Designs & Displays: Creating a Dance Lifestyle Boutique

The Toronto-based Dancewear Centre shares its best practices for designing an attractive and on-trend store. Let’s take a walk-through.

Long mirror and bench for fitting pointe shoes with names of pointe shoe vendors on wall.
Clean design and simple graphics in the pointe-shoe fitting area at Dancewear Centre in Toronto, Canada. Courtesy of Dancewear Centre

Dancewear Centre in Toronto, Ontario, is a spacious, well-appointed boutique with a large selection of dancewear. But it brands itself as more than just a great place to shop for leotards and dance shoes. With its broad product range and intentional retail-design choices, the shop positions itself as a hub for dancers beyond their studio schedules—a dance lifestyle store. 

So how does Dancewear Centre create that vibe? The inspiration for the store’s design didn’t, in fact, come from the dance world, but from different spaces ranging from hip coffee shops to hair salons and boutiques. “We knew we wanted a space that was comfortable to walk through, inviting and spacious, and that captured a trendy aesthetic with wood, concrete floors, high ceilings, an accent wall,” says Amanda Gaskin, the marketing and sales manager for the store. Here, she shares some of the thinking behind the store’s appealing design features. 

Create First Impressions: It’s Time to Shop

At Dancewear Centre, the space right inside the front door is clear and open so that customers can adjust to the surroundings as soon they walk in. This “decompression zone”—as it’s known in retail design—is where customers can pause and make the transition from the bustle of the parking lot or mall to focus on shopping. Five to 15 feet is the recommended space to keep free of product and signage. “The last thing you want to walk into is a cluttered space with too many products in your face. That can be overwhelming,” says Gaskin. “You want to present a space that has flow, a space that you can easily walk through, explore and shop with ease.”

Table displaying folded dance leotards with racks of child tutus on either side and tiered shelves behind showing dance bags.
An eye-catching table display greets shoppers, with clear paths leading through racks of dancewear. Courtesy of Dancewear Centre

Add “Speed Bumps” that Grab Customers’ Attention

Beyond the decompression zone at Dancewear Centre lies a central display of tiered tables flanked by garment racks that feature new seasonal products or eye-catching new fashion styles—in effect, speed bumps that slow customers down along their route to the items they came in for. To the left, customers can walk toward the adult-leotard wall; to the right, toward the store’s activewear and shoe section. “We give customers clear options to explore different parts of the store; it allows them more freedom when they’re shopping,” says Gaskin.

Organize Products for Easy Flow

A large store needs to be organized in a way that makes it easy for customers to find what they want. At Dancewear Centre, fashion leotards are in the front of the store, usually featured in the front display or the first few racks. Dance basics are located in the back or at the end of an aisle—that way customers encounter fun (and tempting) new or seasonal products before getting to the basics they came in for. 

Shoes are grouped by dance style, and by children’s and adults’ categories. The shoe section is located on the right side of the store, and features a large area where all the shoes in inventory are on display. It has seating for pointe shoe fittings and for trying on regular dance shoes.

Racks of dancewear along a wide aisle leading to a displays of dance shoes at the end.
Past the activewear, the shoe area is clearly visible. Courtesy of Dancewear Centre.

Pay Attention to Design Details

Dancewear Centre uses height cleverly. Leotards and other apparel are displayed on warehouse-style shelving and racks, which fill in the tall ceilings of the industrial space. And it softens the lofty industrial space with wood accents, like open shelves and ladder-style racks that hold backpacks and beanies. “We sourced most of our store fixtures from a local blacksmith and woodworker,” says Gaskin. “We really like to support local businesses as much as possible, so we purposely searched for someone local who could work with us on the design we had envisioned.”

Wooden floating shelves display dance shoes at Dancewear Centre.
Shoes are displayed on simple wooden floating shelves. Courtesy of Dancewear Centre.

In lieu of traditional slatwall, shoes are displayed on wide wooden shelves so that they pop against the white painted walls. The shoe area was designed to be extra spacious with a clean, minimalistic style to make the customers’ experience as comfortable as possible. The area features a large full-length mirror, and a wooden bench provides ample seating. On the wall, black letters spell out the names of the pointe shoe brands in stock, similar to a menu in a café.

“Signage is important, but we also didn’t want it to be the main focal point that customers are drawn to, as too many words/signs can be confusing and busy,” says Gaskin. “The most important aspect of our signage was that it be bold, clear, easy to read and as short as possible. You want the customer to understand the main point of the signage. You do not want them to have to read a whole paragraph. Less is more.”

Final Focal Points: Make a Lasting Impression

“The cash wrap is set up at the back of the store because it’s one of the focal points of the design, says Gaskin. “We knew we wanted to have a big accent wall behind the cash wrap that customers would remember when they visited,” she adds. “It is the last thing the customer sees, so we wanted it to create a lasting impression.”

A pink wall with modern molding features a fun neon sign that says “Dance is Life. Live Your Passion.” The wall is not just a draw to customers in the shop; those scrolling through Instagram will see that the sign makes a perfect backdrop for social media shots of dancers and new products. 

The cash desk is faced with wood-plank panels, a contrast that brings warmth to the stark industrial space and is well lit with overhead spotlights. “We tend to place fun knickknacks, gifts and lower-priced items by the desk that customers are likely to add at the last minute,” says Gaskin. “Having these small-ticket impulse buys is a great way to boost your sales.”

Incorporate COVID Precautions Into the Design 

As soon as the COVID safety restrictions came into place, Dancewear Centre sprang into action to adjust its space to make customers feel comfortable and safe while shopping. “We purchased locally designed floor stickers to guide our customers through our space in a way that would avoid as much contact with other customers as possible,” says Gaskin. “We wanted a smooth flow throughout the store that was easy to follow.”

Additionally, the store added a sanitizing station just beyond the decompression zone, so customers were able to sanitize their hands as soon as they walked in. “Plexiglass guards at the front desk separated our staff and customers when cashing out, and we removed any tester products from the floor to avoid cross-contamination,” she adds. 

As restrictions change or new ones come into place, Dancewear Centre will make adjustments. And it will continue to focus on creating an exciting shopping experience built around dancers’ lifestyles.

Libby Basile reports regularly on visual merchandising, retail strategy and store design.