As the lockdowns continue, many businesses are taking the opportunity to rethink their internal ops and services to make sure their teams are staying united, and their businesses are delivering value.
We chatted with one of our customers, Young Rembrandts, who generously shared their story of adapting and finding silver linings during these unfamiliar times. We sat down with them -- virtually! -- for a quick roundtable to learn how they are navigating the pandemic and finding success bringing their art courses online and keeping kids engaged at a distance.
Want to listen to the full discussion? Listen below or continue reading for an editorialized summary.
About Young Rembrandts
Beyond drawing courses for after school programs or daycares, the Young Rembrandts’ curriculum is tailored to helping children develop key competencies like motor skills, self-esteem, and attention to detail. Their franchises across North America teach drawing to thousands of kids each week.
About Our Interviewees
Lizi, Operations Director
Lizi works with both the internal team at YR as well as the franchisees, ensuring the whole operation runs smoothly. Even during a crisis!
Camille, Technology Manager
Camille supports all of the YR franchisees with their software and programming needs. She makes sure they’ve got the technology they need to succeed in any situation.
About Our Moderator
This discussion was moderated by our Marketing Manager, Caitlin Benn, in charge of all things go-to-market. Currently working from her apartment in Montreal alongside Amilia’s Cuddles Manager, Jakers the Nova Scotia duck toller.
Caitlin: Hi Lizi & Camille, I’m really looking forward to learning about your experience of bringing your courses online and steering this ship through the pandemic. What kind of reactions have you seen in your staff, participants, and parents amidst all of this COVID craziness?
Lizi: Truthfully, we’ve been experiencing the same thing that everyone on the planet is experiencing. While there’s a general uneasiness in the air, we’ve been collectively mapping out our next steps along with our team and our franchisees.
Like many other education programs, Young Rembrandts’ programs rely heavily on face-to-face interaction with the kids. Thankfully, when we launched our online classes, the reception has been very positive -- all around -- because we kind of had a plan in place.
Caitlin: Were virtual classes ever on the roadmap before this situation?
Lizi: We have certainly talked about doing online courses in the past, but our primary goal was always to keep our franchisees courses tactile and face-to-face, because we believe that is very important to the development of children. However, all things considered, we've been very pleased with the outcome of our online courses, because the kids and even the parents are getting a lot out of it!
The fun thing with video recordings is that the kids can slow things down and replay the videos as needed.
Another thing that’s awesome about our courses is that they’re taught by the Founder and CEO, Bette Fetter, which adds a real personal touch to the experience, too! We wanted to make sure we were creating top quality courses and having recordings coming straight from Bette really drives home the excellent programs.
Caitlin: How did you prepare your students, parents, and staff for the transition?
Lizi: We work in conjunction with the franchisees and we see them as their local brand experts. They work in their local communities, known as the “art lady” or the “art guy”. So it’s all about supporting them in continuing to serve their communities.
We also over-communicated every part of the process and we’ve seen that as being really our secret to success. Providing full honesty on the projects we’re working on, like what’s working and what’s not working.
Visibility into what we’re doing empowers the franchisees, too. Our main goal has been staying right there with them, encouraging them, and giving them some pre-packaged information and templates so they can share with kids and parents directly.
“We’ve been leaning into mass email communications a lot because that’s a direct line for us to franchisees and parents, but we know that the most important conversations are those one-on-ones that the local franchise owners have with their communities.”
Caitlin: Can you point out some of the biggest challenges you’ve been facing, professionally and personally, in dealing with this change?
Lizi: The biggest challenge for us has been just accepting this “new normal”. The timeline overall has been mind boggling. Everything changed in an instant and we’re all just supposed to be on board right away! It would be easier to deal with, in and out of the office, if we were able to know when the real end-date would be, of course. Which isn’t possible right now.
Personal connections and this sense that we are all in this together has been crucial.
Camille: We’ve seen the effects coming in waves across our franchises. When we saw things get really serious on the West Coast, it prompted this whole “going-online project”. And since then, lockdowns and other precautions have moved into the rest of North America. It’s been crazy watching the pandemic sweep the world in stages.
“All things considered: getting online courses in place quickly has been instrumental in serving communities as the lock downs impacted more and more people.”
Caitlin: In terms of the technology you’ve been using, what’s been working well?
Lizi: We’ve had amazing partners throughout this transition. The Amilia team supported Camille in setting things up smoothly by using what we had, so we didn’t have to start from scratch for things like online registration. That helped us be really agile during this process!
We’ve also tapped deeply into our existing in-house teams. Our web dev team helped us set things up so our franchisees don’t need to learn a new tool, they need to just learn a new part of the website. And our in-house marketing team has been able to support us on the video side -- cranking stuff out every single day. Super grateful for our hard-working team members!
Caitlin: To give a few pointers to other orgs in this position, can you talk about other tech solutions. What about other tools like Zoom or WebEx?
Camille: Tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts and Facebook Live are... live! Which can be a good solve for some that want to do real-time stuff.
For us, because we record our videos in-house, we can produce it and control where and how it goes out on our website -- which keeps things exclusive to YR. And flexible for parents because they can access courses as needed, instead of scheduling in live courses for their kids to attend.
Lizi: I second that! In comparison to the way schools are going online -- where they have specific time slots kids need to attend – it can be easier for parents to navigate the YR system to grab courses on-demand, no rigid schedule.
Caitlin: Have you found any benefits from running your classes virtually that you weren’t expecting? Any pleasant surprises?
Lizi: There’s a new silver lining every day. Hearing positive feedback from franchisees and participants has really kept us going! One of the things that we’ve been pleasantly surprised about is hat more ages to participate, because we’ve seen more parents getting involved, because drawing is a great form of stress relief!
And now, more people are able to take the class now, it’s not necessarily dependent on having physical proximity to a franchise.
“We had an instance recently where a child was so excited to be able to take YR classes again, because they moved to a different school and lost their access to the courses. That kind of response is everything to us.”
Caitlin: Other than offering virtual classes, are there any other creative ways you’ve used Amilia to try and generate revenue in light of the current circumstances?
Lizi: I would say that being able to offer the registration online was huge. We didn’t have to learn a new tool, we were able to use a great solution that we know how to use very well. Franchisees have also been looking at expanding gift cards or memberships -- new ways to manage students and leveraging the different functionalities in Amilia.
Camille: Even franchisees that haven’t used the platform much before are getting really excited to dig in a little deeper and find features that they can use creatively!
Caitlin: Is your entire team working together remotely? Any WFH tips you can share that have been working really well for you? For your team?
Lizi: We like to do face to face when we can. We’re a smallish team, so we’ve been really trying to make sure people are doing video meetings when possible. It’s really important to me because it helps me feel connected to people -- and read social cues! And again on over-communication -- we chat, text, and email all day long!
Camille: I just have to agree with all that! We are so glad to interact face-to-face on a regular basis.
“It really helps us to feel that connection that abruptly came to an end because of the pandemic. We need to make sure that we stay healthy and sane in times like this!”
Caitlin: Do you have kids? How have you been tackling work while keeping your kids engaged and distracted?
Camille: I have two grown kids at home! We have a family unit here at the house, we just try to make the day-to-day as fun as possible. Since my daughter works from home as well, we like to say that we have departments in the household. Like she is in accounting upstairs; and I’m in technology on the 1st floor!
It’s really important to stay active and go for bike rides and connect with the family, so it’s been very convenient having my kids with me, reminding me to take a break, keep healthy habits going and not to fall into a slump.
Lizi: I have a two year old and one in the oven! We have all cut back our hours, because there’s only so much we can do in times like this. Downtime is so important. However, I may have watched Disney’s Frozen one too many times at this point!
Overall, it’s definitely a team effort all around in my household, like partnering with my husband so he can get his work done and vice versa. And along with everyone in the office, too!
We have a really open culture where everyone is open to asking for help, so I feel comfortable asking for help when I need to, so I can spend time with my family but the work is still getting done.
Roundtable summary for those on-the-go!
- Face-to-face interaction is important for all of us, but especially children as they’re in prime developmental years. Making sure we’re stimulating kids’ minds with video chats and quality online courses is critical right now.
- Over-communication as a means of staying connected with the team, but also clients, franchisees, parents, and kids. So they can have an understanding of what’s going on “behind the curtain”. As well as reinforcing that we’re all in this together and working diligently to make quality art courses available.
- The community connection that the franchisees have with their local families has been integral. Their town “art lady” or “art guy” persona has really empowered franchise owners to look for new ways to communicate with participants.
- Recorded courses have offered parents more flexibility versus rigid class time or live video. They don’t have to make sure they’re in the right place at the right time to access the courses they need, which works really well in times like these where parents are working from home.
- Reaching new audiences that they didn't expect by making their courses more accessible -- like adults using drawing as a stress-reliever along with their kids! And the elimination of geographic constraints -- reconnecting with people that have moved away from franchises or have not had access to them.
- Ask for help when you need to. Lean on your team members, technology providers, and household to get things done! We’re all experiencing the same thing and in this together. Our support systems is what is going to get us through this – professionally and personally.