Here’s how dance stores can set themselves apart by going the extra mile to serve their local dance studios.
At face value, dance studios and retailers are designed to be a naturally symbiotic relationship—sending each other referrals and organically building a mutual client base. But factors like the ease of online ordering and the prevalence of dance studios incorporating their own boutiques means that these relationships are often earned, not guaranteed.
“We try our hardest to find ways to meet any needs that the studio owners have,” says Adrienne Hansen, who is going into her fourth season as owner of On Your Toes Performance Wear in Durant, OK. “They all have so much on their plates that if we can take any burden off of them, they are more likely to give us their business.”
As back-to-school season gets underway, Dance Business Weekly asked Hansen and several other dance entrepreneurs to share their best practices for making—and maintaining—mutually beneficial relationships with local studios. Get inspired with these eight tips:
Make studio owners and teachers feel appreciated.
It’s somewhat common practice to offer a standing discount to local studio owners and teachers, but The Dance Bag owner Holly Bertucci believes in going the extra mile. She adds a personal touch by making phone calls to dance directors and sending handwritten notes throughout the year, although she has not been able to send notes during the pandemic. “One year at Thanksgiving, I delivered pies to the studio teachers who did group orders with us,” recalls Bertucci, who took over the Modesto, CA–based business from her mom in 2004. “I believe it’s important to thank people for their business.”
Elevate your level of service.
Having been a dance studio owner for 20 years, Kaydee Francis knows exactly how a retailer can earn her loyalty: excellent salesmanship. “Product knowledge seems to have gone by the wayside in a lot of dance retail shops,” says Francis, who co-owns The Dance Zone in Henderson, NV. “The more storeowners can invest in training employees on understanding the merchandise, brands and lines they carry, and how they can benefit a dancer—that makes all the difference in the world. That’s what you can’t get online.”
Find new inroads.
When The Station: Dancewear and Studios owner Jennifer Ward wanted to forge new business relationships in her town of Kalamazoo, MI, she sent a flyer to local studio owners offering to give each of their dance teachers a free pair of shoes. But when she only received one response, Ward went back to the drawing board.
“What helped turn things around was when I started to offer an Instagram promotion to ‘Gift your teacher,’ ” Ward shared in a Dance Business Weekly panel held in June 2021. Students nominated their teacher to receive a gift from the store. “Every time the teacher’s name was mentioned in our feed, the gift got bigger. It encouraged engagement with dancers and more people to follow us on Instagram, and when a student gave the teacher the gift, it likely meant a little more because it was coming from their own kids.”
Build visibility for local studios.
When a dancer goes into The Station for pointe shoe fittings, Ward sees that as an opportunity to spotlight the studio where they train. She’ll often post photos of fittings to the store’s Instagram story and tag the studio, effectively giving “notice that we’ve helped create some visibility for them.”
At On Your Toes, Hansen follows suit with a tab on the store website titled “Studio Friends,” which has an alphabetical list of direct links to eight local dance studios, plus one gymnastics studio; she also carries flyers with class schedules and events in the store. “Promoting local studios has been really positive and worked well for us,” says Hansen.
Keep it equal-opportunity.
While studio promotion can be a great strategy for garnering loyalty, it’s also highly important to maintain neutrality. “It’s vital that we treat all studios the same and promote them all equally,” says Hansen. “We have to be Switzerland.”
Bertucci of The Dance Bag knows this well. To maintain healthy studio relationships, she believes in maintaining transparency and open communication. Her store is now adjacent to her mom’s studio, Juline School of Dance. “In early 2016, we moved to a new location where our back walls meet [Juline School of Dance] via an emergency exit hallway,” explains Bertucci. “Before I signed the lease, I called all of the local studio directors and explained why we were moving; they all gave me their blessings. We believe that all studios have something special to offer, and we explain that to our prospective customers.”
Remember that the riches can often be found in the niches.
As one of the only retailers that carries clogging shoes within a certain radius, Hansen has been able to connect with studio owners in need. “I met a studio owner at Germanfest who had been ordering online, and they had to return all of the shoes because nothing fit—she was ecstatic because her dancers had nowhere to go [previously],” says Hansen. “Finding those gaps and filling them in can be a great way to get business.”
For Bertucci, identifying those niches has also been an effective way to retain business from studios that run their own on-site boutiques. “We have one studio in Modesto that does carry product, but they don’t sell pointe shoes, so their dancers still come to us for that,” says Bertucci. “It’s a busy job to keep a small store stocked, so most studios with stores still end up sending dancers our way.”
Make their lives easier.
Hansen originally opened On Your Toes because there were very few dance-retail options in Durant and the surrounding region. “My daughter is a competitive dancer, and we would have to drive an hour or more to find any dance supplies,” she says.
Now that her store is serving that wide geographic area, Hansen happily travels to numerous cities in Oklahoma and Texas. She’ll often operate pop-up stores at studio recitals or on registration days, giving studios a portion of the profits from her recital events. “Outside of Durant, studio families really appreciate having that one-stop shop,” says Hansen. “That’s how we’ve built up a lot of our business and reputation.”
Bolster the local dance community.
By gathering local dancers, teachers and studio owners, a dance-retail store can become not only a trusted vendor but also a central hub of activity. At The Dance Bag in Modesto, Bertucci hosts pointe shoe parties for dancers who’ve advanced to pointe and their teachers, while Hansen of On Your Toes hosts after-hours studio-appreciation nights twice yearly (for back-to-school and holiday seasons). At the events, Hansen provides snacks and beverages, along with a higher-than-usual discount.
“In some areas we serve, the studio owners are very competitive, so this is a way for them to gather in a laid-back atmosphere and compare notes or chat,” says Hansen. “It’s our way of showing our gratitude because they are our biggest marketing tool.”
From a studio owner’s perspective, Francis of The Dance Zone appreciates this mindset. “A lot of times, teachers don’t know each other or have only seen each other at competition,” she shares. “When a retail store makes a conscious effort to build the dance community, it allows us to socialize beyond those limited interactions. It makes the start of the dance season something special.”
Jen Jones Donatelli is a Cleveland-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher and Dance Retailer News, and she is the former managing editor of CheerProfessional magazine.