Ask Katie Parker why she does what she does — running a franchise that’s in 15 states and teaching singing and dance classes out of her home while she and her husband raise five children — and she’ll tell you the name of a little girl.
Parker, a Brigham Young University graduate and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the founder and CEO of Singers Company, a company now with over 60 franchises, which helps women run performance studios for young girls that focus on individual attention and encouragement. The little girl Parker named symbolizes the Singers Company mission.
“She’s been with me for a really long time,” Parker said. “She’s super shy. The first couple of performances I don’t know if she even moved her mouth. But she was on stage, and I knew as a director that that was a success for her.”
As the little girl continued to attend weekly Singers Company classes with Parker, she became more and more willing to perform. The second year, she actually sang in the performance, and by the fourth year she sang a solo that was so good Parker started to get emotional.
“She sang completely on key,” Parker said. “It was the most beautiful, strongest solo.”
This experience represents many that Parker has had, and she said she strives for Singers Company directors around the country to have the same kind of experiences. With patience and positive feedback, they teach girls to sing and dance but mostly to have confidence in themselves, she said.
Parker grew up singing and dancing in California, and she started teaching classes as a high school student in 1994 as a way to help earn money for college. She continued to hold classes when she moved to Utah and attended BYU.
“It was in my wheelhouse of talents and interests, but it also helped me earn really good money for not that much time,” she said. “It was something I could totally do during school without exhausting me.”
She called her business Singers Company, but she never planned on expanding past just her. As she got married, graduated, started working full time in public relations and eventually started to have children, she continued to teach.
“It just always made sense to do it, plus it was an outlet for me and my talents, to keep singing, keep dancing, keep creating shows,” she said.
She knew that her classes had different results than competitive performance programs, and she knew a lot of that had to do with her goals and the way she taught. While still teaching valuable performance skills, she focused primarily on building positive relationships with the girls in her classes.
“It wasn’t about pulling off the perfect show,” she said. “Singers Company is about making sure that each girl, no matter their talent level, is pushed and encouraged the right way where they feel safe and encouraged to perform.”
After moving back to California, Parker was often approached about franchising Singers Company, and she started to wonder if the way she taught could be replicated with multiple directors. As she considered creating a franchise, what finally convinced her was a text from an ecstatic mother whose daughter had been attending Singers Company and had been acting happier and more self-assured.
When Parker sat down to write a director’s handbook, she started to see the things she naturally incorporated into her lessons and performances that other directors could learn and incorporate as well. She said the financial risk of starting a franchise was secondary to her concern about passing on the Singers Company mission of helping girls feel known and loved.
"If I could truly replicate the mission I was going for, then I knew we could be successful,” she said. “But if we couldn’t, we couldn’t, and then the financial side wouldn’t even work. It was the mission that had to work first.”
In 2011, Parker franchised Singers Company and started training directors on what she calls “the Singers Company magic.” She said the magic comes from constructive and individualized attention. She encourages directors to get to know each of their students deeply and to know what her strengths and limits are. Each season ends with a performance, and Parker said each girl has an opportunity to shine.
“It’s not the normal philosophy in a show production,” Parker said. “We have a really strong show and we work them hard, but we know each girl so well individually — we know where that little girl’s limits are and when we’re crossing a line with her. So we don’t want to push her where she feels down on herself like she’s doing it wrong all the time.”
Directors who purchase franchises have the freedom to set up their own schedules and find their own students, and Parker strives to provide them with all the business resources they need so they can center their attention on the girls they teach. This, in turn, allows Parker to hand-pick directors who are passionate about the Singers Company mission.
“We don’t look for someone that can create shows; we do that,” Parker said. “We want someone who’s organized, but they don’t have to be crazy business-minded because we provide that for them. … You don’t have to design or look for costumes or spend time doing that; we do all that for you.”
The day she started franchising Singers Company in 2011, Isabel Malherbe contacted her about starting a franchise in Utah. Malherbe has been a Singers Company director ever since, and she is now the company’s mentor program director, a role that came into play as Singers Company grew. She helps train new directors as they prepare for a performance season, from marketing their classes to planning their first lesson with the girls.
Malherbe has had her own experiences seeing girls come out of their shells, and those are the ones that motivate her. She has extensive voice training and when she was young, her mom ran a ballet studio out of their house.
“It’s not something that I consider to be work,” she said about Singers Company. “This is the sort of thing that I would do for free.”
Malherbe said she loves using her performance training to build up little girls, and she is a strong believer in the Singers Company mission as well.
“The whole methodology is for every girl to feel loved and confident even if she’s shy or this or that. Every different personality is loved for what it is,” she said.
Singers Company has an expanding staff beyond Parker and Malherbe, and the members of the staff are spread out across different states. Parker said they’re working on automating different parts of the business model too, so the company can continue to expand.
She has been careful to contain the franchise’s growth so she can continue to contribute. She now has five children, and she said her priorities have always been her faith and her family.
“I know that if we grow too fast, I can’t be a mom first,” she said. “I have an obligation to our franchise’s needs, so I’m not going to push for growth when I’m not prepared on our end to handle it well.”
She prioritizes deliberately, starting her days with scripture study, then taking care of her family, and finally tending to her duties as a CEO. She looks for ways to serve God, and she believes he has a strong hand in the success of Singers Company.
“It will be what he wants it to be," Parker said. "I’m not going to push it to be more. … I just know he wants me to do Singers Company.”
She said balancing a growing company with a family and her own Singers Company classes is often a struggle, but it’s worth it.
“It’s what I believe in through and through,” she said. “It’s lifting others with your voice, and it’s teaching these little girls to do the same. It’s teaching these little girls that they’re beautiful and that their voice is strong.”