It’s Going to Be a Very Different Holiday Shopping Season for Dance Stores

In this pandemic economy that is so full of unknowns, here are some solid retail strategies for the upcoming gift-giving season.

This holiday season, Allegro Dance Boutique expects to see more shoppers purchasing online and then coming to the store for pickup. Courtesy of Aly Heintz

This upside-down, COVID-19 world hasn’t diminished anyone’s desire to shop for holiday gifts. But for dance retailers, who often tie their sales campaigns to Nutcracker performances in November and December—many of which have been cancelled this year—it does mean that this holiday season will look very different. 

For one thing, to avoid everyone crowding into the store on a few peak shopping days, retailers will start holiday selling a lot earlier, says Georganne Bender, co-founder with Rich Kizer of retail consulting firm Kizer & Bender. (A recent Google survey about holiday shopping revealed 70 percent of shoppers plan to start earlier to avoid crowds.) “We’re anticipating that by Halloween, retailers are going to start with sales and events and coupons, instead of waiting until Black Friday.” 

Here are some sales strategies to consider as you plan for an earlier-than-ever holiday selling season in the middle of a pandemic, sans sugar plum fairies, mouse kings and lots of pointe shoe sales.

Develop a Calendar of Promotions and Events…Now

To be ready for a stretched-out holiday selling season, it’s imperative to map out your marketing calendar of promotions and events as soon as possible. “People are staying at home, so retailers need to give them reasons to come into their store,” Bender says, adding that it’s all about creating an in-store atmosphere that is interesting, fun and entertaining.

Encore Dance Emporium in Loveland, CO, is considering mini events for small, socially distanced groups, such as a tea party, craft gathering or maybe a Secret Santa/adopt-a-family event for those impacted by COVID-19. “We have decided to go all out with making the store cheery and welcoming through the holiday season, so we will do more decorating than usual,” owner Carol Beard says. “I feel that this year, more than ever, the focus has to be on customer needs.”

Jennifer Ward, owner of The Station: Dancewear and Studios, in Kalamazoo, MI, will participate in her town’s window-decorating contest again this year, but she’ll also set up a new pop-up shop for gifts beyond dance. Courtesy of The Station.

Jennifer Ward, owner of The Station: Dancewear and Studios in Kalamazoo, MI, recently conducted her own customer survey, asking what they most want and need this holiday season. The top responses were “staying safe” and “supporting local business.” “I think there is a strong desire to have a holiday shopping experience with holiday music, Christmas lights and dimmed overhead lights, but I also think customers are game for something a little different because it is going to be weird this year,” she says. “Loyal customers will want to support you in whatever you decide to do.”

Ward plans on participating in Kalamazoo’s annual window-decorating contest, and, for the first time, she will use the rental studio connected to her retail store to hold a unique pop-up shop to sell gifts that aren’t necessarily dance-related or are sourced from other local businesses. 

Boulder Body Wear of Lafayette, CO, on the other hand, plans on staying the course with its traditional Christmas tree and by putting bows on displays. Having weathered several economic downturns after 33 years in business, owner Amy Kenney says customers are happy seeing consistency. “People are carrying so much anxiety and worry that when they walk in the door, they feel like they are in a safe spot, with people who know how to help them efficiently,” she says. “They can come in, and it’s reassuringly the same as it’s always been.”

Focus on Your Digital Space

Now, more than ever, you’ll need to keep your website and social-media channels updated, as Google’s survey shows nearly 75 percent of shoppers plan to increase their online holiday shopping from what they did in previous years. A similar number said they would first browse for gift ideas online before going into a store, and 47 percent said they plan to buy online and pick up either in-store or with curbside pickup. “We anticipate seeing the continued trend of online shopping and pickup in-store that has kept us busy since we reopened,” says Aly Heintz, director of operations for Allegro Dance Boutique, which has locations in Evanston and Barrington, IL. “We find valuable engagement on social media, so I can see that being the driving force this holiday season, as well as working closely with all of our studio partners.” 

Consider doing Facebook Live broadcasts with an item of the week, or showcase your latest arrivals, post a time-lapse video of when you change up floor displays, or use Instagram to post curated outfits. “You may not have had an online store before the pandemic, but you do now,” says Kizer, adding that businesses can boost sales by using e-commerce platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce or Instagram for Business, which allow customers to instantly purchase items they see on social media.

Digital outreach also includes emails, radio spots and text messaging. Kenney, for example, has found great success running a spot with her local NPR station, and she uses a text-messaging system to let her customers know about each week’s specials throughout the holiday season.

Maximize Gift Card Sales

Don’t miss out on highlighting gift cards this winter. Place them in a nice box lined with tissue paper, tied with a satin ribbon or some tulle. Go with plastic cards instead of paper gift certificates, because they are more durable and customers tend to perceive them as cash, so they put them directly in their wallets. “Not only do gift cards often require more than one shopping trip to spend the balance on the card, 75 percent of shoppers spend more than the value,” Kizer says, also noting that 18 percent of gift certificates never get redeemed. 

Offer a special: If a customer purchases a $50 gift card, they’ll get a second one for $10 or even for free. Just make sure to note that the bonus card cannot be redeemed until January 1 and that it cannot be used on any holiday markdowns. “All kinds of retailers and restaurants do it because it works,” Kizer says. “It’s great leverage to get customers back in the store, and it’s a great deal that really is a profit center.”

Stocking Stuffer Sneak Peeks

As you stock up on inventory, keep in mind that customers will be looking for fun, cost-effective gifts this holiday season. Kenney plans on being well-stocked in basics, like leotards, tights and slippers, but she’s going to make sure to have plenty of inexpensive gifts on hand, including ornaments, hair accessories, water bottles, massage sticks, toe stretchers and turning boards.

Other gift ideas:

  • Covet Dance items. “They have a great price point, a great selection and delight our customers. We couldn’t do a holiday season without them,” says Heintz.
  • Warm-ups from Ballet Rosa or Só Dança’s Sara Mearns Cozy Sweatpants, because they make great gifts for everyone, not just dancers.
  • Superior Stretch Products, especially for the dancers who may still be training at home virtually.

Hannah Maria Hayes has a MA in dance education from New York University and has been writing for Dance Media publications since 2008.