The pandemic forced dance retailers to give up certain ways of doing business. But what started as a necessity could end up having unexpected positive results for you and your business.
It’s one of the great discoveries of the last few years: What we thought were some of the ironclad rules of dance retail turned out to be myths. And these myths were hurting us. It’s time to confront them for the lies that they are—and change how we run our stores.
Retailing Myth No. 1—You must have everything in stock, always.
We dance retailers feel that whatever our customers need, whatever the size, we should always have it in stock. It’s part of our customer-service mindset. But during the pandemic and with all the supply-chain problems, we just weren’t able to carry everything. And for the most part, it didn’t hurt our sales.
Yes, once in a while, we had to order a shoe. And occasionally, we lost a sale altogether. But the lower inventory didn’t hurt the bulk of our sales. We realized that carrying those extra tens of thousands of dollars of inventory wasn’t worth it. Not for the tens of dollars we lost in sales.
And there was a silver lining: I thought the pandemic would make all of us late paying our vendors. But, for most of us, that didn’t happen—because we bought less. We bought in line with our sales. By tying up less cash in inventory, we had more money in the bank and were able to pay our vendors.
TAKEAWAY: Tighter inventory is one of the most important lessons of the pandemic. And one I hope we never forget. We need to be vigilant about matching our inventory levels to our sales levels. A good open-to-buy plan will help you do just that. It will save you that dreaded call to the credit manager to beg for a bit more time to pay an invoice. You can find out more about open-to-buy planning here.
The key to having the correct inventory levels is identifying your top sellers (style, color, size). Then, always make sure you have enough inventory of those items.
Other items are less important. Maybe they are part of a smaller school’s uniform, maybe they’re trending down. Think about carrying only one width or only full sizes for these items. You can always order the missing size, and you won’t have all that money sitting idle on your shelf.
Take a hard look at the breadth of items you carry. Do you really need 12 different models of ballet slippers? The research is clear: If we carry too much, we confuse the customer and they end up buying less.
So look at your sales volume, and decide what items you need to cut. Clear them out. And enjoy having more money in the bank.
Retailing Myth No. 2—You need to always carry the latest thing.
Another retail myth that’s been busted is the idea that we always have to stock the latest hot item. During the pandemic, that “must-have” item was pushed to another season. And the year’s “hot” color? It was canceled and moved to the next year. So how must-have, how hot, were they really? The pandemic taught us to take all this trend talk with a huge grain of salt.
I don’t know about you, but in the past I’ve had shelves full of the “latest,” “hottest” items just sit there and gather dust. And then get donated to charity. We brought $1,500 worth of dance sneakers into my store, Brio Bodywear, when they were first introduced. And they sat there for over a year and a half. Yes, eventually they caught on and sold like crazy. But I could have really used the cash over that year and a half.
TAKEAWAY: A better way to deal with new products is to bring in just a few in the most popular sizes. Gauge the reaction, then jump on it when it takes off. Again, your bank account will thank you.
Retailing Myth No. 3—You have to be open every day of the week.
We retailers always worry that we’ll lose sales if we aren’t open every day of the week. Then pandemic-related staffing shortages forced many of us to reduce our hours—and our customers understood. We didn’t see a drop in sales, and, most important, having a day off has been good for owners’ sanity.
TAKEAWAY: Take a day off, even if it means closing the store one day a week. Sure, if you have a manager who can run the store while you’re off, then by all means stay open seven days a week. Just don’t let them call you on your day off. And if you don’t have that coverage, I recommend that you keep that pandemic habit and close for one day a week.
Just don’t make it Sunday (unless it’s for religious reasons). The second busiest day for sales is still Sunday. Sunday gives you maximum sales in a very short time. Don’t miss out on that. Since the reopening, my stores have been closed on Mondays, and our customers don’t mind. It has also turned Tuesday into our busiest day of the week!
Make the most of your closed day by doing…nothing. Don’t catch up on emails, work on orders or do the bookkeeping. Want to do what’s best for your store? Then take this day to rest—completely, with no interruptions. Make it a “me” day, and you’ll come back to the store recharged. And be more efficient for the rest of the week.
The Bottom Line
These last two years have been rough. But it has opened our eyes and busted some retail myths, so let’s not forget those lessons. Let’s tighten up our inventory, bring new product in cautiously and go to a six-day week. We’ll be healthier, wealthier and happier retailers.
Gilbert Russell is president of Brio Bodywear, which has two brick-and-mortar dancewear stores in Ottawa, Canada. Through his consulting firm, No Qualms Retail, he shares his experience and knowledge with other independent retailers.