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Why We Ask for Receipts:  Over-Crowding in SSQQ Classes
written by Rick Archer

SSQQ got its start during the Disco Era in 1978.  For 22 years, our building space grew at the same rate as our number of students.

However the Millennium Year of 2000 forced us to make serious changes. This was the first year in the history of our studio where demand for classes threatened to totally overwhelm our facility.

Up to this date, we had always had room for everyone who wished to register for a class. Sometimes the rooms were tight, but nothing like the crowding we were suddenly experiencing had ever happened before. 

This sudden crush was caused by the merger of two simultaneous dance crazes.

As the 21st Century began, t
he "Jump Jive and Wail" Gap Commercial-inspired Swing Era of the late 90s was still going strong.  But the buzz was all about Ricky Martin's new song "Living La Vida Loca". This song sparked an amazing interest in Salsa dancing. It created a sensation that had not been seen since "Saturday Night Fever".

Overnight our studio was PACKED!

As a result, in early 2000 I received one complaint after another about the over-crowding in classes. Some were polite, some were very angry. (If you are curious, I posted a Staff Memo from that era on this same page.  You can read some of the angry notes and the reasons behind my decision to make changes.)

We decided we had to do something. Our decision was to begin to issue receipts and have someone stationed at the door to check the receipts. 

This emergency created the start of the Hall Monitor era.

In June of 2000, SSQQ began hiring Hall Monitors to screen the people entering classes.  This was a huge step for us. We had made it for 20 years using our relaxed "let it be" system of taking all comers. As with any change, this move was met with initial resistance, but was accepted for one simple reason - the rooms at SSQQ had become far too crowded.

We quickly discovered we had an enormous number of undocumented people who were showing up to 'Volunteer'.  On any given night, various dance students with a free evening to burn would walk through door, find a class whether it needed an extra guy or girl or not and just blend in. This led to the practice of issuing Volunteer Cards and keeping a list. Things changed swiftly. 

Almost overnight the size of our classes went down about 20% and the crowding problem improved noticeably. In addition to reducing our legions of volunteers, apparently a sizeable number of people had been taking some classes for free. The creation of the Hall Monitor Program and the Volunteer program cleared up two huge headaches.

In early 2001 we had a terrible incident were a man was denied entry to a class because he didn't have a receipt and he didn't have his name on a roster either. He vehemently protested and began to make quite a scene.

After I investigated the incident carefully, I concluded that it was likely that the man had paid. However
at the same time he didn't bother to take either our request that he keep his receipt or sign the class roster process seriously. Neither he or the studio had any record of his transaction which led to the confrontation two weeks after he started classes.

This incident was so ugly that I realized we needed a better system of keeping rosters.

I decided the best thing to do was add the use of computers to Walk-In Registration as well. At a cost to the studio of over $30,000, in 2001 we added computerized Registration to our studio.  We ordered computer software and hardware to handle the problem. Three new computers from Gary Richardson's TFW Computers were installed to run some sophisticated Registration software designed by David Schroeder.  Unfortunately the immediate effect was to slow down Walk-In Registration considerably.  As a result, David Schroeder went back and added "On-Line Registration" to the system as well.  Now people could just walk into class if they wished to by-pass the lines. 

This expensive but needed move allowed us to build accurate class rosters and keep statistics. Now we had accurate rosters for each class plus everyone's transaction could be looked up if someone lost or forgot their receipt. The Hall Monitors could make decisions based on fact, not guess-work. Such a relief! 

Ironically, the over-crowding problem had also been solved. It takes a long time to design a massive system like David did. By the time the system was finally completed, the problem had already been solved by the 9/11 tragedy in 2001.


The horrible 9/11 crisis had such a chilling effect on attendance that the over-crowding problem instantly disappeared. As of 2005, attendance has never again approached the numbers we were looking at during the year 2000.

Some day there will be another dance craze.  Hopefully if our studio ever reaches a crowding problem that approaches those uncomfortable days of 2000, we will be able to use our Registration System to limit class sizes.

Next time we plan to be ready. 

 


A Memo from Rick Archer to the SSQQ Staff
July 2000

As I believe you have sensed, I have felt for some time that our studio is a little "out of control".  There were no exact moments I could put my finger on and say this was "Proof", but little by little it just seemed people were showing up that were unaccounted for.

I have to be honest and say this was an impression, not a fact.  It just seemed like teachers weren't checking receipts properly and keeping clip boards up to date.  There were men wandering all over the studio looking for a class to "volunteer" in.  One night I saw Shane and Eric pass each other twice looking for some class that needed men.  There were none.  But they disrupted every class in the studio twice as they wandered around. 

Then I have teachers threatening to quit because their classes are too crowded.  Then I have students writing angry emails for the same reason.  For example, 

Dear Rick,

It has been made to our attention that all complaints regarding SSQQ rules and regulations be directed to you.

During the month of March, every Tuesday, my friends and I have duly reported to our Salsa dance class that was unbearable crowded.  At one point we counted eighty people.  Eighty.  In a small room.  Imagine trying to learn a new dance by lining up in three rows, snaking around the room.  And with one teacher.  Oh, I forgot, you don't have to.

When the class collectively aired our complaints, we were told that we could go to the Saturday class at 4:30 P.M.  I think that suggestion is quite insensitive to the needs of your customers.  We have chosen Tuesday nights to fit into our schedule, as I'm sure the other eighty people have done the same, so to tell us to move ourselves to Saturday is bad customer service at its best.  And of course no other remedies was offered throughout the course.

What should have been done?  There needs to be a limit to these classes.  You can not enroll as many people as you can to make the most profit and let your customers “figure it out” for themselves.  Please join the rest of the civilized business world and set aside some rules to SERVE your customers, and then maybe you'll make some money at it.  And while you're at, what about “feed back” forms at the dance studio for those customers who are not electronically adapt yet?  Because I know a hell of a lot of angry customers who do not have access to a computer to send you an e-mail.

So what about the four of us?  We will continue to take dance classes, but not at SSQQ.  Enjoy your profit Rick, while it lasts.

Irately yours, 
Ms.  Thuy Tran and friends

Here is another letter:

Rick,

We have been taking swing, salsa, and tango classes at SSQQ for about two and a half months now, and we have a couple of requests for you.

Each of the levels that we advance to seem to have the same problem: Too many people in each class! Your instructors are great, but they are having difficulties both providing a high level of information, as well as being able to complete the curriculum in a timely fashion. They give it their best, but they are very much out numbered. This also causes several of the students, including both of us, to be stepped on and run over regularly due to the lack of room.

Are you considering a limit to the class size? Or maybe opening the rooms up and reducing the number of simultaneous classes? Please let us know. 

Janet Nelson

Then there was a class that appeared to have a combined force of 8 volunteers and assistants one night.  They all canceled each other out, but the room was 8 people more crowded!!  

That was the night I shook my head and said this had to stop.  

I have been trying so hard ever since to tighten things up a bit without alienating people in the process.  It is obvious that at some point the old system of "show up-sign up-take all comers" is too risky.  There might be a Tuesday where the whole world shows up and then what? 

I don't want to change, but I feel like the studio needs to.  At least you know why I am taking action and starting the Hall Monitor program.

Whether this change will be smooth or shaky depends on your patience, the students' patience, and my self-control.  It should be interesting.


(Editor's Note: four years later in 2005, I can easily say this is one of the best moves we ever made.
Rick Archer)


2001 - WHY WE ASK FOR RECEIPTS:

THE INCIDENT THAT CHANGED THE ENTIRE NATURE OF SSQQ


SSQQ COMPLAINT OF THE MONTH (February 2002 Newsletter)


THE COMPLAINT

Thu 12/06/2001 1:02 AM
Dear Rick:

I would like to share with you the humiliation I went through at SSQQ. It was about 8:30 PM in class when I was rudely disturbed while attending a class by a person claiming to be an employee of SSQQ.

Most of all, I have no idea what provoked him to pick on me from all the people in the classroom. During the second half, while I was making a name tag, we struck a conversation and he started asking me if I am registered for this class or not, apparently he did not see me before or whatever his rationale was. I thought he was joking asking such a question. Anyway, I told him I signed up for this class and two step and then left to join the class.

About ten minutes later, while I was in the middle of dance and in front of everybody this gentleman marches towards me and told me that my name is not on the roster and I had to leave. Although was holding the registration in one hand and he did not bother to look over. He stood next to me and said, "you are not on the roster and you need to leave." He implied that I am like a thief in the grocery store for coming without paying for it.

I don't know if you ever had been accused of cheating or kicked out of an institution or called a cheat or a thief in front of an audience in a restaurant, studio, grocery store or anywhere. It is humiliating to go through such a process in front of many of your colleagues. As a banker and a very conscientious person, I hold myself in a very high ethical standard. It was a nightmare and none of your clients should go through this. I had a problem sleeping wondering if I would ever run into the people again and wondering what would they think of me if they see my face again.

I am baffled, disturbed and hurt by this episode. You are the boss and so you should know what happened.

Mr. Dula


EYEWITNESS
(Email Letter to Rick Archer from a student who witnessed the event.)
Wednesday, December 05, 2001 10:37 AM

I dropped in early last night for dance practice, and I was the unfortunate witness to a confrontation outside the studio with a disgruntled person.

Since I was early, I could not enter the studio and was within earshot of the event. There was an individual arguing vehemently with the Hall Monitor (I assumed the discussion was regarding his removal from the class). He was obnoxious and abrasive, and the Hall Monitor tried patiently to explain to him the policies regarding proof that he had signed up for the class. He kept demanding that the Hall Monitor accompany him to his car to show him the receipt. The Hall Monitor wisely told him he could not leave the studio, but he would await his return. This individual later returned, went in to the intermediate class and started a ruckus that the Hall Monitor had unfairly removed him. I considered this to be totally inappropriate behavior.

Personally I thought the Hall Monitor handled the situation with great composure and respect.


RICK'S REPLY

Email Letter from Rick Archer to the Complainant
Mon 12/10/2001 3:12 PM

I have now reviewed carefully four documents: Your report, the Hall Monitor's report, an instructor's report, and that of a student who witnessed the incident.

I am sorry you were embarrassed.

However you need to see things from my studio's point of view. Our Hall Monitor program was established 18 months ago to reduce a huge number of people from wandering around the studio who were showing up and claiming they were a volunteer. The situation had become a real headache. Since this policy was established, things have become much more organized.

Now the Hall Monitor is paid to do a job - ask people for their receipt. You didn't have one.
Then he or she is supposed to look your name up on a roster. Your name did not appear on one of the rosters.

Furthermore, the Hall Monitor said you made the comment that you are being given free classes. Whether you were jesting or not, this made you seem even more suspicious.

Finally, you naively think someone who has never met you in his life should take your word for it that you paid when it is his job to do the exact thing he did - prevent you from participating without simple documentation.

I do not enjoy the report of this confrontation at all, but please help me understand why I should criticize the Hall Monitor when on the surface it appears he was simply trying to do his job.

Look, I am not happy that you were embarrassed. Our studio is about having fun, not pushing people around.

However we have to have rules. You did not produce a receipt as requested and your name wasn't on the roster. Whether his style was to your liking or not isn't the question - I am sorry the Hall Monitor rubbed you the wrong way, but the fact remains that this person did what he was hired to do.

Please forgive the incident and forget about it. You are a nice guy. You are always welcome here.
Rick Archer

(Editor's Note: This incident was so aggravating to me that I have decided to invest $30,000 in a new computer system designed to upgrade the SSQQ Registration process. Starting in March - or April if necessary - we will use computers for walk-in registration. Combined with our already successful On-Line Registration system, this will allow us to have a computerized recording of all class rosters. This will hopefully prevent incidents such as the one above from happening again.)
 


MORE ABOUT RECEIPTS


APRIL 2003 COMPLAINT OF THE MONTH - THE HALL MONITOR WITH AN IMAGINATION.

Several students were deeply upset that we had no complaints last month. Well, cheer up, we have a fascinating complaint for you this month guaranteed to make you think deeply about the human condition.

SSQQ is like a movie theater. We have drinks and popcorn, six theaters of fun, and we have a ticket taker at the door known as the Hall Monitor.

Our students drive the Hall Monitors nuts because only about 2/3rds of the people on any given night remember to bring their class receipts.

The Hall Monitors are supposed to look the student's registration up on their computer, but the computer response isn't always very fast. The students stare at the Hall Monitor in frustration and quite frankly can be very rude at times… which is sad because the student could solve the problem effortlessly by bringing their 'ticket' in the first place.

One night one of our Hall Monitors snapped completely and decided to fight back in a very interesting manner. The HM thought they were being clever, but unfortunately went too far.

Decide for yourself.

03-20-2003

Hey Rick,
It's your favorite swing dancing attorney. As you may know, I have gone back to class again to learn C/W dances at the best and most friendly dance studio in Houston (prob. the universe). Swing is fun but due to limited venues, C/W is the ticket (plus most C/W places have swing in the song rotation). I am taking Amanda's Beginning Western Swing class and enjoying it greatly. Amanda is a fantastic instructor, funny and very precise about the steps and technical aspects. Her class is a real pleasure to go to.

Over the years, I have referred many people to SSQQ when I am out in dance venues because it is by far the friendliest and most socially fun dance studio I know of. I compliment you on the business and atmosphere that you have created and I greatly admire it.

So, you are probably wondering what is the point of this email...and I hesitate to mention the following. But after all these years, I have a small complaint or maybe suggestion. Normally, if something irritates me I sleep on it and then blow it off...but I did sleep on it and I am still irritated. In addition, I really love going to SSQQ and intend the comments below to be constructive. Also, it occurred to me that you might not know about what irritated me and that you should.

Last night I got to class late and left my registration slip at work in my briefcase (I discovered later). Amanda had very carefully explained that we need to have that slip with us each night because if we didn't they would have to look us up on a computer to reconfirm our registration and it would cause delays. A very good and logical policy. I had forgotten my slip during the prior month and a very nice young man looked my name up on the computer and allowed admittance. Amanda's warning confirmed my experience.

Last night something different happened with a monitor when I showed up for class 30 minutes late. I was only person at door to get in:

HM: "Hi Student, do you have your registration?" (the HM was smiling and very pleasant - I had introduced myself to them during prior night practice sessions).
Student: "I'll look but I don't think so"

HM: "Well, where is it?"
Student: "I may have left it at work or lost it; I'll reprint one from registration history for the next class"

HM: "So you lost it...well we have a special name tag for you" (again smiling)
Student: "Can't you just look it up on the computer?"

HM: "Here, wear this" (Name Tag reads "I LOST IT")
Student: "What's this, you must be joking, okay, how about a tag with my name" (both smiling at this stage)

HM: "It just lets everyone know you lost your slip"
Student: "I really don't think this is funny...seriously, this is going to irritate me, I don't like public chiding" (both still smiling)

HM: "Here, go on in; you will have lots of company" offering name tag again.
Student: (me realizing the HM is serious and me becoming irritated and short) "Well, if this is what I have to wear to get in, I'll just go home."

HM: some sort of hrrmph sound, "Well if that's how you feel, here's your name tag" handing my a new tag with "Student" on it (neither of us smiling at this point)
Student: "Is this Rick's policy now or something you're doing"

HM: "Go on in and have a nice class"
Student: "I may ask Rick about this...I really don't like this name tag business"

HM: "If you do, I may go home"

I am sure that HM was well intended and was just trying to be funny with a point to force me and others to bring the slip next time...so I don't really fault the HM if they came up with this idea on their own since even well intentioned people make mistakes, or if the HM simply was following your directions. However, during my class I danced with several women who had the I LOST IT name tag on. I asked them about it. One thought it was funny. The other two found it irritating and took it off after I asked about it.

Anyway, this obviously pushed a hot button for me....trying to force someone to wear a dunce cap etc is not something I would even consider doing with children, my own or otherwise, much less adults.

Well there it is....if your policy, I just ask that you reconsider...as for me, I will make sure that I have the slip in future and if not, I will just stay home until I can reprint another one....I genuinely don't like public chiding and don't want to make your monitors uncomfortable either... However, if this is one monitor's idea of a joking way to do it, I just ask that the HM and others think of some other way to enforce your slip policy that does not involve public chiding or humiliation... however, well intended.

In all sincerity, I intend this email to be constructive and also, it is only my point of view. As I said, you have a very well run and successful business; you obviously don't need some amateur like me second guessing you if this name tag approach is policy. So if it is policy and you believe the benefits from a business point of view outweigh the negatives, then I will certainly understand and you will not hear any further comment from me about it.

Thanks, (Student's name withheld)


Rick Archer's Reply:

Student, I am so grateful you have taken the time to write me.

I noticed several people wearing a name tag like that. I thought it was their idea of a joke. Unless I find out otherwise, my guess is that the HM was acting completely on their creative own.

You have my complete assurance that it will not happen again.

I am totally irritated with this move. The HM should be ashamed.

The HM is supposed to look names up on the computer.

Please forgive. Rick Archer


(Editor's Note: This was a harmless incident. However it had serious repercussions - the Hall Monitor did not appreciate the student's complaint, so she quit.

I wish all of our students would respect our need to check receipts, but at the same time no one deserves to be embarrassed when they forget it.

On the other hand, I feel for the HM. SSQQ Hall Monitors are subjected to a lot of unnecessary irritating comments from students, volunteers, and staff who don't bother to remember their ID. One woman simply walks past the HM each week as if they aren't even there.

I guess one HM decided they had had enough and were not going to take it any more.

Although as a business owner I cannot tolerate any employee who treats customers in a discourteous fashion, at the same time I completely understand their point.

As a result of this incident, I personally have made a special point to bring my own ID with me to show the HM. And I might add this was a very interesting story. When I get around to selling the ssqq story to Hollywood as the next Cheers, I will definitely use this curious incident in my pilot episode.)

 
 
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