Kolau had the pleasure of speaking with Kari Kirkland the Owner and General Manager of Emerald City Trapeze Arts located in Seattle, WA. Emerald City Trapeze Arts is a unique business that houses one of the only indoor flying trapeze rigs in the country. Their unique business has attracted customers from all over the country. However, without a traditional marketing budget they have turned to social media marketing to showcase the unique attributes that set their business apart. Through their dedication and hard work, they have managed to achieve a five star rating on Yelp in the seven years that they have been operating.
What is it that sets Emerald City Trapeze Arts apart from the competition?
Kari: We have one of the only real indoor flying trapeze rigs in the country. There is one other circus school in Seattle that has a tent with a flying trapeze in it, but we have an actual building. That is what makes us really unique because we are an indoor facility and most flying trapeze rigs are outdoor.
What is the age range of your clients? Do you work with both children and adults?
Yes, I think that the youngest student we’ve ever had was three years old and the oldest student we’ve ever had was 89 years old.
Do people usually sign up for a series of classes or do they sign up for individual classes?
For flying trapeze it is primarily for people who have a bucket list item and they want to try it. People then get hooked on it because it’s really fun and addictive. However, for aerial a lot of times people will come in with the idea of coming multiple times a week or multiple times a month. So they’ll have the intention of coming a little more regularly when they are first starting out. On the other hand, flying trapeze is usually one where people think they’ll just try it once but then they’ll end up trying it a lot of times.
Do you encourage your customers to leave reviews on Yelp?
We never ask anyone to leave reviews on any site.
Have you seen an increase in business due to your Yelp page?
I really wouldn’t know. We’re really all word of mouth. We don’t really spend a lot of time with any social media except for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These sites make up most of our social media marketing. But in terms of review sites, I know we are listed on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google. We try to respond to reviews but we honestly don’t put a lot of energy into those sites.
Would you say that word of mouth is the biggest factor that encourages people to use your business?
I mean as far as I know yes. We use Twitter a lot. We use Instagram a lot. We use Facebook a ton.
What type of content do you post on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter?
We post a lot of videos because what we do is very physical and easily shown by capturing videos. We’ll do photos; a ton of photos. We really try to engage our community by sharing videos and photos and celebrating people’s achievements rather than just talking about promotions.
Speaking of community, are most of the people who use your facility from Seattle or do people travel to use your facility since it is one of the only indoor flying trapeze rigs in the country?
Since we are a professional training center, we do have a lot of people who come to train with us so that they can take their careers to the next level. We have people who are coming from all over the world to work with us. But in terms of customers, we have a huge local base and then we have a lot of tourists. There are some people who hear about us from other people who came to fly with us. Sometime they will fly out to take a class at Emerald City.
Do you ever offer discounts or advertise on Groupon?
No. We used Groupon when we first opened but we haven’t used it in about three years.
Why don’t you use Groupons or discounts?
Basically because we realized that there is a value to what we do. By discounting that value it sets up a little bit of a misconception in people’s minds of what our service is worth. We’ve worked really hard to get where we are and people can see the value in what we do. In our flying trapeze class we have three professional staff in each class with a maximum of ten students. In our aerial class we have one professional staff in each class who has a maximum of eight people. The ratio of professional instructors to students is really high.
Since your business consists of both classes and event space how do you balance managing the two different areas since they are so different?
I mean honestly if you think about it they’re not that different. If you’ve seen the space it is quite large and quite unique. A lot local places will rent the space for their corporate holiday parties. We do a lot of birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, weddings, anniversaries, retirements, private parties, and also corporate team building. There is cross over into being a performing space, an event space, and a school. So it really smooshes together those three things.
Is one area, either teaching classes or renting out the space, more dominant than the other?
It is fairly balanced. Most of our classes are full or at least fairly full. We run up to six flying trapeze classes a day and up to 15 aerial classes a day so we are very busy on the school side and the class side. Likewise, on the professional side there are a lot of our instructors who move on to becoming professional circus performers as well. There is a good balance for us and events are a nice addition to what we do.
In the surrounding area, are there other places that teach aerial or flying trapeze?
Oh yeah, absolutely. For flying trapeze there is only one other place in Seattle that offers classes, but there are a lot of other aerial studios.
Would you say that the popularity of aerial and flying trapeze classes has grown in the last few years?
Absolutely. I think it is because it has been in the media and in mainstream pop culture. The second that Pink decided she was going to do an aerial performance at the Grammy’s, that was it. There was a huge explosion from that. There’s also a lot of interest in circus depicted in television and the movies right now. Plus, there is always going to be that interest in finding a balance between a physical activity and artistic activity. By putting those two things together you have circus.
I noticed that you’re putting on a Halloween show and online it says that the tickets usually sell out 3 weeks in advance, is that typical of most of your shows?
Yeah, our shows usually sell out. Our Halloween show usually sells out the earliest: a month to three weeks in advance. Our other shows usually sell out anywhere between a week to a couple of days in advance. But our Halloween show is definitely our most popular.
Why is it the most popular show?
I would imagine it is because people like to dress up, go out, and have a great time on Halloween.
How do you advertise the show?
We don’t. We use social media marketing so we use Facebook as an event invitation. Then we have enough people in our community who know about it from the seven years that we’ve had it so it’s just word of mouth. Honestly, we’ve never had a traditional marketing budget. We’ve never spent any money on marketing.
I saw that you’re now offering a membership pass. Is this due to the high demand for your services or people just wanting the option to take more classes?
Yes, it is to give people the option to take more classes since we offer so many different types of classes like flying trapeze, aerial, ground work, and acrobatics. We wanted to offer a way for people to save either monthly or annually on taking a number of different types of classes. We do offer frequency cards within each of those areas, but we decided on offering a membership just because we do have quite a few people who will come multiple times a week and take classes in different disciplines. We have people who will come in for flying trapeze, they’ll come in aerial, acrobatics, hand to hand, or pole dancing. We wanted to make it a bit more accessible for people so they didn’t have to buy 3 or 4 frequency cards and they could just buy one membership card instead.
How long have you been offering the membership card?
I think we have been offering it since last November.
Have people been receiving it well and signing up for it?
Yes, although it is a big commitment. The membership card is for people who are really dedicated to their practice. It’s not like a gym membership where people sign up and spend $99. It’s a big commitment but we have seen a great response from people who had been spending a lot of time and a lot of money anyways. The membership just makes it easier for them and more streamline.
Do you have any advice for businesses who are struggling with getting customers or struggling to receive positive reviews?
For me, it has been all about engaging with our customers one on one, in person. I believe in face to face contact and talking to people. You should engage with customers and learn why they are in your business because I’ve always believed that people come into your business for a reason. People are not randomly walking in off the street, and it’s up to you to figure out why they are there and how to serve them better. If you’re not engaged with your customers, if you do not know them personally, then you do not know what their needs are. I make it a personal mandate every day to engage with at least one customer and get to know them on a personal level. Find out what makes them tick, find out what they need, and find out what you can do better as a provider. That’s really important for me, finding out how I can serve my clients better. That’s huge. I’ve been able to take feedback from people, change our programs for them, and make things easier. We’ve had a great response. But honestly, the personal touch will never ever ever go out of style.
When you hire new instructors do you relay to them that getting to know customers is part of the job?
For them it’s not really about retaining new people or anything like that, but flying trapeze is a very intimate business. In flying trapeze you are dealing with people’s fears and adrenalin. You are pushing their boundaries so you’ve got to have people who are sensitive to that and who can encourage people in a way that is positive but still pushes them and makes try harder. It is a very delicate balance.
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