Here’s how three veteran dance retailers are welcoming customers back into their stores and resuming operations.
Though COVID-19 is still spiking in cities and towns across the country, most states have begun loosening the shelter-in-place restrictions enacted this spring. While the idea of returning to some version of normalcy is universally appealing, the reality of reopening your dance store while a deadly contagion continues to spread presents an unprecedented challenge: How can you reopen safely while making your customers feel welcome—and even excited—to shop?
Well, it’s complicated.
The good news: There are plenty of resources available to help guide you through this reopening. The not-so-good news: The breadth, depth and variety of regulations and advice can be overwhelming—especially if you’re going it alone. Given the patchwork reopening process across different states and municipalities, not to mention the variety of logistical challenges inherent to each store’s unique layout, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for dance retailers. However, with an eye for detail and a dose of creativity, you can navigate your own successful reopening. To help you get started, we’ll share some tips from a handful of veteran dance retailers who have done just that.
Before you do anything, make sure you’re clear on the legal guidelines in your region. Most states have classified businesses within certain categories and implemented rules about how and when those businesses can operate. Depending on where you live, the rules can cover everything from how many customers you can allow into your store at any time (if you can allow them in at all), whether your employees or customers are required to wear masks, how to clean, and more.
The Chamber of Commerce offers a state-by-state breakdown of different regulations. But for additional advice, peruse the National Retail Federation’s Operation Open Doors portal, and, of course, the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Rethink Your Layout
“Social distancing”—critical for mitigating the spread of disease—is likely the phrase that will come to encapsulate the experience of being alive in 2020. As your store reopens, you will be responsible for making sure your employees and customers can maintain a safe six-foot distance from one another. To do that, you may need to make some changes.
At Ellman’s Dancewear in Richmond, VA, Rosemary Liberto and her team have added distance markers to the floor throughout her entire 6,000-square-foot store. They’ve also moved some racks out of the way, added arrow signs to direct the flow of foot traffic and now only allow customers to enter through the back entrance, which allows staff to keep track of how many customers are in the store at any given time and guide each customer to sanitize their hands before entering the sales floor. So far, these highly visible adjustments are paying off: “Many customers have said ‘Thank you for making me feel safe,’” Liberto says.
It’s also important to think about what happens before customers enter your store. Since she was only allowed to have 15 customers in her store at a time when she reopened, Mary Ann Hanlon of Mary Ann’s Dance and More in Easthampton, MA, added markers outside her store, so any additional customers could maintain social distancing while waiting to shop.
Keep It Clean
Emily Mayerhoff of Attitude Dance Boutique in College Station, TX, feels strongly about the need for robust cleaning policies and procedures. To develop her own approach, she consulted with her husband (he happens to be a chemist), turned to vendors for advice and, of course, did plenty of online research. Ultimately, “we took it a step further than what I had read online,” she says. “I wanted to be extra cautious and safe, because my commitment is not only to my customers, but also to my sales team and my family.”
Here are just a few highlights from Mayerhoff’s cleaning and sanitizing procedures:
- Asking customers to use hand sanitizer when entering and leaving the store
- Keeping at least two employees working at all times to ensure that one person is always cleaning
- Using aerosol spray and disinfecting wipes to frequently clean high-touch areas, such as doorknobs, shoe-fitting benches, the ballet barre and dressing-room curtains
- Wiping down the POS iPad at the completion of each sales transaction
- Out of an abundance of caution, quarantining all products that have been tried on or returned for a period of 48 hours before returning them to the sales floor
You may find it makes sense to close off or limit the use of dressing rooms for a while. When she first opened, Hanlon had to close her dressing rooms to adhere to local regulations. As a workaround, she encouraged customers to purchase items, try them on at home and come for any exchanges or returns. Now with Massachusetts in Phase 2 of reopening, dressing rooms are available to customers by appointment.
Revitalize Your Fitting Procedures
Pointe shoe fittings are critical to your business, but they’re also intimate, high-touch situations that make it extra challenging to maintain social distancing. To keep your employees and your customers as safe as possible, consider altering the way you handle these interactions.
If you don’t already, you could require all customers to schedule their fittings by appointment only. You can also expand the time you devote to each appointment, so you’ll be able to clean properly between customers. (Mayerhoff expanded her appointment blocks from an hour to 90 minutes apiece.) Also, consider taking a cue from Liberto. When she first reopened, she added spacing markers to her shoe-fitting areas—she has one for pointe shoes and one for other shoes—and devised a procedure where customers and employees would quickly step forward for measurements and then quickly step back to minimize contact throughout the interaction. She describes the routine as a “little choreographed dance.”
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
To create a safe environment and maintain customers’ trust, you must clearly convey how the shopping experience in your store has evolved, as well as how you expect customers to conduct themselves if they want to shop with you.
Hanlon has gone to great lengths to impart the changes she’s made in her store. “It’s important to keep your customers informed so things don’t come as a surprise to them,” she says.
In the lead-up to her store’s June 9 reopening, Hanlon posted regular updates via e-mail blasts to her social-media pages and website, added signage with her updated policies and procedures on her door and throughout the store, and even created a video to personally walk customers through the changes she’s made. She also maintains a binder with a detailed cleaning log, her COVID-19 control plan and her compliance-attestation poster, which customers are welcome to view at the checkout.
Adjust as Needed
Nobody knows how long the pandemic will last, or what form it will take as time goes on. Even after your business reopens, you should keep tabs on changing regulations and infection rates in your area, and be prepared to ramp up or down your safety procedures as the situation evolves.
With so many unknowns, all you can do is stay flexible, be vigilant and try to maintain a level of cautious optimism. Good luck, and stay safe!
Colleen Bohen is content director at a New York–based marketing firm and a freelance journalist. She formerly served as editor in chief of Dance Retailer News and managing editor of Dance Spirit.