As a young adult, Heather Salvador knew her career would take her one of two ways, her passion for singing lead to her applying to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama., if she wasn’t successful, she planned to leave the world of performance behind her and train to become a solicitor. This year marks Heather and her husband’s twelfth year in business with Stagecoach Performing Arts School.
“I met my husband, Cris, when we were both at university in Glasgow, and it was during this time that I found Stagecoach. I started working with them, aged 19, as a singing teacher. It suited me perfectly. As a classically trained singer, I had a lot of knowledge to pass onto the students and the hours fitted around my studies. In 2002, we moved from Glasgow to Leeds and got married. So much was changing in my life but Stagecoach remained the one thing consistent and familiar; I was offered another job as a singing teacher in Leeds, so I could continue to develop my career and carry on doing what made me happy.”
Heather continued to work for Stagecoach for three years, and with a wealth of experience backing them, the aspirational couple began to see the added value and benefit of becoming franchisees with this popular performing arts school.
“It felt like a natural progression for myself and Cris to invest in our own territory. He’s also a classically trained singer and, although he hadn’t worked for Stagecoach before, he could see how much I enjoyed working with them. I fully believed what you were buying with a franchise was completely worth it. Stagecoach manage everything, from child protection and lesson planning to marketing and PR support. It meant I could concentrate on the development of the children and leave the rest to the experts.”
Stagecoach encourage a thorough due diligence process and both Heather and Cris discussed the opportunity as a couple, chatted to existing franchisees and, with Stagecoach’s help, researched market development in their preferred territory.
“We made the decision to start our own school and signed the all-important franchise agreement in 2005. We were eager to start our training but there was one small obstacle; I gave birth to our first son around four weeks before training started!”
This didn’t put Heather off attending the training course. These new parents were eager to get their business off the ground! With Heather’s sister also in attendance, for support and unofficial nannying duties, Cris and Heather began training.
All new franchisees undertake an expert induction at Stagecoach’s head office in Walton-on-Thames and receive ongoing training along with industry-leading support in marketing, customer service, IT and business development. Their tried-and-tested structure enables franchisees to play to their strengths and provides the best possible environment in which to succeed.
“I cannot tell you how exceptional that early training was, we got so much out of it. We worked hard to ensure we were being as proactive as possible. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it right! Although it was beneficial that I had a few years of previous experience with Stagecoach, it was Cris who came away from each session with so many ideas for our own school. The initial training sparked ambition in both of us – we couldn’t wait to get out there and make a start.”
For almost 30 years, the Stagecoach model has been proven and refined to become one of the UK's leading performing arts opportunities. Franchisees build a team of equally passionate and enthusiastic teachers, qualified to bring out the very best in their students. Stagecoach schools provide a thriving, nurturing and supportive environment for creative learning. That’s just one of the reasons why 40,000 children every week flock to classes nationwide.
Heather had been so impressed with her first experience of training, that even after 12 years of running her expanding Stagecoach business in Leeds, Chesterfield, Barnsley, Halifax and Pontefract, she regularly attends the ongoing Stagecoach training sessions.
“Every time I do the training, I feel like Stagecoach has worked on the programme – it’s progressive and they work hard to keep up with students’ ever-developing needs. The ongoing support with Stagecoach is fantastic too. I’m quite a high-maintenance franchisee – I’m always looking to expand and maintain our business, and I contact head office a lot for advice. I ensure we make full use of all the services that Stagecoach provides.
“The Regional Franchise Managers are really helpful. They give knowledge and support in a number of different areas, and we’ve worked with our franchise manager to build a structure which will maintain our business growth. With multiple territories, there’s always a lot to do.”
Today, a network of more than 300 franchisees operate over 650 schools offering 1,645 classes in eight countries. Through an exciting and varied framework of teaching and development, franchisees have helped to unlock the potential of more than one million students since it opened in 1988.
Heather and Cris now manage Stagecoach schools throughout West Yorkshire, handling everything from administration, planning events and workshops to managing their team of experienced teachers, and making sure their students are getting the most out of their lessons. Heather even goes as far to say that, in terms of their business, Cris promises the earth and she makes it happen!
“The best thing about being a Stagecoach Principal is never feeling like you’re going to work – every day is different and fun in its own way. There’s always something going on. I’m forever spinning plates but I love it. The students recently took part in a big performance in Halifax and it’s not uncommon for me to spend an entire day washing uniforms after an event. It sounds crazy but I wouldn’t have it any other way – there are worse ways to earn a living!
“We have a team of managers who run our territories on a day-to-day basis which gives us the freedom and flexibility to develop all of our schools. Cris does all the marketing, advertising, and spends most of the day making phone calls. I deal with teachers and lesson content, without having to be at the schools all the time. The best thing about running our business from a development point of view is the variety in running more than one school. It’s a win-win scenario – we’re both utilising our passion for singing and performance, whilst still managing to take a step back every so often.”
With two young sons, who have grown up with their parents running their Stagecoach business, Heather and Cris make sure they prioritise their boys and have family days out – leaving their work phones at home! Whilst their two children understand that Mum and Dad have a business to run, they really appreciate the time they get as a family.
As well as gaining that much-needed dedicated family time, Heather and Cris have achieved great success as Stagecoach business owners. Students have performed at both Her Majesty’s Theatre in London and Birmingham Symphony Hall; a performance which included every single child from each of their Stagecoach schools.
Heather and Cris’ students have even had the honour of performing at Disneyland Paris, opening the park to the thousands of guests who visit the infamous attraction on a daily basis. This is an annual endeavour for their students. This year’s event will see students taking part in a superhero-themed stage show and performing in the pre-parade.
You would be forgiven for thinking this would be enough success to keep the couple happy for a lifetime but there has been one incredible performance which stands out to Heather specifically, “A group of our students performed with Robbie Williams at Leeds Arena. It was amazing. They sang ‘High Hopes’ as part of a children’s choir and they loved every second of it. The students were treated like superstars, with a huge dressing room full of snacks and drinks. Robbie was so wonderful and friendly – it’s been difficult to explain that this won’t be an annual thing to our classes!
“How it came about was so unbelievable. The tour promoters rang me out of the blue, saying a big star was coming to the area in June and, after some research, I worked out it was going to be Robbie and my heart nearly stopped. It was such a phenomenal opportunity that I had to convince the parents that it was real, not a hoax! After the performance, I told the Stagecoach Agency how much the children enjoyed themselves. This lead to Stagecoach students from all over the world performing with Robbie at every date for that tour.”
With another trip to Disneyland in the pipeline, and Heather and Cris as eager as ever to continue the growth of their Stagecoach Performing Arts business, the development and happiness of their students is of utmost importance to the Salvador’s.
“The majority of our students won’t go on to become professional performers in adult life - it’s about having confidence in life, generally. The children are constantly proud of the things they’ve done with us, and this sense of achievement stays with them throughout their lives. The skills they learn at Stagecoach help them every single day, whether that be in approaching others, making friends, or spoken exams at school. Nurturing that determination is far more important to me than pushing the students to become qualified performers.
“I love running our Stagecoach business. If I were to give advice to anyone looking into doing the same, I would say ‘go for it’. You must be passionate and love what you do. At the end of the day, it’s about providing the best experience possible for the children, that should be your driving force. Make sure the children are happy and excited, and the rest will fall into place.”
If you have a passion for performing arts education and the drive to change not just your own life but the lives of others, find out more about Stagecoach by getting in touch.