Tour Your Competitors

Updated: Feb 28

I highly recommend touring the schools that compete with yours.

These students are playing a happy song for you because you toured their school.

As you know, school tours are very important. You've made the first cut and the families touring want to learn more about you in-person. You want your school tour to be the very best it can be (of course given your school's constraints). That is why I suggest:

Tour the schools competing with you for students.

There. I said it. I am all in on this one. Some people to whom I suggest this think I am being scandalous. I promise: this is not a scandalous proposition. Rather, it is totally above-board and enlightening and very much worth the time and effort if you have the volunteers willing to do it. Before you divvy up the nearby schools and tour, do consider these points: 

1. Don’t rely on a past tour. In other words, just because you toured Jones School when you were school-shopping, don't assume you can't learn anything by touring Jones School now. When you are checking out schools for your own children, you are looking at certain things and blind to others. You tend to be more concerned about the content than the delivery of the message. Also, you are looking out for the things most important to your child and family situation. Attending a tour now, without so much on the line, will be with totally fresh eyes. Plus, things might have changed since you last went.

2. Be courteous. Just a reminder to treat the people you encounter at this school with respect. Even if, in your mind, anyway, they are employing dishonest tactics to get students or even spreading misinformation about your school, this is not the time to fight that fight.

3. Be genuine. People often ask me if they should use a fake name (!) when touring a nearby school. I wouldn’t. Use your real name (and I always use my children’s real ages). Remember that you are allowed to tour other schools. Besides, sometimes you have to present your drivers license and wouldn’t that be awkward?

4. Don’t go it alone. As you know, offering tours takes time and resources so be sure to schedule, if at all possible, when other families are already touring, so the school does not roll out the red carpet just for you. This is easiest to accomplish when schools use signup genius or similar tools. Otherwise, I might say, “I’m almost certain I can make this tour, but if something comes up, I’d feel better knowing there are others on the tour so it can go on without me. Will there be others coming, too?”

5. Keep your eyes peeled. Observe everything—no detail is too small to be helpful. I always take notes, too. Look out for large things, like who is leading the tour, what they talk about, what they show you, overall length and content. But also notice the small things such as their frequency of tours, what families do while waiting for the tour to begin, how they handle their negatives and what role the principal plays.

6. You never know…Sometimes your best takeaway is not marketing related. I would say a third of the great things I learn on tours have nothing to do with marketing! Such things include ideas for fundraisers; field trips; school behavior management; teacher staffing; uses for PTO funds and more.

7. You won’t regret it. You will always learn something. Your time is precious and I don’t want you to waste a morning. You won’t.

8. Keep notes and use them. After you have toured, jot down any remaining thoughts including anything your school could benefit from adopting. Then don’t just let your thoughts and notes sit there. Share this information through the appropriate channels, which might include your PTO Board, PTO or principal.

After touring you competitors I'm sure you will be inspired to change things up on your own school's tour. Best of luck! Just a friendly reminder to make sure your school's brand is in good shape before working on your tour. More good tips for tours include making sure you: label your school programs and utilize your lobby.