bad business practice that would hold up in a court of law, it's still worth noting a few instances where double standards could be sited specifically instead of relying on speculation:
1. Changing showcase date for a certain individual--This was self admitted on a facebook comment by the studio owner that "one of the reasons" the showcase date changed was due to a certain student's availability. 🔼➤
2. Double standards when it comes to paying for Grip (an item from the online shop). The studio owner is forever chastising people for not paying for grip that every time someone asks to have grip, they have to show proof of their purchase of it from the online store. However, the people who hold favor with the studio owner will be told "oh don't worry about it, just pay for it later". 🔼➤
3. Rigging a raffle to ensure the studio gets the top prize. One showcase, the top prize was 'won' by an instructor's partner. Since they had no interest in the prize--an aerial apparatus--they gave it to their partner, one of the studio's instructors. The instructor then 'decided' to 'gift' the prize to the studio. Allegedly this was all according to a plan for the studio to gain new equipment for free (since the prize was donated by the company who makes the apparatus). This has been corroborated by 2 people who heard the story from the instructor who gave up said prize, but since this is a 3rd hand account, I've marked it as speculation.💢
4. It is an unwritten, but verbally announced at every class, rule that you 'DO NOT TEACH EACH OTHER' and 'DO NOT TRY SOMETHING YOU'VE SEEN ON A VIDEO'. However, the studio owner has contradicted both of these statements. The first by calling me out for not 'helping' a fellow student with the choreography, when I shouldn't be teaching my peers. The second by producing videos of showcase routines and telling students to learn it themselves. 🔼➤
4. Allowing favorites use of the studio out of hours: During this pandemic, a comment was thrown about on a FB live video by the studio owner that they know everyone is missing aerial, 'so are we' and going on to explain that the instructors don't have their own equipment at home to train on, so they are deprived as much as the rest of the students were. However, I know of at least 2 people--🔼➤1 confirmed, 💢1 speculated by timings and locations of social media posts during lockdown (there may have been more)--who used the studio while it was allegedly shut. Not only would this potentially be breaking the law at the time, but it doesn't look good to have lied about it.
- Poor inventory management. It's a common occurrence that 'things for sale' go missing from the studio without payment. Whether this is poor inventory, or poor cash handling I don't know, but this is FAR too common an occurrence to just be a simple mistake or someone has stolen merch without paying. 💢
- Double Booking/No Shows: Due to the business owner's poor admin skills, there were numerous times where private lessons overlapped or were double booked. There have been more than one occasion where a private lesson with them had been booked, only for the patron to be stood up by the studio owner because they forgot they booked someone in until they were called out on it. In addition, I myself have pointed out admin mistakes as a kindly gesture where 2 classes were put on the booking system at the same time in the same room. 🔼➤
- Pricing. This is a personal pet peeve of mine because the studio owner would, on more than one occasion, say to me "It's always about money with you, isn't it Jen?" .... My father was an accountant. I'm just interested in where the money is going. I have NO problem paying a price, otherwise I wouldn't have paid it, but I like to know where my money is going and keep my books in order...so forgive me if I ask questions revolving around money. But...my due diligence has shed some light of the following:
First of all, it is unfair to ask for rehearsals to be mandatory and have people pay for said rehearsals. Showcase rehearsals should either be mandatory and free....or they can charge per head, but then people can choose whether they pay to rehearse. 🔼➤
Secondly, if you are charging per head for a rehearsal (to pay for the cost of keeping the lights on, the instructors time, the equipment upkeep, etc), then it needs to be reflected fairly instead of picking an arbitrary number. It's a elementary maths problem: If the cost of running a rehearsal in the studio is £50/hour, and you have 10 students, how much will each student need to pay?(£5/student) What would be the cost per student if there were 20 students? ...you'd think it would be £2.50, right? But no....still £5, that arbitrary amount that ensures a 50% profit margin at the expense of your gullible students. 🔼
The Third issue surrounding pricing and showcase happened while i was away, but I had more than one of my friends still participating in showcase tell me that instead of attending rehearsal where the routine was taught to you... a few routines were not 'taught' in rehearsal. You were sent a video of the routine, which you had to teach yourself and know it ahead of the rehearsal time slot. Part of the cost of rehearsals is the TUITION/TUTELAGE you get from an instructor, otherwise, why are you paying for their time to teach you? ➤
🔼➤The price of a gold, all-inclusive (and by all, it meant mostly) memberships when I was paying for it was steep, but I couldn't do aerial anywhere else so I didn't mind paying for the privilege. It made more sense to me than paying per class and spending loads more. Aerial is a *specialist* form of exercise....with specific equipment that you can't find in a gym. I know this is what SHOULD have been said by the studio owner, but instead they used the word 'elite' when describing the new pricing regime post covid lockdown.
This may have been a case of misusing the incorrect word, but I think it was more of a Freudian slip because what followed was disgracefully elitist, said with an air of superiority when explaining the price increase was "Because we're worth it".
It was explained in an online zoom meeting that the old regime was out. Memberships are a thing of the past and a new block booking system would take it's place....EXCEPT for people who were financially secure enough to keep paying their full price membership during 'lockdown'(without use of it) while the economy tanked and people were either sacked or placed on furlough. Those who kept funding the business by paying their memberships while the studio was closed would be rewarded with a freeze on their membership price-- so long as they kept that membership ticking over, they would never face a yearly price increase. But prices would continue to rise at the desecration of the business owner for any other patron of the business.
I am outrageously appalled at this action. It's essentially Socioeconomic Status Discrimination and it is disguising. The business owner is very quick to think about their own financial security by begging the government to reopen their business, or by explaining price increases as 'I have to pay myself too." However, when it comes to other people, there is no financial consideration, and it's all take take take and bled them dry. I've known people to pay for a one-off workshop or photoshoot instead of spending the rest of their very tight budget on the last food shop of the month. Now, that's that individual's choice; however I don't think the business owner knows how much of a slap in the face this 'reward for keeping membership through lockdown' really is.
People are real life individuals who require a job to pay for things, and while I appreciate that this business owner is a person, they were still making money during lockdown by offering online zoom classes. Whereas students might have been furloughed during this covid pandemic, couldn't afford a nearly £100/month membership without using it and now they are being punished for their poverty. Elite sport indeed....
ALL BARK AND NO BITE:
This business owner has a very large social media presence and they talk a big game about body positivity, mental health, women’s advocacy, but all of it does seem a bit of hot air. Things that have been said on social media to big up women, to inspire confidence, to be a positive influencer has to look a bit hypocritical next to the way this person acts in real life.
- There have been posts about women building each other up, but then I've heard them talk about students behind their backs. And I know that this may sound hypocritical coming from me who's blogging about the shortcomings of another, but I've never claimed to be a saint. I see it, I say it. I'm that blunt American with candor for days. 🔼
- There have also been speeches in person, social media posts, and business mottos online that state People of all shapes and sizes are welcome at the studio. However, I have witnessed passing comments in class about someone's shape/size being an issue in executing a move (technical things about weight distribution, not enough 'pocket' (skin/fat) to grip the pole, but then the odd comment that only eluded to the subject of weight loss in relation to stamina or progress).🔼
- I personally have not felt welcome because of my pregnant/post partum status.When I got pregnant, I made this known straight away as it would be a health risk undertaking physical exercise without my instructor knowing. However, this condemned my aerial career as I was not welcome in the studio whilst pregnant due to insurance purposes. Meanwhile, through social media and being told first hand by the business owner, there had been other girls who continued to train whilst pregnant. I was very confused as to whether this had been discrimination against pregnant women and the ‘favorites’ were an exception, or if it was just me who was being outcast. 🔼
- Then there is the feigned apathy for mental health. One example of this was when a work colleague of mine decided to give chair
dancing a go to boost her confidence. However the class (not as advertised) was
not for her. When she brought this up to the studio owner in an email, and
expressed that she felt very out of place with the fit young girls who
obviously had been regulars at the studio, the reply had been “to try a different course in the future however the
issues you have brought up seem to go deeper than the fact this was a
contemporary course”. This was disheartening for a number of reasons, not least
of all was the insinuation of ‘you got problems and that’s not my fault’
attitude of a business owner. 🔼➤
- There was a news article where they publicly shamed half of their customers for not being able to afford memberships during an economic crisis. 🔼➤
- Reprimanding students in front of the whole class for a variety of reasons (being on their phone, not paying attention, etc) This is not school. We are paying for a service. If someone wants to waste their money by not participating in the class, that's their own prerogative. It is not their place to shame their students in front of others. 🔼➤
- When the aforementioned 'grip' goes missing, the business owner usually posts a facebook message to the group page and tags certain individuals in the message. Then people are forced to embarrassingly explain that they paid for the grip they took so it wasn't them. 🔼➤
- During showcase rehearsals, the business owner/instructor took the time to single out the individuals who were not doing well/holding the rehearsal up. This lead to threats of cancelling the whole thing if those doing poorly couldn't get their act together. ➤
- Showing competition videos to students of bad performances the instructor has had to judge for a competition, openly making fun of the routine and the performer. ➤
- The business owner's social media presence is a PR nightmare because I would say at least half of the comments they make online is either flippant, misdirecting, or sardonic to customers/potential customers. I think that sometimes they forget they are a business owner and how the things they say/do will be perceived. Which isn't a crime, but their comments on social media have left more than one person feeling dejected and unworthy of their time. 🔼➤
Like I said before, these are all things that I myself, or my sources have stated as reasons for discontent with the business. Most of us either leave or suffer in silence. I truly, truly hope that those who read this and are still immersed in the happy bubble, begin to realize that these things ring true and reevaluate going back if any of it has caused you past distress, or consider addressing the problem.
Next Time...I will go into detail about my own personal experience from a mental health perspective. Stay Tuned.