7 Tips to Get Dancewear Store Customers to Linger

It’s the gold standard of retail these days: Add elements of discovery and entertainment to your store, and the immersive shopping experience will make customers forget they intended just to “pop in” for tights or a class leo.

Dance retail display: Nested tables with dance leotards, bra tops, shorts and dance shoes at Gabie's Boutique in Newmarket, ON, Canada
A feature display at the front of Gabie’s Boutique, showing new arrivals. Courtesy of Gabie’s Boutique

It may not feel like it sometimes, but as a local brick-and-mortar store, you have a hidden advantage: True, your customers can buy their leotards and tights and dance shoes in a lot of different places these days—including online—but consumers still prefer shopping where they can see and touch what they’re buying. “The physical store is the channel of choice across all ages and household incomes,” reported a consumer study by consulting firm A.T. Kearney. E-commerce sellers get this: Look how Warby Parker, Everlane, Glossier, even Amazon, have opened brick-and-mortar stores.

Getting Customers to Spend More Time in Your Store 

So how can you jump on this advantage you have as a small retailer and keep customers in your store longer—to buy more? We talked to consumer anthropologists Georganne Bender and Rich Kizer, who are experts on the changing retail marketplace, and to local dance retailers, about the best strategies. 

“It’s all about the theater of the store,” says Kizer. “Especially in a dance store that customers visit over and over again, you’ve got to give people a reason to stick around.” It can’t just be about a transaction, he explains. “You need to create an experience where they’re discovering new things, where you’re entertaining them and absorbing them into the culture of your store.” The longer customers stay in your store, the more chance you have to expose them to all your merchandise and develop a lasting relationship. 

1. Use displays to surprise and delight.

Half of the merchandise in a store is never seen by most customers, says Bender. Shoppers, especially when they know your store layout, tend to make a beeline for what they want. The retailer’s job is to disrupt this “desire path,” as Kizer and Bender call it. 

Speed bumps—displays near the front of the store that make a customer pause—expose shoppers to more of what you have to sell, says Bender. Their interest piqued, they’ll spend more time in the store. “We make sure to strategically put basics and ‘must-haves’ past beautiful displays of the latest fashion and unique finds,” says Amy Manning, co-owner of Gabie’s Boutique in Newmarket, ON, Canada. “It doesn’t always result in an immediate sale, but it’s in their head, and they usually come back to pick it up or know where they can find all those pretty and unique items when it’s time to buy.” 

2. Scatter impulse and add-on items throughout the store, not just at checkout. 

With each unplanned purchase, it’s more likely that a customer will make other unplanned purchases as the shopping trip progresses, the American Marketing Association has found. So why wait until checkout? 

Customers tell Mary Ann Hanlon that her store is a dangerous place to bring their kids—there’s always something new they want to buy. Hanlon changes the displays at Mary Ann’s Dance and More, in Easthampton, MA, as often as every two weeks. “When customers look around for what they want, they always discover new things,” she says.

To make sure you’re cross-merchandising with add-ons as much as you can, do this brainstorming exercise with your staff, Bender suggests. Hold up an item and ask, “What would you buy with this?” “Staff love giving input,” she says. “Now, are you showing those items together? If you’re missing an item, could you add it to your stock?” 

If your checkout has a wall behind it, put high-profit items there, in the customer’s sightline, she says. These aren’t necessarily expensive, and “they don’t even have to all be directly dance-related, as long as they appeal to yourcustomer.” It could be a selection of scented gift candles, for instance. The idea is to present as many incentives as possible for the customer to linger—and buy.

3. Give shoppers a basket.

Or, at the very least, make sure sales staff offer to hold on to what they’ve selected while they continue to shop. “Once a customer’s arms are full, she’ll stop shopping,” says Bender. 

4. Acknowledge customers, don’t ambush them. 

Shoppers like to feel that if they have a question, there’ll be someone right there to help them, but they don’t necessarily want to get a lecture on fabric and construction every time they hold something up to look at it. Kizer is not big on “Can I help you?,” which can make for an awkward moment for a customer who just wants to be left alone to shop. Instead, he suggests greeting customers with a simple hello. Then, for when customers progress through the store, Bender and Kizer have a trademarked “7-Tile Rule.” Every time a customer gets within seven feet of a salesperson, acknowledge them with eye contact or a smile. That way, when the customer does need you, they know you are ready to help. Meanwhile, they can just relax and shop, no pressure to converse. 

5. Make customers comfortable.

Offer to take heavy packages or coats from customers while they shop. For pointe shoe fittings, many storeowners provide a bench or seats for parents and siblings. Use that downtime as yet another opportunity to engage and educate your customer: For instance, one travel agency Kizer and Bender worked with installed half a dozen $65 refurbished iPads at stations, with information on cruises and resorts customers could browse while they waited. 

6. Use events and demos to encourage longer store visits.

Apple has its Genius Bar, kitchen stores have their cooking demos. People may come to shop, but they stay to learn, too. In its store renovation, Gabie’s Boutique is adding several TV screens throughout the store to showcase products, dancers, studios and dance movies. Sales staff are trained to do bun demos and eyelash demos, which they do routinely on weekends, especially during competition and recital seasons. 

Bender recommends running one major and two to three minor events each month. “A major event is one that builds traffic and packs your store with customers,” she says. This might be something like having professional dancers from a local company visit at Nutcracker time.

7. Merchandise to all five senses. 

Scent is powerful at evoking memory, says Bender, and can put people in the right mood for shopping. Scentair.com has information about the science of smell in retail and how you can use it in your store. Free tastings aren’t just for food stores, according to Kizer and Bender. “Place a pitcher of cold lemonade near the front door to welcome shoppers on a hot day,” says Bender, or offer free bottles of water with your own customized label. Upbeat music energizes both customers and staff, says Bender, but familiarize yourself with ASCAP rights issues. Check out legal website Nolo.com’s tips on how you may be able to avoid paying to play music.

The Bottom Line

Physical retail still matters to consumers of all ages. That’s why even e-commerce merchants are opening brick-and-mortar stores. Make the most of the advantage you have as a local brick-and-mortar dance retailer by creating an immersive store experience that compels customers to linger—and want to return again and again.

Last updated October 1, 2019