Opening a second location became a pivot point for dance retailer Danielle Hernandez—she expanded her store’s offerings and changed its name. Here’s how she’s navigating the growth of her business and its evolving brand.
When business is thriving, it’s often tempting to expand, but managing a new staff, a new clientele and merchandise in separate locations can be a risky juggling act. If your brand is strong, you begin on strong footing. But you still must establish yourself with customers who don’t know you or may need to be wooed from existing loyalties.
Eight years after opening On 1 Dancewear, in Englewood, NJ, Danielle Hernandez decided to open a second storefront. It wasn’t a blind leap; she chose Westwood, NJ, a town she knew well, having grown up nearby. Nevertheless, while Hernandez knew the community and they knew her, it was not as a retailer. So she slipped into her merchant shoes and took steps to analyze this new market and identify its particular needs.
Hernandez already had built a strong brand in Englewood, but she recognized it wasn’t guaranteed to transfer, lock, stock and leotard, to the next place. She identified the unique characteristics of a new customer base and was excited about the opportunity to offer new lines of merchandise and tap into the athleisure trend. She also planned how to manage two similar, but not identical, locations. Sometimes it can be trickier to oversee stores that share some attributes instead of having two distinct identities. Nearly one year in, she is developing another loyal following that has led to an evolution of her brand, including an expansion of the kind of merchandise she sells and a name change to Beyond the Barre.
Like many dance retailers, Hernandez has danced from an early age. Trained in all the genres, she started booking work with an agent when she was 11. And during her high school days, she and her father ran a salsa dance apparel business. They opened On 1 Dancewear in 2011. (Her dad provided the initial financing; his involvement now is advising on overall business goals.)
As with her performing career, Hernandez had an expansive retail vision. She knew from the beginning she wanted to expand into other markets, so while she ran her first location, she kept an eye on Westwood, a 20-minute drive from Englewood. “It has tremendous opportunity,” she says, “filled with thriving shops and restaurants, and a great dance and athleisure demographic.” When the second location—1,500 square feet and considerably larger than her first store—became available, she pounced on it. “It felt like a great fit,” she says.
Since Hernandez worked as a teacher at studios in the area, she had the local recognition and acceptance with which to build a clientele. Further anchoring herself in both communities, Hernandez is a member of the chamber of commerce in Englewood and Westwood, in charge of organizing performing-arts–related events with studios and schools. After just three months of planning, the Westwood store opened on Black Friday 2018.
Two Locations—Independent Yet Consistent
Each store is defined by unique characteristics. Besides size, the rents vary, with two leases and two landlords. Hernandez made sure financing for the second store would cover the first year’s rent up front. “This made a huge difference,” she says. “I don’t have the stress of worrying about that rent yet, while I’m growing our customer base.” Here, too, she was assisted by a family member; in this case, her husband, Keith, who helped finance the second launch, along with providing his skills in retail operations. “Keith has a merchant service company that processes credit cards,” says Hernandez, “so we were able to take a low-interest advance against my credit-card receivables.”
Both stores have an artsy, boutique feel. Organization supports the rebranding and move into athleisurewear. “We did a market analysis of studios, dancers and gyms and realized we could pull this second business off if we segued into athleisurewear in addition to dance apparel,” says Hernandez. The front third of the Westwood floor services the gyms and fashionwear around athleisurewear. The second third covers dance apparel, and the rear offers footwear and accessories.
“We did a market analysis of studios, dancers and gyms and realized we could pull this second business off if we segued into athleisurewear in addition to dance apparel.”—Danielle Hernandez
Ages of customers at both stores cover the gamut: kids from sizes 18 months to 6X–7, a tweens section, a teens and young adults section, and adults as well as some liturgical wear and uniforms. Each store has its own inventory and, consequently, its own budget and revenue stream. You could say e-commerce is her third business; those orders are fulfilled from whichever location has that product.
Managing Two Staffs
Hernandez toggles regularly between both locations, with her 2-year-old son in tow throughout the week. She staffs the original 600-square-foot Englewood store with three to five people, depending on the season. In Westwood, for now, she has two people, including a full-time store manager, but she expects that will likely change with back-to-school season. Strong staff hires are her bedrock. “My manager is an extension of me—literally ahead of me at all times. Without her and my staff, this would not work the same.”
Shared knowledge supports this effective and trim staff. Everyone has their hands on all aspects of store operations. “Each store has a set of tasks,” Hernandez says, “and what does not get completed by one staff member will get done by the next, whether it’s bar-coding merchandise, entering it into the POS system or fulfilling online orders.” Customer service is a cornerstone, of course, and Hernandez is proud that her staff is known for being friendly, helpful and well-versed in all things dance. Finances and bookkeeping remain Hernandez’s domain, and the appropriate technology helps a lot, she says: “Between my POS system and QuickBooks, I can manage all of it on my own.”
Each Store’s Customers
Close as they are, the stores serve very different areas, household budgets, dance pursuits and shopping behavior. “I make sure we carry a wide set of price ranges in our basics and fashion items so that we can cater to different budgets,” says Hernandez. She is careful to cover all genres, from ballet to ballroom, but the edit of merchandise is where the differences are to be discerned. “Each location has its own niche and identity while maintaining a cohesive feel, so shoppers know we are the same store and same brand.” In Englewood, Capezio, Bloch and Só Dança are the top sellers. In Westwood, it’s Jo+Jax, Honeycut and Ballet Rosa. “The Westwood customers are heavy-duty competitors. Westwood is 20 minutes outside of Manhattan, and there is a huge dance demographic in the area,” says Hernandez. Customers range from the aspiring toddler dancers to professionals. “We also see a lot of dance moms.” Englewood customers tend to be more recreational dancers who buy what they need—apparel and shoes. The selection is heavy on basics, with middle-priced fashion leotards “which flow out of the store like water,” says Hernandez. “We keep a smidge of high-end brands like AinslieWear in Englewood,” she adds.
In Westwood, there’s a place for more extravagance and even a little experimenting. “This customer buys what she needs, plus extras—particularly athleisurewear and accessories, as well as technique tools and gifts.” In addition to basics and mid-priced fashion, you can find more expensive leotards and dancewear, which sell extremely well. Extras (lip balms, pencils and pens, water bottles) make up 15 percent of her business. “We even have our own private-label bath products in store number two,” says Hernandez. When she introduced athleisure items in Englewood, they did not budge. Once in Westwood, they sold out. “I would say Englewood has a more laid-back feel, and Westwood offers a trendier, higher-end vibe,” she says. “But you can get a $16 or $80 leotard at either location.” Hernandez’s philosophy is to stock something for everyone. “That makes it almost impossible for a customer to walk out empty-handed,” she says.
Using the Store’s POS to Stay Ahead
Like any experienced retailer, Beyond the Barre employs a capable POS system. In this aspect of the business, Hernandez benefits from husband Keith’s expertise and his understanding of POS companies and technologies that most retailers don’t use. “I understand the importance of a robust POS system, to e-commerce and omni-channel selling,” says Hernandez. Her Vend POS system has built-in CRM, with AI-operated e-mail marketing based on a customer’s purchase history. E-mails go out when a customer has not visited the stores or websites in 60 days. The program also has a built-in rewards system. For example, the customer will receive an e-mail if she has reached a threshold to redeem a reward. “I literally do nothing,” says Hernandez. “The POS is very effective in growing customers and sales.”
Changing the Store Name and Realigning the Brand
Growing your business doesn’t mean just physical expansion. Success depends on managing your brand image. In eight years, Hernandez had established a solid recognition of her store and its name. So why change, especially when moving into a new territory? “I knew at the Westwood location that I would stock lines that could compete against Lululemon and Athleta. I wanted shoppers to know we are more than dancewear, and Beyond the Barre signifies that for us.”
She introduced the new name and identity during the Westwood location’s soft opening on Black Friday. “In the beginning, I had staff answer the phone “Beyond the Barre by On 1 Dancewear. How can I help you?’” she says. “We also let people know as they were heading to the store to look for a different name/logo/signage and to know that it’s still us.”
For the original Englewood store, the transition to the Beyond the Barre identity has been gradual, so Hernandez could focus her energies on the new Westwood location, and introduce the Englewood customers slowly but surely to the change. Informing and acclimating business relationships and touch points—vendors, customer awareness, online presence, permits for signage from the two towns, marketing and more—required a few months due to the volume of tasks to tackle. The website was modified and Google/Bing/Yahoo pages, as well as third-party sales channels, were updated immediately. New shopping bags were introduced to Englewood when the old ones were used up.
Creating a Sharper Image
Coming from a family of graphic designers—Hernandez’s parents own a graphic design and advertising firm where she worked during school years—implementing the visual changes came instinctively. She revamped the website to introduce a cleaner look to go with the new identity, and a multichannel sales approach offers an efficient experience whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone or in the store itself. Online business accounts for 25 percent of sales, and it’s climbing. Tights and shoes sell best, but fashion leotards move briskly, too. Most—but not all—online customers are out-of-town shoppers.
While Beyond the Barre (and On 1 Dancewear) have a presence on several social-media channels, Hernandez finds Instagram the most powerful. Her tactic so far is to do biweekly posting—Motivation Mondays and Tips for Thursdays. “On all the other days we post product, and it performs great,” she says. The goal is to eventually unify the stores’ social-media presence under the Beyond the Barre brand.
The Bottom Line
Establish a strong brand—with excellent customer service, a knowledge of your market and an appealing mix of merchandise—and you will have a base from which to grow your business. In just under a decade, Danielle Hernandez has created a far-reaching reputation, thanks to consistent yet nimble branding that helped her to move—with strength—to a second location and even a new name. Customers who know and depend on your good reputation will seek you out and follow you to more than one location—even as your brand evolves.
Charlotte Barnard, a writer living in New York City, often reports on retail trends, design and branding. She was a regular contributor to Dance Retailer News.