Interview with Co-founders Melanie Zrihen and Hanne Larsen
Downtown Dance Factory is an award-winning dance studio for kids, and even adults, in the heart of Tribeca. Although clients come from all over NYC, DDF was humbly started as a dance studio for the Tribeca community by two Tribeca mothers wanting to create a space where kids could express themselves through dance.
Where did you grow up?
Melanie – I grew up in Montreal and moved to NYC in 2000. I worked in Management consulting and had a great passion for dance since I was a kid.
Hanne – I grew up in Sydney and moved to Tribeca in 2005 with my family and this has been home ever since.
How did you start your business?
We were both parents at Park Pre-school, got to know each other there and had a quick affinity. Both of us had dance in our backgrounds, but Hanne had actually owned and run a dance studio in Australia.
We both were looking for a dance school/studio for our kids but could not find anything suitable.
So, in 2009, we decided, with a leap of faith, to open DDF. At first, we rented a space at Tribeca Health & Fitness on Chambers Street and ran classes out of only one studio. But before we knew it, the number of dancers climbed and we needed our own dedicated space with multiple studios.
How long have you been in business?
We are celebrating 10 years now and look forward to serving the community for at least another 10!
What are you best known for?
Providing excellent dance instruction in a nurturing community.
What is the best part about being in Tribeca?
The community is great here. The parents truly care about and value the benefits of dance, and have supported our efforts. I think part of our success here is that we were our own clients, so to speak – as Tribeca parents ourselves, we knew what other Tribeca parents expected in a dance studio, and what types of lessons, dances, costumes etc. were reasonable, acceptable and age appropriate. So even though we started DDF in a recession, DDF was embraced by the community because Tribeca parents felt the value was there for their kids.
What percentage of your business is local?
We don’t have an exact percentage, but would say that with over 1300 people enrolled in over 2500 spots. We imagine that about 80% of our kids/adults are from the Tribeca and BPC communities.
How have you marketed your business/shop?
We have mostly marketed DDF via word of mouth. We have sort of run ads via groups like HRP Mamas, FIDI Families and Tribeca Citizen, but we always found that happy satisfied parents and kids are our greatest marketers.
What is your funniest customer story?
We have a ton of stories, but a recent cute one – we received a card from a little girl who wrote a thank you note, and said that “Ms Hanne you are a beautiful unicorn”.
What advice would you give anyone starting a business in Tribeca?
You need to know the market and the community and the best way to do that is to be a part of the community. Also, when starting a small business, plan for growth, start with good systems, listen to your community and have faith in yourself.
Finally, this sounds cliché, but you’ve got to love what you do.