Rockwall School of Music
“Music is good for the soul.” It may be an old saying, but it’s remained a part of the vernacular for a reason — it contains some timeless wisdom. Musicians do more than entertain us. Their expressions help us feel more intensely, appreciate the beauty all around us, and imagine new possibilities.
As it did for millions of small business owners across the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Karen and Russ Porter of the Rockwall School of Music in Rockwall, Texas, to alter the ways in which they interact with their customers. The Porters have owned and operated their school for almost 16 years. In that time, they’ve helped thousands of aspiring musicians master instruments as different as piano, guitar, percussion, violin, viola, cello, bass, ukulele, and the human voice.
Before changing their tune, however, Karen and Russ had to accept that silence would have a larger presence in their lives — at least temporarily. “Initially, COVID-19 was devastating for our business,” Russ admits. “About 20 percent of our students had to drop out as households started tightening their budgets. And, although Karen and I continued to cover the front desk, things got very quiet around here as our office staff and teachers began working from home.”
The Porters quickly realized that finding a silver lining to the dark cloud that had settled over their small business meant leaning into the work-from-home model. While they’d often talked about offering virtual lessons before, the Porters had never had a strong incentive to include distance learning in their business plan.
Why? Face-to-face instruction has long been the gold standard for instilling the self-discipline budding creators need to achieve their artistic goals. And the majority of the Rockwall School of Music’s students are young people — with some notable exceptions, including one 84-year-old violinist whose bucket list included leading his church’s congregation in a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
The Porters understood that they needed to find a new way to leverage what has always been the key to their school’s success: their instructors’ unwavering commitment to providing an exceptional, highly personalized student experience. “As professional musicians, both Karen and I know the value of studying with highly trained, practicing artists,” Russ explains. “We’ve always managed our business with that level of professionalism in mind. Our goal is to make sure students receive the training they want and the value that they are paying us to receive.”
By a strange stroke of luck, local authorities across North Texas began issuing their first stay-at-home orders right before the Rockwall School of Music’s spring break. Rather than taking that week to rest and relax as they usually might, the Porters spent it figuring out how to translate their unique pedagogical approach to an online learning environment.
Fast-forward to early April. The Rockwall School of Music’s digital transformation was now complete. In addition to hosting more than 500 weekly lessons using video-conferencing tools, the school began staging online recitals so that students could share their music with friends and family.
Orchestrating this transformation was a genuine community effort. The Porters, their instructors, and their students set the tone by pooling their skills and talents. They were soon joined by Lee Horn and Kyle Munn, the Porters’ bankers at Guaranty Bank & Trust.
Keeping their ears to the ground, Lee and Kyle had learned about a new federal program designed to help small business owners — the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) overseen by the Small Business Administration (SBA). They wasted no time in contacting the Porters to let them know the PPP represented a rare opportunity for the Rockwall School of Music to stabilize its operations and set itself up for continued success. Karen and Russ agreed.
With the same sense of urgency and agility they’d shown over Spring Break, the Porters began assembling the materials they needed to request a PPP loan. They also drew on their previous experience as borrowers. “We’ve taken out two SBA loans in the past, as well as a loan supplement,” Russ notes. But even he and Karen were surprised by how different the PPP application process proved to be.
“The program roll-out was pretty hectic, and we didn’t have much of a chance to prepare,” Russ recalls. “But Lee and Kyle never got flustered. They were always available to answer our questions — including questions quite specific to our industry — and very proactive about emailing us with updates to our application’s status.”
That status changed frequently. Within a few weeks, Karen and Russ received nearly $80,000 in PPP funding. As much as this cash infusion helped the Porters innovate in a time of crisis, it also allowed them to restore some degree of normality to the lives of all those touched by the Rockwall School of Music and its educational programming.
“The PPP loan meant we didn’t have to worry about cutting payroll or missing payments on our building. It also made it possible for us to reopen for in-person instruction just after Memorial Day,” Russ says. “We’ll still offer online lessons, though. That change is probably permanent. We want our students and their families to be able to choose the option that’s best for them.”
Russ acknowledges that, overall, the Rockwall School of Music has real reason to celebrate despite the challenges presented by the current business climate. But he concedes that long-term planning can be an exercise in listening for signals to emerge from the noise. Looking forward to the last half of 2020, Russ says that “we may revisit our loan and see if interest rates have dropped enough for warrant refinancing.” He adds that he’d also like to explore what it would take to open a second location.
Nevertheless, Russ is sure of one thing: that the Rockwall School of Music and Guaranty Bank & Trust will face the future together. “Although I’ve only been banking with Guaranty for a little over three years, I’ve been blown away by how much they care for their customers’ well-being. They work to find what’s best for us rather than what’s easiest for them. If we decide to continue expanding our business, we know Guaranty Bank & Trust will be instrumental in making that happen.”
Since 1913, Guaranty Bank & Trust has helped Texans of all kinds dream big and accomplish great things. To learn more about how our friendly, caring, and collaborative bankers support the Lone Star State’s small business community, call our Customer Care Center at 888-572-9881 or book a video appointment today.