How to make sure your store has the right inventory and the special services that will draw busy dancers (and their moms) to shop with you.
As competition season heats up, dancers spend more and more hours in the studio preparing for their performances. All this extra time spent rehearsing calls for additional gear—and offers dance retailers a perfect opportunity to boost sales in slower winter months.
Team dancers can be in as many as six numbers and spend up to 10 hours a week taking technique classes and cleaning up their routines, says Emily Mayerhoff, who is not only a dance storeowner but also mother of four dancers. Ballet slippers get worn out quickly, tights rip and additional costumes and accessories require a higher level of organization, especially for those quick changes between competition numbers. Plus, dancers who are at the studio five days a week prepping for performances are likely to need stretching tools, booties to go over their shoes and stage makeup.
How do local dance retailers position their store to take advantage of competition season sales? Three storeowners with experience catering to these dedicated dancers talk about the products they stock and the special services they offer teams.
Emily Mayerhoff, owner
Attitude Dance Boutique, College Station, TX
Mayerhoff was a dance mom before she was a local dance retailer, so she knows firsthand what is important to this group of customers. “As a dance mom, you’re so busy doing so much that it’s a relief to find all the dance items in one place,” she says. That’s why she strives to make her business a one-stop shop for competition dancers. “Recently, a client came in with a list of everything her team director had told her to get,” she says. “She was so happy when we had everything on that list—from body glue and bra-less concealers to bobby pins, tights and eyelashes.”
Mayerhoff builds her comp season inventory based on her personal experience as a dance mom and also from information she gets in her constant communications with local studios and coaches. She shares a Google Doc with teachers, who update it with the routines for each class, and the shoes, tights and specific accessories needed. “We keep a hard copy at the register in a team binder,” she says. “Inevitably, we have a mom come in saying she has the wrong style, so we can easily double-check and help answer any doubts she has.”
It’s not easy to project what each group will need for performances, says Mayerhoff, but she checks in with studios regularly to confirm the style of tights and shoes they plan to use. Enrollment changes from the beginning of the year. Also, children grow quickly, so any data from the fall’s back-to-school sales isn’t 100 percent reliable.
Group orders can help alleviate the guesswork some, because the studio owners are direct about what they need and often send dancers into the store to get fitted. Mayerhoff offers group fittings at the store for several drill teams. She will block off a few hours on a Sunday to do shoe fittings; or a team is given a period of two weeks to go to the store and put their order in. Mayerhoff also places bulk orders, at a discounted price, for a few studios. She sends a size chart to the studios to be shared with parents, so they are able to select the tights they need before the order goes in.
Mayerhoff says she offers her best customer service to competition teams in the physical store. That’s where she can have a one-on-one conversation with a fellow dance mom on, say, what the best backless bra is, and her carefully crafted displays help remind customers of everything that’s useful for a competition dancer. “They are so excited when they see something that they don’t have written down on their list,” she says—items they’ve forgotten or didn’t know about but that would make their life easier.
Custom Looks for Team Practices
Danielle Hernandez, owner
Beyond the Barre, Englewood, NJ
Hernandez caters to school-based dance teams, as well as studio competition teams during the winter months leading up to performances. During this time there is an inventory shift. “We go lighter on the leotards we bulked up on for back-to-school,” she says. “It’s all about shoes, tights, tops and bottoms.” These team dancers are looking for dancewear and accessories that will set them apart from others at dance conventions and competitions. “We see a surge of booty shorts and bra top pieces they can layer,” she adds.
While fashion tops and shorts for off-stage moments are popular this time of year, Hernandez also sells a lot of custom teamwear used for practices and warm-ups. She has a garment printing machine in-house that does rhinestone applications and silk-screening. Teams can place orders for crop tops and jackets, and customers can also order individual pieces. Booty shorts and tops can all be customized on the spot.
Hernandez says she does a lot of outreach to promote this special service. “We go door-to-door every single week,” she says. “We have an employee who goes on the road every Friday with marketing materials.” The store offers studios coupons for custom printing and gives them information on any new styles or products coming in.
A few teams turn to Hernandez for costumes, or at least part of an outfit. One team placed a group order for 40 pairs of sneakers, and another ordered 15 unitards that they applied fur to for an animal costume. One team requested custom jackets that required Hernandez to go on-site and measure each girl.
Another way that Hernandez taps into the competition crowd is by setting up a pop-up shop at local conventions. Not all organizations allow outside vendors, but many do. For these events, Hernandez sticks mostly to fashion staples like fun bra tops and bottoms. Dancers at these events are shopping more for one-of-a-kind dance pieces and gifts, she says.
Of course, Hernandez prefers when dancers come directly into her store because there is a better opportunity to upsell products. She can remind dancers to buy a fresh pair of tights or replace a lost pair of earrings, for instance. “One item flows into the other,” she says. “The way we merchandise the store is hard to mimic in a pop-up.”
Hernandez has built a loyal following of customers and a strong supporting network of studios and dance teams. Most of her competition customers make their way into her store on their own, and most of the studios she works with routinely request the same products. She mostly places her orders based on the previous year’s sales, but she’ll also get a call from a director asking for specialty items. For instance, the store works with some flamenco groups, and “they will give us a heads-up if they need custom skirts or different shoes,” she says.
Plenty of Performance-ready Accessories
Rebekah Knapp, manager
Dancingly Yours, Plainville, CT
Aside from tights and shoes, the bread and butter during competition season at Dancingly Yours is accessories. The store carries a broad range of add-ons that will attract the busiest dancers, but their most popular include earrings, body glue, flexibility bands and adhesive bras.
“The accessories they use are endless, really,” says Knapp. “Some dancers will use booties to wear over their shoes so they’ll stay clean between dances. We even have water bottles that competition dancers will come in to get.”
Knapp says that creating eye-catching displays helps to remind customers of these products when they visit the store. Comp-related merchandise is spread throughout the store, including in the front, which helps to sell more. “We have the Dream Duffels spread out when we have enough in stock, so when people are walking around the store they can see them everywhere,” she says.
These bags are popular with competition teams because of their advanced functionality. “Most people know that a Dream Duffel is used to hold all of their costumes, but we show them all of the accessories that come with the bag, such as a hanging case or a hanging mirror,” she says. Knapp says she will often do demonstrations for dancers who have never used them before to show them how to set up the built-in garment rack.
The most important thing that the store does to prepare for competition season is e-mail studios for a list of their costume requirements, including shoes and tights. “Then we will make sure we carry those items in stock to the best of our ability,” says Knapp. “Occasionally we can run out of items, but we always try our best to restock those items as soon as possible.”
Libby Basile, a former editor in chief of Dance Retailer News, writes regularly about retail design, displays and marketing.