Sometime in March, the students at Ascendance Studio in Doral noticed something unusual. For nearly a week, camera crews photographed classes and everyday interactions at the studio; film crews followed Valentina Bagala, one of the two owners of the small local business, seemingly everywhere.
“Something fishy was going on,” confirms Rafael Savino, co-owner of the studio and Bagala’s husband. “We were selected among thousands of businesses to star in a Google commercial.”
The online ad, which was released by Google on June 11, features Bagala and Savino telling their story, as Bagala went from being a young child learning to dance in Chile and taking that love for the art form through high school and even college at the University of Florida. Then, the couple took a very real leap of faith to quit steady jobs, max out credit cards and open the first dance studio in Doral in 2013.
“[The] early days were difficult,” recalls Bagala. “My biggest fear was having an empty class or, even worse, having only one girl in class. Also, we didn't have our own space as we rented a room by the hour, and I always feared being outside of the space with my parents with no keys to open the door.”
Fast forward a few years, and now the studio’s company team will compete at nationals. At the studio’s fifth annual recital held June 10, Bagala had the distinct honor of calling up to the stage Carolyn Bernal, who just last year won the Most Valuable Dancer award as a student — and is now the first Ascendance alumn to become part of the teaching staff.
Google’s interest in the local business came from a recognition that this was a true web success story. After all, the couple went from simply chasing a dream to having a steady stream of about 200 students, a 5,000-square-foot studio and nine instructors on payroll. And they openly credit the use of Google AdWords online advertising specifically for the remarkable growth they experienced.
In the commercial, Bagala recalls how her husband asked her how she’d search for dance classes online in Spanish — something they had to consider given Doral’s predominantly Spanish-speaking population. He tailored his marketing approach to the words and phrases she gave him. Having a background in finance and a natural love for all things tech, Savino understood they had to advertise in both English and Spanish to reach the local audience and do so in a way that was cost effective.
Working together to come up with the right online keywords, the rookie entrepreneurs were able to register 45 new students wanting to learn everything from ballet to flamenco within a month.
Google makes a point of sharing this kind of story. The company’s 2017 Economic Impact Report produced by Deloitte reflects the dynamic pace at which digital small businesses are growing throughout the country.
With an increasing number of customers relying almost exclusively on online channels to engage with companies — from initial searches through bookings, purchases and feedback — digital tools give small businesses the greatest return on investment.
At the recital, Bagala and Savino were presented with a congratulatory certificate from Doral Vice Mayor Anna Maria Rodriguez, who attended the event with Councilwoman Claudia Mariaca.
“We had the pleasure of sitting in the audience and watching this beautiful performance tonight, and we are so blessed to have Ascendance Studio in our city. Thank you for choosing Doral as a place to have your business,” said Rodriguez as she handed the framed certificate on behalf of Mayor J.C. Bermudez, who was away attending the National Conference of Mayors.
The show closed with a number inspired by "Monsters, Inc." — complete with moving door props and a cast of 41 dancers, ages 4 to 17, who completed several costume changes throughout the medley. The last song, quite appropriately, was Katrina & The Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine.”