12 Tips to Crush This Year’s Back-to-Dance Retail Season

ICYMI, here are some of the key takeaways (and inspiration) from Dance Business Weekly’s June webinar for dance retailers.

A Zoom screenshot with four women in four windows.
From Dance Business Weekly‘s roundtable on building relationships between dance retailers and studio owners.

On June 21, dance retailers gathered virtually for a half-day webinar, The Dance Retailer’s Guide to Back-to-School, hosted by Dance Business Weekly.

  • Editor in chief Lauren Wingenroth moderated a roundtable on how dance retailers can build relationships with local studios. Joining her were storeowners Adrienne Hansen and Jennifer Ward and dance studio owner Lindsay Pullara.
  • Veteran retailer Gilbert Russell presented a jam-packed session, “Marketing for a Successful Back-to-Dance Season.” Russell is also founder of No Qualms Consulting Inc. and a WhizBang! certified coach.
  • Event sponsors Ballet Rosa and Pivo also presented sessions. Ballet Rosa introduced its 2021 Academy catalog—the Aspire Collection for pre-professional dancers and Modern Classics, geared toward up-and-coming dancers. Pivo demonstrated its gadget for creating fun videos.

Here are just a few takeaways from the day’s sessions. For much more, be sure to check out the full sessions on the Dance Business Weekly YouTube channel.

If You Make It Easy, They’ll Love You

Get your local studio owner to cc you on the email list or newsletter they send to their students about dress code details. Lindsay Pullara, owner of Tyrone, PA–based studio Dance Fusion, does that with Micki Samson, a local retailer she works with. “For the Christmas and Spring shows, I send out a list to students—the color tights, color shoes they need. I also send out a detailed list at the beginning of the year for each class: the day, time, class name,” Pullara said. A student can simply go into The Dance Shop, say “I’m in Ballet 4,” and the store has all the requirements on file. “Micki knows whether I like tab ties, strings in the shoes, everything.” It makes it easy for the studio owner and the parents.

Create back-to-dance shopping lists. Think how home and big-box stores’ going-off-to-college checklists make it easy for families to outfit a dorm room. Back-to-dance is a busy time. “If you have a list to hand out, parents can pick it up and go ahead and start shopping while they’re waiting for a shoe fitting at the store,” said Adrienne Hansen, owner of On Your Toes Performance Wear in Durant, OK.

Seek out partners who make it easy for you to please your customers. Do you work with a picky studio that wants a particular leg line, or ruching, or color for its leotard? Ballet Rosa, which has its own factory and pattern makers, sells exclusively through dance retailers. It gives its retail partners year-round personalized assistance to provide (or create) just the product that will make their customers happy, with easy setup for unique studio uniforms and a logo program.

Be a (Nice) Pest With Your Local Studios

If you’ve drifted out of touch during the pandemic, be the one to reach out. “It’s our job to recoup these relationships, because it’s our business,” Hansen said.

Even when a studio has its own shop, maybe there’s another way to help. Jennifer Ward, owner of The Station: Dancewear and Studios, in Kalamazoo, MI, handles the administration for a local studio’s biannual program with Moscow Ballet. (She has a corporate business background in project management.) It’s revenue for The Station, of course, and Ward even gets a few sales supplying undergarments. “We have developed a nice relationship,” she said. “The studio owner sends students over to us if her shop doesn’t have something. And who knows, maybe one day she’ll get tired of running her own shop.”

Customers Are Returning—Be Ready

Encourage studios and dancers to shop early. The supply chain is still shaky. Tell studios and dancers you’re well stocked now, but it may be harder to restock than it has been in the past.

Know that there will be diversity in the recovery. “Some people have lost their jobs, others are spending like crazy,” said Gilbert Russell, owner of two Brio Bodywear shops in Ottawa, Canada. Understand that customers’ behavior will reflect their different experiences of the pandemic and how they’ve changed. “They’ve bought from brands they never bought from before, they’ve bought online when they never did before.” Stay attuned to what your customers want now.

Improve Your Margins

Price on value, rather than just doubling the wholesale cost. Walk around your store and assess your products, one by one, Russell suggested. If something is selling for $60 and it looks like it’s worth $64.99, that’s what it should be priced at. “Improving the margins of our stores has to be a priority,” he advised. That $90 leotard that seemed expensive before? “It may be just what a dance mom wants to get her daughter who’s been toughing it out on Zoom for a year.”

Give rewards, not discounts. Another way to improve margins is to make sure you’re not training customers to wait for a discount. “If you give 10 percent off a $10 product, people will begin to think of it as a $9 product,” said Russell. Instead, offer a reward after a certain number of purchases. Use marketing to draw customers to your store, not discounts.

Take this opportunity to streamline your inventory. A smaller, more focused inventory means more money in the bank after this difficult past year, Russell said. Since products are going to be harder to get, this is the time to evaluate your suppliers.Who’s carrying big inventories? Who’s overexposed in China? “Figure out who can support you, and go deeper with that one,” he said. Ask yourself: “Do I really need eight different ballet slippers?” You may lose some sales if you don’t carry a particular brand, but you’ll lose more if your supplier can’t get you a full range of sizes, he pointed out. 

Delight Your Customers in Fresh Ways

Give your top 50 customers a welcome-back gift card. If you’re really brave, give all your customers one. “We need to reconnect,” said Russell. Send an email, with a message that says, “I hope you’re OK. We’ve all struggled. We know it’s been tough dancing on Zoom. We appreciate you standing by us. Here’s a gift card to say thank you.”

Have a party. Don’t make it about discounts or sales; make it about fun, Russell said. Have a fashion show, or a tutu ring toss. “People are hungry for community.” And don’t forget the swag.Hit up your suppliers for products, and offer swag bags to the first 100 customers. “There will be a lineup before you open,” he said.

Add a few surprises to your stock. Webinar sponsor Pivo demonstrated its rotating Pivo pod, which adds auto-tracking to a smartphone. It’s perfect for capturing dance; you might want to stock it for your customers who love TikTok. (For information about buying wholesale, email business@getpivo.com.) Or use this discount coupon to purchase one yourself (good until July 4) for creating marketing videos.

Many dance stores already carry Dance Magazine for their customers. If you don’t, the PubWorX direct-to-retail sales program is a low-cost way to strengthen your bond with your customers. (Interested retailers can email shaggett@aidcvt.com or call 844-549-5530.) You can sell the magazine, or give a copy as a gift to a customer who makes a big-ticket purchase—or one who needs a little encouragement.

Basia Hellwig is a founding editor of Dance Business Weekly.