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Sherri Richards, Published November 06 2010

Idea that started out just for kicks turns into big business

In some ways, you could say Cindy Clough started her dance business just for kicks.

She never had the intention of creating a big business, certainly not one with a presence in nine states.

It was 1981. She had been the coach of the Brainerd (Minn.) High School dance team for about four years. The team performed at a Girl Scouts banquet.

“I was just rushed by moms,” wondering if she’d ever teach precision dance to young girls, she said.

Clough started Just for Kix with her husband, Steve, in their home as a part-time venture. Within a few years, the classes had spun off into communities near Brainerd. Steve Clough did the books at night while holding down a day job.

The business now offers dance classes for ages 3 through high school in 189 communities, not to mention its summer camps and catalog sales.

While its core class is still the precision kick, the signature of most high school teams, some programs also teach jazz, tap, ballet and hip-hop.

Just for Kix has been in the Fargo-Moorhead metro area for just over 15 years. A recent addition to its lineup is Horace, N.D., where classes are held Mondays in the fire department’s training center.

“I just really felt that this is a small community, but there are a lot of young families here. It’s nice to have something for those young kids to do,” said Erin Bruno, director of the Horace program.

Studios spread far

Bruno was director of a Just for Kix program in Plainview, Minn., from 2004 to 2008, when her family moved to Horace.

Since starting this fall, about 50 kids have signed up for her classes.

“There’s no pressure. It’s fun, and it’s positive. The girls learn a lot. It catches on from word of mouth,” Bruno said.

Clough and local directors say the dance program’s low-stress environment, clean-cut routines and uniforms, and a business model that keeps costs down contribute to how far it has spread. Just for Kix now has a presence in nine states, as far away as Colorado and Michigan, its two new focus states.

Since 1996, more than 95,000 students have taken part in a Just for Kix program.

At first, the growth wasn’t calculated, Clough said. It expanded into a new community because a director moved there, much like how Bruno brought it to Horace. But in the past 15 years, Clough said they’ve been more aggressive about recruiting talent.

“We’re only as strong as our directors. We try to be very selective with who we choose to work for our company,” she said.

“The Fargo-Moorhead area was probably one of our best start-up areas in the history of our company. We had really great people all hired at the same time,” Clough said.

Kicking in F-M

There are Just for Kix programs in north and south Fargo, West Fargo, Moorhead and Dilworth, as well as outlying communities like Casselton and Kindred, N.D., and Hawley and Barnesville, Minn. The company’s website lists 22 programs in North Dakota and 106 in Minnesota.

“We’re very different from a traditional dance program. We really try to meet the needs of busy families,” said Carrie Cowell, Just for Kix director of youth programs. “You’re not overly committed. We don’t segregate kids based on ability for our traditional kick classes, so kids get to be with their friends.”

Local directors rent class space, usually from churches or schools. Prices are set by the home office, around $25 to $30 per month.

“The way our business model works, we don’t have the overhead of having a building that we’re having to fuel 24 hours a day. That’s the beauty of it. We can keep low prices,” Cowell said.

While its widespread nature makes the company seem a bit like a franchise, it is still all based out of Brainerd and nearby Baxter, Minn. The directors are employees of the corporation, which provides the music, creates the choreography and produces the costumes.

“To start your own studio can be kind of daunting, but when you have this company backing you … it doesn’t seem so overwhelming to do it,” said Rikki Lien, director of the West Fargo program, which now has 455 students.

“They have a marketing team for advertising. They take care of the financial end with taxes. They set up our performances and competitions,” said Carly Hager, north Fargo director. “We get to have all the contact. We get all the fun stuff.”

Lien said because the company is so ubiquitous some people may think it’s a generic company. “But once you get into the program, it is very specialized,” she said.

The directors give Cindy Clough much credit for that. Besides running Just for Kix, she still coaches the Brainerd High team.

“She has a lot of energy, and she believes in what she’s doing,” said Moorhead director Beth Welle. “She has a passion for it.”

Business profile

Just for Kix Timeline

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556