Thr3e Live Dance Complex is Nav’s grant winner for this fall. The founders of Thr3e Live were originally a group of friends who loved the art of dance. What started out as a training and performance group evolved into a safe and welcoming place in Rhode Island that dancers of all ages could call home. They evolved into what they are today when Tjay Martino and Nikki Gyflopoulos recognized the need to take their vision to the next level.
Tjay and Nikki decided to leverage their combined professional and dance experience and launch Thr3e Live Dance Complex, LLC. Tjay’s knowledge of the local community in Rhode Island and Nikki’s background in public relations, seemed like the perfect fit to elevate their vision. Both owners grew up in broken homes and dancing became an outlet of expression that put them on a good path—which they wanted to share with other children and adults in their community.
“The traditional dance studio pricing model is costly and unattainable for many children and adults. We wanted to create a place where people of all ages, races, and levels could experience the benefits of the arts with drop-in classes anyone could attend,” says Tjay.
While keeping the name of the original dance troupe, they took their inspiration from the country’s dance capitals in Los Angeles and New York, where studios offer drop-in classes and cater to a wide variety of dancers who want to learn and grow their experience.
“Our business is very unique for our community,” says Nikki. “Most dance studios in our area are traditional in nature with young students, monthly tuitions, recitals, etc. We offer drop-in classes focusing mostly on hip-hop and street styles of dancing because it creates a welcoming environment that makes the arts more accessible.”
Tjay, Nikki, and their 10 dance instructors have successfully created something in their community that is more than just a business.
“Not only is it a home to us,” says Tjay, “ but it’s also a home to the many people who come in and out of the space every single day. It provides a sense of belonging and acceptance to many people who have come searching for a place like this for a long time. It’s much more than dance, it’s demonstrating to people that no matter where you come from or what adversity you have faced, you can make connections with others through art.”
Building a Business and Thr3e Live’s First Steps
Fortunately, Tjay and Nikki have the support of the local dance community who made personal investments to get them off the ground and cover their overhead expenses in the very beginning. Because their customers were already familiar with them, start-up marketing and word of mouth helped them have a successful first year without the need for additional financing.
As they’ve grown, the need for more space has meant they needed to find additional sources of capital to fuel their growth. They’ve relied on:
- Friends and family to help with the cash flow necessary for the construction buildout of their new space
- Crowdfunding helped keep the community engaged in their success—they offered studio perks for upfront donations that help keep the buildout moving forward
- A small business government grant was used to help cover monthly overhead expenses and keep their staff employed during the COVID-19 pandemic
- They use a line of credit to cover any upfront building expenses and supplies
“We have a business credit card that allows us to access credit when we need it and pay it off to build our business credit,” says Nikki. “As a young business, we are still in the process of building our business credit, which will help us with future investments. We pay lower interest rates on our business cards than we would with our personal credit cards and they give us some financial stability for unforeseen circumstances like COVID-19.”
Dancing Through Small Business Challenges
Like every small business, Thr3e Live faces challenges and growing pains. Unfortunately, the current economic and health challenges of the pandemic have made moving into a new dance studio and maintaining business operations more challenging. In addition to sound business and accounting practices which help them forecast revenues and manage how they use cash versus credit for the expansion, they’ve leveraged the free financial resources available at Nav.
“We use Nav to keep on track with our business credit and to understand the different financing sources available to a business like ours,” says Tjay. “We also love the e-newsletters that we get because many times the articles are very topical and helpful for meeting our current challenges. The education available on their website is honestly like a golden tool for us and the questions we have. All these resources help keep us up to date and focused on building a successful business.”
The Rewards of Business Ownership
Like their small business peers, they take a lot of satisfaction in seeing how their business positively impacts their customers and the community. Nikki said, “There are so many times that someone will tell us about how Thr3e Live has become their home and here they feel the most accepted. It’s inspiring to see how our little company can change people’s lives for the better—whether it’s an inexperienced dancer who gains more self-confidence or an experienced dancer who was able to land their first paying gig, we are truly overwhelmed by the impact of our company.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that they relish the creative freedom of building their own team.
“We are able to use each other’s strengths to complement each other and create incredible ideas to take our business to the next level,” said Tjay. Whether our ideas turn out great, or not so great, we know they were OUR ideas and we can learn from these lessons. It definitely keeps us on our toes.”
That’s not to say they haven’t made mistakes along the way. When they realized they were trying to make everyone happy and meet all their needs, they realized they were never going to be able to be successful. By stepping back, evaluating their mission, they found greater success by making business decisions aligned to the values that inspired them to start Thr3e Live in the first place.
“Always stay true to yourself,” says Nikki.
What’s Next for Thr3e Live?
In addition to opening the doors of their new location in November, they plan to expand their reach with new classes like professional development programs and fitness programs.
“Once we open our new studio, we’ll be able to better work toward our long-term goal of becoming the go-to dance complex in New England,” says Tjay. “A place where dancers, artists, and traveling teachers on the east coast can connect and work with each other on a music video or other dance project.”
“Always remember why you started,” says Nikki. “The key to success is to know why you want to start your business. Knowing what drives you will help you face any challenge.”
What Does the Nav Grant Mean for Thr3e Live?
Nikki and Tjay found the Nav grant while searching on the Internet for financing options to help find capital to continue the buildout of their new space. “We were on the hunt for any opportunities and the Nav grant seemed like an incredible initiative to support small businesses like ours,” said Tjay.
Like many small businesses owners, they have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish and they have three objectives for the proceeds from the Nav grant:
- It will help finish the buildout of their new space so they can open their doors in November to the community
- It will help keep their 10 dance instructors employed despite the challenges caused by COVID-19
- It will make it possible to continue to provide affordable access to the arts in their community by allowing them to keep their pricing consistent with what it was before the onset of the pandemic and move forward with their planned income-based scholarship program to provide discounted and free dance classes to dancers without the financial means to take classes
The Nav grant will help them reach their goals to increase access to the arts in Rhode Island and New England with the increased space of their new facility, more classes, better access to public transportation, and better opportunities for volunteer work and community service to the surrounding area.
Congratulations Thr3e Live Dance Complex for being Nav’s $10,000 grant winner.
This article was originally written on October 19, 2020.
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