In this ongoing series we will share stories of customers and what they did to adapt to major changes in 2020.
While she was in school for architecture, Jessica Dunn Fisher, like all her fellow students, was required to have an emphasis of study outside of her regular architectural coursework. Her choice? “Dance and Creative Movement for Children.” That’s why it’s not that surprising that even though she trained as an architect, worked as an architect, and even married an architect, she’s not practicing in that field today, but is rather helping children grow beyond the awkward tween years into confident young teenagers.
She’s now the owner of the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the National League of Junior Cotillions (NLJC) and when she began her journey, the big banks she spoke with didn’t really understand the business and weren’t that interested in trying to understand it. She tried to explain that NLJC had year-long programs that used meetings, meals, and dances to cultivate manners, etiquette, and ethics, in children, and that it was an established program that had been around for decades.
When the big banks told her “no” she literally googled “small local bank Leawood” and found us. Both she and her husband grew up in entrepreneurial families so she understood that “no” was just a necessary part of getting to “yes.” Her oldest child, Sam, was four years old at the time and the day of the bank meeting Jessica’s childcare fell through so Sam joined the meeting in the conference room. She was a well-behaved child, even amidst the interesting antiques in the conference room, and we got to know Jessica and what her vision was for the future of this business in Kansas City.
That meeting with us was in early 2012, but her journey had started in 2008 when a friend from church asked Jessica to take a look at the program she had been teaching 7th and 8th graders for 15 years. Right away, Jessica was hooked. “I just remember how awkward that age was, and how awkward I was, and being part of changing that for people was wonderful.” She went on to talk about how she would meet kids who were shy, lacking in confidence, and unable to even look adults in the eye. A few months into the program they were introducing themselves with confidence, and genuinely getting to know their fellow classmates through practicing the art of polite conversation.
She did end up getting a loan with us to purchase that business from her friend, and that loan was paid off long before Spring of 2020 hit. In the middle of last March Jessica was preparing to send out her annual mailing of formal invitations. These envelopes (think wedding invitation-quality) were hand-addressed, stuffed, sealed, stamped, and just about to go into the mail, because her annual Open House event was scheduled for April 1st. Thinking quickly, she had labels made which she placed onto the back of each envelope encouraging parents to check the website to confirm if the event would still be happening in-person. (Thankfully she did, as KC went into a stay-at-home order on March 24th!) She then went about planning a video version, working to make a wall in her Living Room look as much like a professional backdrop as possible.. It turns out that her quick thinking may have helped out a lot of her colleagues as well because NLJC’s Corporate office shared her work as an example for the other directors (along with an additional behind-the-scenes video, sharing tips and tricks she came up with along the way).
On April 2nd she opened up registration as planned, with the caveat that unlike in normal years, full refunds would be available if she could not begin the Season. The challenge for Jessica wasn’t the lack of enthusiasm from parents: she still had a waitlist within a week (instead of in a day as she normally does). The challenges lay with the venues where she normally taught and held events. With the unknowns of reduced room capacities and social distancing requirements, it wasn’t clear what was going to be possible by Fall.
By July 2020 it was clear she wasn’t going to be able to have a traditional Fall start in a way that made sense with her large enrollment numbers, so she decided to postpone until 2nd semester (that’s the photo you can see above - featuring Sam, now much older than when she was in our conference room!). In December Jessica made the decision to officially call off her 20-21 Season and refunded all tuition payments, with everyone’s spot being held for the future with their registration number.
While the parents and students (including her own Sam) were disappointed, they understood the realities of the situation here in KC, and are ready whenever she is. In the meantime Jessica has booked venues in hopes of a fairly traditional 21-22 Season starting this Fall, and is getting ready to drop the next round of formal invitations into the mail. She can’t wait to get back into the classroom with her students, practicing those greetings and introductions, albeit with a gracious nod for now, in lieu of a good old-fashioned firm handshake!
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