Executive Q&A with Tippi Toes CEO Sarah Nuse
What started as a college side-hustle has grown into a thriving franchise brand with plans to cross the 50-unit mark by 2023.
1851 Franchise: Tell us about the founding of Tippi Toes.
Sarah Nuse: I started teaching children’s dance classes in college as a way to make money after I was fired from a restaurant job. My mother was a dance instructor, so I knew what was involved, and I knew it could be some fun. At that time, I had no idea it would become a full-time job, let alone a franchise.
The classes became extremely popular, and I was making great money. But after college, I felt the pressure to go out and find a so-called “real job”, which I did, but I hated it. So I started teaching dance classes again. Business kept growing, and eventually, I got to the point where I needed to bring on employees to keep up. That’s when I brought on my younger sister, Megan, who is now our COO.
The business just kept growing, and we were even featured on “Shark Tank,” which brought an exponential increase in interest in our brand. Eventually, we realized that franchising would be the best way to help Tippi Toes reach its full potential, so we learned everything there was to learn about franchising, launched our own franchise and started taking on our first franchise owners. Today, we have more than 30 units open in markets across the country, and we’re gearing up to cross the 50-unit mark by 2023.
1851: What makes Tippi Toes stand out in the children’s entertainment and enrichment segment?
Nuse: There are a number of things, including our instruction model, that provide a fun, safe and enriching environment for kids to grow and socialize. But our biggest point of differentiation is our proprietary music and characters, which are immensely popular even outside of our classes.
In 2005, my husband Adam and I wrote a children’s book called “Pink Ballet Shoes,” which teaches children the importance of proper nutrition. Originally, that project had nothing to do with Tippi Toes. But as the book became increasingly popular, we had an opportunity to make a spin-off album of music, featuring characters from the book singing about nutrition. Like the book, that album became extremely popular with kids, so we kept making more albums.
All those songs we created continue to rack up listens on Spotify, and Tippi Toes is the only program that can use those songs and characters in our classes, which gives us an incredible edge over our competitors.
1851: Why should aspiring franchise owners invest in Tippi Toes?
Nuse: First of all, we have one of the lowest start-up costs in our segment, which was a very deliberate decision to ensure that we could partner with the most talented and passionate franchisees, regardless of their financial liquidity. And because our classes are taught at pre-schools and other third-party locations, our franchise owners don’t have to pay for brick-and-mortar facilities, so the overhead is extremely low.
Our model also has distinct lifestyle benefits. Our owners don’t need to work nights and weekends to run a successful business. You don’t have to dedicate your entire life to making this work. That has made us very popular with moms, for example, who want to run a business but are focused on their families as well.
1851: Tell us about Tippi Toes’ “Shark Tank” appearance. How did that affect the brand’s growth?
Nuse: We were big fans of “Shark Tank” during its first season. We watched all the small business owners and thought, these are our people. We didn’t even know that my husband had submitted us to be contestants, but when we got the call, we thought we could make it happen.
We figured that even if we didn’t get a deal, the publicity could be great, as long as they didn’t tear us apart. But ultimately, we did get a deal from Mark Cuban. We accepted the deal on the show, but before it became official, we realized it was more of an acquisition than a partnership. That’s not something we were interested in, so we decided not to finalize the deal.
Ultimately, though, the publicity was great. We started getting inquiries from both prospective customers and franchisees in markets where we hadn’t even stepped foot. It was very exciting and a huge moment for the growth of the brand.
1851: What does the future look like for Tippi Toes?
Nuse: We are at a fantastic place right now. We have incredible brand awareness all across the country and extremely lucrative whitespace available, so we are looking forward to a lot of growth. We are ramping up our development efforts, and I think in the next few years, Tippi Toes is going to become a household name. We anticipate crossing the 50-unit mark by 2023, and we’ll continue to grow from there.