Franchisee Success StoriesMay/June 2023Previous IssuesWomen in FranchisingWomen in Franchising Article

Day in the Life: Shining a Spotlight on Stagecoach

Before they hear “lights, camera, action,” Cadence Allen Crawley prepares young actors for a life on the stage

by Daniel McIntosh

They say all the world’s a stage, and that’s especially true for Stagecoach Performing Arts franchisees like Cadence Allen Crawley, who use their dramatic expertise to train the next generation of thespians in acting, singing, and dancing. Before joining Stagecoach, Allen Crawley spent much of her life immersed in the world of drama and theatre, which makes her well-versed for her position as a Stagecoach franchisee.

As the owner and principal of two Stagecoach territories—with five (and soon to be six) locations throughout Toronto East and Hamilton East—she fills her time nurturing a love of performing arts in the children and teens she works with now. Stagecoach Performing Arts offers weekly classes and camp options for kids from four to 16 years old.

Allen Crawley began researching Stagecoach franchising while she was pregnant with her first son in 2011. Her acting career was on hiatus, and she was making ends meet by bartending and waiting tables, although she still felt the call of the stage.

“I felt like I’d done all this training, and it was going to waste because I wasn’t working in my field,” says Allen Crawley. She found herself at an impasse, wanting to return to performing while securing a job that would provide her with flexibility and control. She found that through franchising with Stagecoach.

Allen Crawley’s mother-in-law happened to be drawn to Stagecoach around the same time. A fellow actor, she was in the midst of opening a Stagecoach franchise on the west end of Toronto.

Shortly after her first son was born, Allen Crawley still dreamt of the possibility of owning a Stagecoach franchise. While on maternity leave, she decided to strike while the iron was hot, and instead of returning to a job that wasn’t making her happy, she opened her first Stagecoach location in Toronto East.

Long, but flexible hours

Allen Crawley’s days take several forms. Sometimes she’s on location during Stagecoach classes in Hamilton or in Toronto’s Scarborough, Danforth Village, and Leaside neighbourhoods, checking in with parents and students, while other times she focuses on office duties. “I try to work during the day when my kids are in school—10 a.m. to 3 p.m.”

Some evenings, she fires off more emails after her two kids are in bed, and the additional workload ramps up during show term, when script edits must be made, and casting and costume decisions must be finalized. She usually spends 12 hours in the office during her two onsite days per week.

Naturally, managing locations in different cities can be challenging but it does have its benefits, namely the ability to travel. “I’ve gathered and trained a strong management team, so I no longer have to be on site at every location at all times,” says Allen Crawley. “I have multiple schools running simultaneously on Saturdays, all managed by people I trust and so I can float and be where I’m needed.”

Faced with pandemic restrictions, Stagecoach moved to providing virtual lessons. Allen Crawley uses existing venues like churches and rec rooms for her classes, so paying rent on a space was out of the question. “We got really creative and luckily, I work with all creative people,” she says of the Zoom-led lessons.

The feedback from parents and students added to the feeling of success. “Their parents would say, ‘this saved my kid.’ They finally had someone to talk to, they had an outlet and something to do. It kept some people sane. It kept me sane,” says Allen Crawley.

After more than a decade in the business, Allen Crawley says she doesn’t need to allocate as much of her time to marketing, as a lot of interest is generated via word of mouth. Despite a looming recession, Allen Crawley says enrollment numbers have remained consistent. “I’ve got some kids getting their 10-year awards this year, too,” she notes. “So, I have these returning families. I think that solid base helps to weather the recession, as well.”

Get ready to adapt and interact

For prospective franchisees looking to start their own Stagecoach franchise, Allen Crawley says adaptability is key. “You’ve got a lot of things that you must keep organized and on track, but also if something comes up that sends you off on a different track, you need to be flexible.”

Personability is another much-needed asset. “You have to chat with a lot of parents, you have to be patient, as well.” Allen Crawley adds the importance of maintaining a fun demeanour to keep kids comfortable. “You get so busy with the day-to-day … but it doesn’t really matter because it’s doing what I love.”

As Allen Crawley entered the business without a background in management, she faced learning curves when it came to managing operational issues like handling finances and hiring staff. However, she says that in the 12 years she’s been a Stagecoach franchisee, the company has grown to develop support mechanisms in those areas.

“They’ve added more resources in every department—marketing, education, HR—and they’re always updating and providing training opportunities,” says Allen Crawley. Like with any good franchise, support and guidance is just a call away.

Potential franchisees have much to look forward to in Stagecoach’s international network of franchisees that they can call on for help. “I love having a network of other principals, other people who are in the very same position as me, and we can bounce things off each other and live through the amazing performance experiences together. We all just get it.”

The control over her career that she sought when she began her franchising journey with Stagecoach is still a major asset to the job, but so is doing what she loves. “I get to work with great people,” explains Allen Crawley. “I get to make my own schedule and be flexible, and I get to be in control of growing my own business, and it’s something I feel proud of.”

Although Allen Crawley entered the business with years of performing experience, she says it’s not a necessity for incoming franchisees. “There are some franchisees out there now who have less theatre experience than how it once was, but if those people have a strong business sense and surround themselves with creative types who know how to put on a show, I think they’re going to be in a great place.”