Many retailing innovations made during the pandemic are here to stay. Here’s how dance stores are fine-tuning them for the long term.
When the pandemic caused dance retailers to close their doors and then drastically limit capacity, survival meant pivoting from traditional operations and leaning in to new methods of providing customer service and unique shopping experiences. Several new business practices have sprouted from a difficult situation, and they are here to stay. Here’s how several dance retailers have fine-tuned these selling strategies for the long haul.
Virtual Customer Consultations
Like everyone else during the pandemic, dance retailers dove into virtual meetings. Their main focus initially was to stay connected with and help their customers. Ashley Kelly, owner of Dance Depot in South Daytona, FL, started offering complimentary virtual pointe-shoe-fit checks via FaceTime and Facebook Messenger. The meetings were for established customers who had already experienced an in-person fitting but who might have needed additional input before ordering another pair of shoes. It’s something she’ll continue to offer: “It’s a convenience for those students who can’t just drop by because they’re either training six or seven days a week or they live three hours away,” she says.
Facebook Live Selling Events
DanceWear Corner in Orlando had been wanting to try doing a Facebook Live sale but didn’t have time until the pandemic. The store now holds an hour-long show twice a month. It does take about three to five hours of pre-production work, and an hour afterward to prep shipments.
CommentSold, a software program that converts social media comments into sales and automatic invoices, tracks purchases during the sale and issues an invoice through Shopify. “It’s a lot of work, and we’re not making a ton of money yet, but breakeven is the goal initially,” says DanceWear Corner president Jon DeMott. “It’s also a lot of fun, and we’re engaging with customers and seeing more interactivity. It’s about getting your name out there.”
Using social media as a sales platform is a trend that is “absolutely here to stay,” says Bob Negen of WhizBang! Retail Training. “Go live and talk about things of value to your audience and sell items at the same time. It’s a great way to expand your customer base beyond your local market.” DeMott says that DanceWear Corner has already seen some people coming into the store who aren’t from the area but had been watching the live shows.
Facebook Group Clearance Sales
Creating a Facebook Group solely for selling clearance items is a way to do strategic markdowns if you have enough merchandise to do it on a regular basis, Negen says. DanceWear Corner created the private “Dancewear Corner Prima Shopping Group” last fall, providing special offers multiple times a week that are not available to the general public. The group now has almost 800 members, growing through word of mouth, via emails, in-store interactions and cross-promotion on its regular Facebook page. “The more membership we have, the better deals we can offer,” DeMott says, adding that he hopes to use it as a focus group for input on new products, too.
Creating a Facebook Group instead of using your main profile page is important, however: “When someone visits your Facebook profile, they should understand what your store looks like and feels like, and you don’t want to have lots of items for sale when you’re trying to create a high-quality brand,” Negen says.
Everyone agrees that curbside pickup is here to stay, but there are plenty of logistics to consider. “We’ve always offered phone-ahead curbside pickup, but the pandemic forced us to look at another option when we were closed to the public for six weeks and our customers could only shop through our website,” says Emily Mayerhoff of Attitude Dance Boutique in College Station, TX. Luckily, her website builder BigCommerce had the potential to add “curbside” versus “in store” as a checkout feature for her online shoppers.
Once an order is placed, her team pulls the items, wraps them in tissue, bags them, and keeps them in an organized drawer system. “We like to write a handwritten note thanking them for shopping local,” she says. “We also follow up with a phone call because it’s another way to connect and provide personal service. We let them know their order is complete and ready to be picked up, and we remind them of store hours and the pickup process.”
When a customer arrives on site, they call the store and provide their last name, and an employee brings out the order. One of the best investments the store has made is a large, outdoor sandwich board with the phone number, making it convenient for customers and obvious to the public that the store is open.
Until the pandemic, Metronome Dancewear in Carmel, CA, had a mobile pointe-shoe-fitting truck that traveled weekly around the state. When travel became unsafe, store president/CEO Heather Aldi decided to fill the void by promoting her pointe-shoe-fitting-box service as a socially distanced alternative to in-person fittings.
Customers fill out a questionnaire and provide photos of their feet both in and out of their pointe shoes. Aldi then selects five or six pairs of shoes specifically for that dancer and mails them to the dancer. “We encourage the dancer to involve their dance instructor and schedule a FaceTime or Zoom meeting so we can take a look with them,” Aldi says. “If none of the shoes are ideal, this first virtual meeting gives us an excellent idea of what to try next.”
If the dancer finds her ideal shoe, the fitting-box charge of $99 is credited to the shoe purchase (if the dancer chooses a more expensive shoe, the store will charge the difference), and she has two weeks to use the prepaid shipping label to return the other shoes. (If a shoe can’t be found, the dancer will get a refund, but typically that doesn’t happen because she’s already been fitted by the store at least once or has gone through the consultation process enough that the fitters are confident they’ll find the right shoe.)
Before the pandemic, Metronome typically saw four fitting-box requests a month. Now, it gets about five requests a week. “With the cost of shipping and packaging, this leaves us with very slim margins on a fitting box, but it’s really been about building relationships for life,” Aldi says, adding she plans on continuing the fitting box even now that the truck is back up and running. “We don’t want them to turn online for their next shoe. We want them to know that we are here for them to help with any issues that might be going on.”
Contactless payment options continue to grow in popularity as they allow shoppers to pay for goods and services without having to swipe a card, enter a PIN or sign for a transaction. Dance Depot offered Apple Pay before COVID-19 but recently began accepting Venmo, as well. “It’s just like taking cash,” Kelly says. “It’s a quick and easy transaction, which makes it super-helpful for us and the customer.”
Mayerhoff decided to upgrade her credit card reader after Texas’ rolling power outages this winter damaged her equipment. “Customers had been asking for months about Apple Pay. So I decided if I have to buy a new reader, I might as well pay extra to get the contactless one,” she says. “It has definitely streamlined the checkout process. It’s so much faster.”
Hannah Maria Hayes has an MA in dance education from New York University and has been writing for Dance Media publications since 2008.