Smart Idea File: The Branding Power of a Dance Store Fashion Show

In just four years, Bellissimo Dance Boutique has established itself as a unique brand by focusing on fashion—brought to life annually with a community-wide fashion show. Here’s how it works.

Dancers sitting on the floor during rehearsal with Bellissimo Dance Boutique owner and another woman standing in front of them.
Rehearsal time: Bellissimo Dance Boutique co-owner Patrice Powell, right, prepping for her store’s annual fashion show. Courtesy of Bellissimo Dance Boutique.

Many dance retailers pride themselves on being on-trend with fashion for some aspect of their inventory. But for Bellissimo Dance Boutique, fashion is its DNA, with an annual fashion show playing center stage in Bellissimo’s retail strategy. 

The four-year-old store, located in Franklin, TN, part of the greater Nashville area, is owned and operated by women partners who’ve created a shopping destination that offers its customers dancewear consistent with the stylish apparel they choose for the other facets of their lives. Even the “basic” dancewear that Bellissimo carries offers edgy appeal. 

From the beginning, the partners wanted the store to be a center of community and encouragement for dancers and enthusiasts, and to be part of Nashville’s movement as one of the fastest growing cities in America. The show, launched in 2016, presented a perfect opportunity for outreach to customers and, as it’s expanded over four years, to naturally incorporate sponsors, for mutual brand-building.

The Store’s Fashion Focus

Living in the Nashville area and being dance moms for most of those years, co-owners Patrice Powell and Kelley Descher, with chief of design Chelsea Drimmel, recognized a desire not just for fashionable dancewear, but also for dance fashion in middle Tennessee. “Because of Nashville’s close ties to the entertainment industry and focus on the arts, it is also a very cutting-edge, fashion-forward community,” says Powell.

The three women identified two customer bases—dancers and dance enthusiasts—who shared a common interest when it came to their apparel needs, which is to say, they went for on-trend and even fashion-forward. The store’s approach to inventory and merchandising grew quickly and naturally out of this point of view. The idea for a fashion show was waiting in the wings. “We talked about it before we ever opened our store,” says Powell, “knowing even then that a dance fashion show would play an important role in the branding of Bellissimo.”

Three dancer models move down the runway at Bellissimo Dance Boutique's 2019 fashion show.
Nashville-area dancer models coming down the runway at the 2019 show. Courtesy of Bellissimo Dance Boutique

Nashville hosts many fashion shows throughout the year, including a Fashion Week in the spring and Design Week in the fall. It was an opportunity waiting for these new retailers. The opportunity is now an annual September event. While the show takes months of planning and preparation as well as financial investment, the payoff definitely outweighs the pay-in, says Powell. “We love fashion—and so do our customers. This event is perfect for Nashville!” 

Mastering Show Logistics

Powell has a background in event planning, which brought an element of determination and fearlessness when pondering the production of a fashion show. The partners built their show team from store employees and, eventually, the greater community of its dance customers.

Bellissimo’s staff team for the Back to Dance Fashion Show draws on its diverse talents. Management—Powell, Descher and Drimmel—oversees production, marketing and sponsorship. Regular staff step up, putting in extra hours to help with fittings and rehearsals as well as every aspect of the actual event, from setup and breakdown to cuing the models to ticket sales and operating a pop-up shop at the show venue. Everyone working on the event must be a detail person, stresses Powell, able to expertly multitask, proactively solve problems and think outside the box. It’s also helped, she says, that the team really knows fashion and is good at styling. “At Bellissimo,” she says, “we are blessed internally with all of the above.”

The show opens with a big dance performance to showcase all the models, followed by a welcome from Powell and Descher, which includes a brief statement about Bellissimo and what they stand for. Then the emcee takes over, introducing sponsors, and the fashion show begins. The clothing is organized into three categories or acts; between sets, the emcee gives away door prizes. 

Group of young dancers sitting on the floor.
Dancer models, drawn from studios that Bellissimo works with, gather for a group shot last fall. Courtesy of Bellissimo.

Sometimes the models walk individually and sometimes as a duo, trio or even quad. There is no prerequisite to represent particular disciplines of dance. If dancers model together, they are given “choreographed walking” for their set in the show. Turns, tumbling and other special skills may be featured periodically, but only if those models have performed them in competition.

As a thanks for their appearances on the runway, the dancer models receive a discount on the clothing they wear in the show and a “swag bag” of small gifts from Bellissimo, as well as access to all the photos taken by two professional photographers hired for the event.

Stocking Up for the Runway—and the Shop

Planning the inventory of fashion dancewear for the show starts months ahead, too, when decisions are made and orders placed—deliberately and thoughtfully. “We feature three sections in our show,” says Powell. “‘Anything But Basic!’ (black leos—classic and needed by every dancer), followed by ‘Studio to Street’ (activewear and athleisure), and the grand finale, ‘Make a Statement!’ (colored leos and sets).”

In the weeks leading up to the show, the Bellissimo selling floor is stocked with statement pieces and fashion separates that preview the fabulous designs to be featured on the runway. This tactic also helps anticipate the inventory necessary for the audience/customers shopping after the show. Thinking through colors and styles, Powell says, “I almost design ‘sets’ in the show in my head while we are working on orders.”

Expansion Moves

By 2019, Bellissimo had outgrown its space; it moved to a new address that summer. The show, which had always taken place in the store’s parking lot, where rows of white folding seats and a stage were set up, also moved. The new venue was a hotel ballroom, allowing ample room to grow to more than 300 attendees last year, up from 225 in 2018.

The 2019 show also saw the addition of sponsors, including Body Wrappers, Danshuz, Russian Pointe and Suffolk. “We wanted to invite some of our brands to participate in the show as sponsors to help grow the event in general,” says Powell, “but also to involve them at a deeper level since their fabulous brands are the reason the store is so successful.” Says Body Wrappers’ Trudy Christ: “Patrice and Kelley have done an exceptional job of engaging their various customers and making Bellissimo a center for the dance community with this huge event”— a business imperative for brick-and-mortars in today’s culture where online sales are so prevalent.

The costs of putting on the show are covered by sponsor fees and sales from the pop-up shop that operates at the show. Generous friends and community also contribute to the show’s production and success.

Tapping Into Community Talent

Starting in 2019, Bellissimo has partnered with the Inferno Dance Competition and Dance Team Union, who provide all of the staging, sound and lighting as well as livestreaming the show on Facebook. “They have definitely brought this event to a whole new level!” says Powell. “We are located in ‘Music City, USA,’ so we have never had to rent sound equipment,” she adds. “It has always been loaned free of charge by ‘friends of Bellissimo.’”

Dancers rehearsing in a large room with a wood floor.
A rehearsal before the 2019 show. Courtesy of Bellissimo.

Models—whose ages range from 5 to 18—are drawn from the various dance studios Bellissimo has relationships with. “Each studio can recommend two dancers,” says Powell. Once Bellissimo receives the models’ names and e-mail addresses, each is sent a questionnaire to fill out, as well as a media release form. All documents are returned via e-mail.

The Marketing Plan

Expenses associated with the fashion show fall under marketing. Studios pay no participation fee. The show does not exist as much to generate revenue as it does to raise Bellissimo’s brand recognition, drive traffic and sales, and build community. “The show has grown in all ways, really,” says Powell. “More models, more studios, more ‘looks,’ a larger audience and buzz. Our followers increase daily at this time of the year.” 

Marketing for the show starts up to six months out, in the spring. Bellissimo begins by posting “save the date” banners at the bottom of store e-mail blasts. Promotional materials go to studios just two months before the production. Online marketing starts about one month before. Social media—Instagram and Facebook—provide effective and thrifty advertising, too. The emanating buzz also elicits independent media coverage; local and online publications usually cover the event. “It’s fun because parents of models like to share those articles on Facebook, providing even more visibility for Bellissimo and the fashion show,” says Powell.

Shopping the Show

Pop-up store of Bellissimo Dance Boutique at its fashion show, with racks of tops, leotards, dance skirts.
The pop-up shop at the show. Courtesy of Bellissimo.

Powell estimates the show’s audience has doubled since its inception, with more models and dance programs each year. Described on Instagram as “Middle Tennessee’s biggest dance fashion event of the year,” the September 2019 show featured 67 dancers representing 38 studios and schools from greater Nashville, as well as 40 brands and 200 looks. 

The enthusiasm surrounding the show drives revenue at the pop-up shop. It opens at the venue one hour before the show, closes during it and then reopens immediately after and stays open until the last customer is checked out. “It’s by far our biggest sales day of the year,” says Powell.

Overall traffic to the store resulting from the show is a little harder to gauge, Powell says, since it’s difficult to single out the show’s influence on sales from other factors, including the owners’ distinctive and much sought-after fashion edit that draws dancers to the store. “We sometimes run a promotion on items that aren’t selling well at that time,” says Powell, “but other than that, we do not offer discounts or sales connected to this event.”

The Bottom Line

Reflecting on the store’s first four years, Powell acknowledges that the partners’ business goal is to make money and grow the business through everything they do. “But we aspire to more than that,” she adds. The bottom line also must include happy customers and happy dance programs. Inviting some dancewear manufacturers to participate as sponsors has helped to grow the event. “The dance industry is booming here. Highlighting various manufacturers during our event allows for more brand recognition and sales growth in the greater Nashville area. It’s a win–win for them and us.” With anticipated growth, they’ll continue to fine-tune, including expanded seating, more group walks, bigger giveaways and more community booths. “We truly want to bring our dance community together, because community is everything,” says Powell. “The feedback we receive from customers, teachers and studio owners overwhelmingly tells us that Bellissimo is doing just that.”

Last updated February 2020

Charlotte Barnard is a writer living in New York City who often reports on retail trends, design and branding.