Meet founding member of the All Stars Academy
“With Razzamataz, you get out what you put in. Working in other roles, this is not always the case, which can be frustrating.”
Profile: James Pennell and Esmé Tutill took over Razzamataz Newcastle in November 2020, although both have been part of the school since its launch; James as singing teacher and Esmé as front of house. The couple combine owning Razzamataz Newcastle with other commitments. James is a secondary school teacher and private vocal coach, and Esmé has recently finished her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, and works in a school with children who have additional needs. They were invited to be founding members of the All Stars Academy, an exciting initiative to grow the network further and give franchisees exclusive access to high-profile coaches and special events and incentives.
Razzamataz highlights: We took over the school at a very strange time and initially were concerned about having to teach online. However, we went into it with a positive energy and were proud of the response from the students. We are passionate about supporting our community so were very humbled to be able to host a charity concert for one of our students who has a brain tumour. We were able to raise £1.5k, which is thanks to the incredible community and the generosity of our families. On a personal note, it is amazing that we have been able to buy a house together, which at 23 and 24 is wonderful. With Razzamataz, you get out what you put in. Working in other roles, this is not always the case, which can be frustrating.
Skills needed to be a theatre school owner: It is impossible to come up with a definitive list because in business, situations change rapidly. So, I would say it is important to be adaptable and you must have a vision. As the Principal, the role is to foster an environment with the team and students to help create the school that you believe in. It is not about being a manager, it’s about being a leader to make the dream a reality. It is not a 9-5 job, and you must be prepared to put the effort in. You need to be committed and not get disheartened when things don’t go to plan. But the most important thing for this role is that you must love people. We put on great shows and performance opportunities but ultimately this is a people business and at the heart is building confidence in children.
Franchise journey: We always wanted to have our own school so when the opportunity arose to take over the Newcastle branch because the Principal was moving away, we felt that we just couldn’t turn it down. Although we are recent university graduates and work long hours in schools, with the support of the Head Office and network, we knew we could make it work. It might not have seemed the perfect timing, but we knew that we weren’t going it alone and the support and training we have been given has made all the difference.
Becoming part of the All Stars Academy: It feels exciting to be part of this new initiative because it has the opportunity to really shape the business. We are passionate about Razzamataz, always talking about it with friends and family, so we want to help spread the message to others. We are really looking forward to mentoring new franchisees and those that need additional support. When we joined, we immediately felt that we were not alone, so we want to pass this peer support on to others.
Building the business: We compared our student numbers from March 2020 to March 2021 and the growth has been 173%. Since returning to face-to-face teaching, we’ve opened many new classes and offered additional products, such as Razz Project Intense, for those students looking to take their training up an additional level. We also recognise what a fantastic team we have and want to give them more responsibility and help with their own development. This will help us to build the business but also provide mentorship and opportunities for staff.
Razzamataz opportunities: There are so many amazing opportunities that we can share with our students. We’ve taken them to perform at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End and we are currently rehearsing for our performance at the Shaftesbury Theatre. For us as franchisees, the opportunities that come from being part of a recognised brand is also extremely beneficial. We’ve already been successful in Awards and will look to continue entering.
Why be part of a franchise? I left university in 2020 and by the end of the same year I was running a successful business along with Esmé. There is no way that we could have achieved that without the support of a franchise. As young graduates, we just didn’t have the experience or confidence to even consider going down this route. Seeing the success of other schools gave us the reassurance that we could do it and being part of a franchise feels like having a safety net. It’s our business but if anything goes wrong, we know we have experts on hand to call on. With franchising, we also get access to so much training. For example, Razzamataz has been offering business coaching and in all honestly, we would probably not have even thought this was something that we should do but it has been so beneficial. They give you the tools you need even if you don’t know you need them.
Future plans: The business has grown so well that I can now reduce my hours in my full-time job and look to take the school to the next level. We want to get more involved with the community and offer more performance opportunities for the students. We’ve seen the pandemic really impact children’s confidence, so we want to give them the chance to perform locally to build their self-esteem. The great thing about Razzamataz is that it is very flexible so as the business grows, we can continue to look at adjusting our other work and commitments.
Top tips: If you are going to take on a franchise, then you must have a good gut feeling about it. Is the franchisor honest and open and do they provide you with clear and thoughtful answers to your questions? If you are a young franchisee or have limited business knowledge, then you must be sure that you are going to get enough support from the Head Office. If there are loads of franchisees, really find out how much support they receive. On the business side, find out what the management fee is and what you are going to receive in return. Be careful with your research and speak to family members who may have more experience than you.
“Seeing the success of other schools gave us the reassurance that we could do it and being part of a franchise feels like having a safety net.”
Join our team
We are looking for dynamic partners to own a Razzamataz Theatre School. If you are looking to make a difference in your local community to the lives of young people and you have a passion for performing arts, we would love to hear from you.
Occasionally franchise territories come up for re-sale due to a change in the franchisees’ personal circumstances or simply because they have decided to sell their asset and reap the rewards of their hard work. These re-sale schools very rarely stay on the market for long, so if you are interested, don’t delay in contacting us. Re-sale schools in:
- High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
- Derby, East Midlands
If you would like to find out more about our ambitious growth plans and be part of multi-award winning Razzamataz Theatre Schools network, drop Charlotte a line from our friendly Head Office team to book on to one of our virtual Discovery Dens.