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  1. Business

Jessica's Piano Studio offers a new take on an old concept

Jessica Benitez of Lutz helps Emily Uravich, 5, of Wesley Chapel, with a piano lesson Thursday at Grace Baptist Church in Wesley Chapel.
Published Sep. 27, 2013

WESLEY CHAPEL — Jessica's Piano Studio isn't an actual studio. At least, not in the traditional sense.

It doesn't operate out of a building. Instead, Jessica Benitez and her husband, Dan, provide a studio business model while allowing teachers to conduct lessons out of their own homes, churches or local nonprofits.

The studio has been open for nine months, but already has attracted eight teachers, about 45 students and expanded from Wesley Chapel to include Spring Hill and Greenville, S.C., where the Benitezes went to college. The building-less model allows teachers to be paid more and allows the business to offer lessons in a variety of locations throughout several towns.

New students of all ages can contact teachers directly through the studio website and schedule a free trial lesson. Then, if a student decides to continue, classes cost $25 per half-hour lesson, $37.50 for 45 minutes, or $50 for an hour.

Before opening her own studio, Benitez, 28, had been teaching piano lessons through an online studio. It conducted business over the Internet but still had an office with overhead, which meant a smaller cut of the proceeds for teachers. The studio also didn't attract many new clients. In one year, Benitez taught only 12 students, retaining just six regulars.

"We just felt like we could do better," Benitez said.

In just nine months of running her own studio, Benitez teaches five times the students she had before and is better compensated for her work.

"Typically a studio charges around $25 and they split it 50-50 with the teacher, so the teacher gets 50 percent and then (the studio covers) overhead," Dan Benitez said. "And I always thought it just didn't seem right to me that a teacher who's doing the work should get 50 percent. I just thought it didn't seem like a fair amount."

After nearly a year of brainstorming, the couple opened their studio in December, forgoing a building. The reduced overhead allows teachers to be keep 80 percent of the proceeds.

Benitez teaches a full roster of lessons, supporting herself, Dan, 32, and their three toddler sons, allowing the proceeds from the business to be reinvested. Dan volunteers as a church elder and handles the business, doing billing and marketing for their teachers, along with running the website.

"We don't want to be in the forefront. We want to be in the background," Dan said. "We want the teachers to be able to build that relationship (with the students) without having to worry about the billing and marketing and all that tedious stuff."

Because the pay is significantly higher than what other studios offer, Dan says, the couple can be discriminating in the interview process. All teachers have background checks and the couple makes sure to interview their teachers in person, even if that means traveling out of state.

Jessica looks for teachers who appeal to students' needs in the way that she does.

"I have one little boy who loves basketball and anything about basketball he will just love," she said. "So one week, he was kind of discouraged about a song and I pulled out this song about basketball. And he's like, 'Oh, yeah, I can do that.' . . . It was neat. It just kind of got him back on track."

Jessica asked one of her former professors from Bob Jones University in Greenville, Shelley Johansen, to serve as the director of that branch of the studio.

"At first, it sounded too good to be true," Johansen said. "They had all these children signing up and were retaining them."

The college professor and owner of Johansen Music Academy jumped at the opportunity to work with the Benitezes.

"The way that Dan handles the business side of it frees the teacher to do what the teacher loves to do," she said. "That is teaching, enjoying music and instilling the love of music in those students."

Samantha Fuchs can be reached at sfuchs@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6235.

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