When It’s the Dance Storeowner’s Turn to Go Shopping

Tips on staying organized and on budget when you’re buying new inventory for the store—and how to use your purchases to turn over older inventory as well 

Red, pink, burgundy dance leotards and skirts arranged in round boxes, as if it was a box of chocolates.
Photo by Jayme Thornton

Planning a store’s yearly buying is a massive undertaking, and for new storeowners (or even experienced ones in a new location) who don’t yet know their clientele well, it can be intimidating. While stocking up for back-to-school is a major buying time early in the year, budgeting for other items that will help bring in customers year-round—think recital undergarments, seasonal gifts and fashion—is also important. 

Here are tips from experienced dance storeowners and a retailing consultant to help you stay organized and make smart decisions—always with an eye on the bottom line. 

1. Take stock before you shop. 

Storeowners are no more immune to impulse buying than shoppers are. “After all, you’re naturally excited about bringing in the latest and greatest to wow your customers,” says retailing consultant Leslie Groves. “Trouble is, an impulse buy for a shop owner isn’t just one item; it can mean purchasing a substantial unit—the leotard in various sizes and colors or a whole product line—with significantly more dollars being spent.” 

Taking stock before you shop can save you thousands and keep you on track. After finishing year-end inventory in December, most storeowners meet with staff to review sales reports from the previous year. “In January, we print out reports from our POS system to see how many of each item we’ve sold, look at profit margins on items from different companies and see what we still have in stock, since we base our big orders off last year’s numbers,” says storeowner Joy Ellis, who oversees purchasing for Footlights Theatre & Dance Boutique, which has locations in Frederick and Silver Spring, MD, and Alexandria, VA. 

TIP: “To make sure we don’t overstock or buy an item that’s similar to what we already have, I take extensive notes at trade shows or when representatives come from larger vendors. Then I sit down with my team to discuss which items we really need to bring in, based on our current inventory and expected purchases.”  —Joy Ellis 

2. Unearth old treasures. 

The inventory list often doesn’t tell the whole story, says Groves. In every store, some merchandise gets packed away as the season changes or you need to make room for new designs. This packed-away merchandise can easily become forgotten treasure, tying up money that could be spent on new products. Make sure you assess what you have before making new purchases. 

TIP: “For every item you pack away, take a photo and tape it to the outside of the box. That way, every time you walk into the stockroom, that picture (which is six times stronger than words) will remind you of exactly what you have and how you might mix and match it with something else.”  —Leslie Groves 

3. Edit and reinvent; don’t just add, add, add.

Part of savvy ordering is seeing how new purchases will fit with what you already have, and using new merchandise to help sell lingering stock. Visually documenting what you have provides a constant cue that triggers imaginative merchandising and clever buying, says Groves. She suggests creating a small picture book or keeping a file on your phone that shows all of the key items or large-quantity product lines that need a little help to sell. “As you shop the trade shows and catalogs for new inventory, these pictures will help you identify items to complement the stock you already have—‘Oh, I have those tank tops from last spring; this new line of booty shorts will go great with those.’ You’ll be less likely to overbuy or purchase pieces with no continuity or connection to what else you stock.”

TIP: “Reinventing will always be more cost-effective than marking something down. To breathe new life into merchandise, I like to use the rule for displays of 60 percent new merchandise to 40 percent older product. By cross-merchandising you can mix and match new and older inventory to draw attention. When done right, it takes very little effort, yet results in big gains.”  —Leslie Groves

4. Purchase strategically throughout the year. 

Many storeowners spread out purchases based on manufacturers’ terms, as well as on when students will be coming in to buy certain items. (Tights are always popular during recital season, for example.) “Major vendors have BTS programs starting in January and February that really help our bottom line,” says Ellis. “Big vendors often offer terms that go until September, so we can finish paying after we’ve done our BTS sales, which is the bulk of our business.”  

In January, Mary Jane Kantor, owner of Accents Dancewear in Berkeley Heights, NJ, always checks what shoes local studios will be requiring for their fall classes, so she can buy them early to qualify for BTS incentive programs. “But I’ve found it’s important to keep my bulk-buying focused on items I know will sell easily, such as basic ballet slippers and tap shoes,” she says. “Even if pink leotards sold really well last year, I always check with my studios to see what they will need next year.” 

To maintain a steady flow of customers throughout the year, Kantor also sells swimwear in the spring (a slower season for dancewear) and gymnastics wear year-round. “I shop for swimwear in December, and we stock up on extra gymnastics clothing when I know a new session is starting at local gyms,” she says. 

For pointe shoes, Ellis places bulk orders throughout the year as the store’s inventory depletes. “My store managers do the day-to-day ordering, like a customer needing six pairs of the same pointe shoes,” she says. 

TIP: “While I certainly take advantage of the early incentives from major manufacturers, I try to stick to a policy of ‘buy when you need’ so I’m never carrying too much inventory. I once made the mistake of buying an unusual color and style of shoe for one studio. I was stuck with those shoes for a long time. Now, with fashion items or higher-end shoes, I buy one size to display in the store, or a small range of sizes, and then we order as we need them.”  —Mary Jane Kantor 

5. Think color and fashion to add new pizzazz.

 Color is a key element in merchandising that plays a significant role in how each customer responds to a product or display, according to Groves. “Each customer lives a different color story in her own life. Each time you reinvent a display, it will appeal in a different way to different customers.” 

Take a simple blue leotard: Displayed with a collection that accents in pink, it will appeal to a percentage of your customers. Reintroduce it with turquoise in next week’s or next month’s display, however, and it takes on new life and connects to a completely different group. 

Ellis loves to find new, different products from small vendors at trade shows. “My clients often stick with classical dancewear,” she says, “but I look for that extra little pop that will be the incentive for someone to buy another leotard.” 

TIP: “Carry color swatches of merchandise you want to reinvent (the photos on your screen may not be large enough to give a proper match). This is something you can do for free and takes little space—you could even use paint samples from your local hardware store.” —Leslie Groves 

Amy Shope is a dance teacher and writer based in Greenville, NC.