Walk into New Susan’s Dance Studio in San Jose’s Capitol Square Mall, and owner Susan Sung greets you like a dear friend she hasn’t seen in years. It’s not an act. Susan really likes being with her customers and making them happy. That’s why she got into the dance-studio business. On a recent Friday evening she took time during an Argentine Tango lesson to talk to us about her experience starting and running a successful small business.
In 2007 I started to learn Salsa dancing because I liked being with people, and ballroom dancing is a social activity. I had run a studio for a non-profit organization, for crafts, flower arranging, yoga and things like that, but in 2007 decided I wanted my own dance studio. I thought the purpose of a dance studio is to make people feel happy. I wanted a more social life and business, and I wanted to make people happy. If everyone danced, there would be no fighting, no wars. I started in a different location with less space, and in June 2013 moved to this location. It has a total of 4,600 square feet of space, including a main dance floor with 2,600 square feet as well as smaller rooms for private lessons. We have our own lessons. We have Salsa lessons on Tuesdays, Argentine Tango on Fridays, and pretty soon we are going to open on every Sunday for dance lessons. We also rent out space to Mexican Folk Dance, Hip Hop, Bollywood, and children’s ballet groups. I also sell my own line of dance shoes which I designed myself, called "Dance With Me" brand.
How did you fund your business?
Financing to get started came from my then-husband. He was very supportive of me.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
I had run a bridal business for 13 years, 10 of those years actually in this same space where my dance studio is now. Brides are very nervous, and I helped a lot of people. It was good to help people with their problems, and I learned a lot by fixing problems. I learned I could solve every problem that came up.
What have been the biggest challenges in starting and running your business?
There are some really important things to make people happy in this business: having a good place that is clean and looks nice, and having good people. Good instructors, a good DJ, good (front desk) staff. In summers we get a lot of guest instructors from Argentina. We are the main Argentine Tango dance studio in the South Bay, and a lot of instructors who come to teach in San Francisco studios also can teach here.
What has been the most pleasant surprise about running your business?
I don’t really have surprises. When I see a lot of people having fun it is pleasant, but not a surprise. That’s because I work hard to make sure everything is right — the place, the people and the food, so I expect that things will go well and people will have fun. And the more people seem to appreciate what I do, the harder I want to try to make them happy.
What I’ve Learned
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
I had run a business so I had a good idea what it was going to be like. This business is more social than the bridal business; you meet more people.
What advice do you have for others who are starting their own businesses?
I recommend that for the first three years they don’t think about how much they are spending or how they can cut costs. For the first three years they should be investing in marketing and other things they need to build their business and get established.
You can do anything you want, just don’t give up. You can’t do it just to make money. If you don’t put your heart into it, how can you get money?
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