After relocating from their previous location to a brand new sprawling facility in Little Silver, The Prep, much like many other local small businesses, faced challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. When routines are disturbed substantially, it can have adverse effects. However, The Prep’s co-owners were quick to embrace the new, relatively unexplored area of going digital — showing all of us that new opportunities are there to uncover, if you’re willing to take risks.
The Prep is a professional track training studio for performing artists. They help guide and mentor students for audition prep, private voice & acting, and more. We first encountered The Prep when they hosted an impromptu caroling event at Goldtinker during the holidays in 2018, but it was only last year over the summer and into the following holiday season when we really got a feel for the high caliber performances of their students.
When the pandemic forced mandatory closures, there were uncertainties about the future. “We just moved and renovated this brand new 4,000 square foot space, so just to have that and not even be able to use it was devastating.” said Jessi Clayton, co-owner of The Prep. If there’s one particular trend that gained popularity over the pandemic, it’s that people became acquainted with conferencing and video call services.
“We are very forward thinking and we immediately went completely digital in our studio,” said co-owner Theresa Pittius. “We were already teaching students all over the country via FaceTime, so we just adapted all of the group classes that we were planning on having in person to Zoom, which has been a godsend.” They embraced the transition from teaching students in person to going completely virtual, which introduced new ways for them to continue teaching their students.
Beyond just teaching and guiding students, the adoption of virtual meetings brought along some new opportunities for students to receive additional mentoring and support from industry leaders. “That actually gave us greater accessibility to instructors in New York, so we’ve been able to have a lot of different classes we weren’t able to have before, which the kids are really enjoying and loving,” Clayton said. Obviously, it’s never easy trying to transition over to a complete virtual strategy, but The Prep is a prime example how a small business can thrive during challenging times.
All of their decisions and actions go toward the benefit of their students, something that the co-owners share when talking about some of the challenges that their students faced during the pandemic. “I think it’s really important for us to be there for our students during this time, they’re going through a lot. Online schooling, figuring that out, staying indoors, not being to physically be with their friends. Sometimes when they just pop up on a FaceTime with us, seeing them smile that just means everything to us.” Clayton goes on to say, “I love the kids and being able to share that love of performing with them and I love being one of the people who gets to help a kid achieve their dreams.”
If there’s a sentiment that’s unanimous among all the business owners we’ve interviewed, it has to be the many ways our local communities can support them. The sentiments shared by Pittius and Clayton are in line to what we’ve heard from others. “I would say for small businesses, staying creative and not being afraid to try things outside of the box and not being afraid to take risks,” said Clayton. Pittius expanded by saying that people should continue to support small business by sharing about them on social media, leaving reviews, and even buying gift cards from them.
With businesses expected to reopen soon again, the experiences that The Prep has gone through during the crisis is a testament. Change is scary, but if you’re able to adapt quickly to the conditions, as well as taking risks, the outcome may prove to be favorable in the end.