Keep Your Store Branding Strong When You Add More Than Dancewear

Adding new categories can mean extra revenue, but maintaining the store’s brand identity can be a challenge. Here’s how three dance retailers handle it.

Display tables with women's fashion shirts and tops, with slat wall display of more fashion tops behind it.
Blades to Ballet became Ama La Vita when owner Ginger Knapp expanded into women’s clothing at her Minnesota store. Courtesy of Ginger Knapp

Selling multiple categories under a single brand is not new to Ginger Knapp. Her store, Blades to Ballet, has been selling dancewear, activewear, and skating and gymnastics gear in Rochester, MN, for decades. Then, about 18 months ago—when brands like Express and Gap started closing stores in regional malls—Knapp decided to introduce women’s fashion. That brought a new challenge: It wasn’t easy to reach new customers with the business’ name.

When the store closed temporarily this March due to COVID-19, Knapp had time to evaluate what categories were selling and what her long-terms goals were for the store. Online sales for women’s fashion outpaced all of the other categories while the store was closed, so Knapp made a bold move: She remodeled the store and rebranded her business as Ama La Vita, which translates to “love life” in Italian. “If you had told me a year ago that we were going to be remodeling and rebranding, I would have said ‘No way,’” says Knapp.

Round racks of dance leotards with slatwall display of dance bags, and other dancewear.
The large remodeled space at Ama La Vita has plenty of room for the extensive dancewear and skating inventory the local community has come to expect. Courtesy of Ginger Knapp

Phasing out gymnastics and the skating consignment portion of her business is allowing Knapp to expand the physical space available for women’s fashion while continuing to offer the extensive dance, skate and athletic wear the local community has come to expect. “The name change has helped tremendously,” she says, adding that she’s not worried about losing the dance branding because of the company’s long history and reach in the region. “It’s been well received throughout the community, and our social media has grown and the number of customers have grown.” While Knapp’s decision to rebrand her business during a pandemic was driven by customer shopping behaviors, the community’s positive response indicates she may have secured the long-term viability of her 3,000-square-foot store with her strategy.

Knapp’s particular situation might be unique, but there are several teachable lessons. Adding a new sales category can help provide a consistent cash flow year-round, but consider the following:

  • Does the category fit or enhance your brand or fill a need in your market? 
  • Do you already have the expertise, or do you have the time or passion to learn about it? 
  • Is this new category inventory-intensive? How will you manage storage and displays?
  • How will you incorporate the new category into your overall branding so it looks cohesive?

You may not need to do a complete rebranding campaign like Ama La Vita, but all of your categories should look like they belong under the same “brand umbrella.”

Design the Flow of Your Space

When Brio Bodywear of Ottawa, Canada, opened 30-plus years ago, it sold dancewear, expanded to swimwear three years in, and added bras about 15 years ago. “We put a lot of effort into the design of our Westboro store,” owner Gilbert Russell says. “Part of the thinking is that there are distinct areas for each category, yet we want there to be consistency—the same feeling of sensuality and physicality throughout the space so it works as a whole.”

Light wood shelves with racks of colorful swimwear.
Swimwear displays at Brio Bodywear: There are distinct areas in its stores for each category it sells. Courtesy of Gilbert Russell

The store uses a wave motif in its decor to capture the idea of motion and movement across the categories. Dancewear and swimwear are featured on the main floor where, depending on the season, one or the other is moved to the back so it can be given more display room. Fitting rooms are in the back, so customers can see the full range of merchandise if they choose to try something on, and a winding staircase is a visual play on curves and leads to a mezzanine dedicated to bras. Russell has similar decor plans for the Glebe location once the pandemic is over, and Brio Bodywear’s logo was recently updated to reflect the wave motif.

Bras displayed on racks on the mezzanine at Brio Bodywear store in Westboro, Ottawa.
Bras live on the mezzanine at one Brio Bodywear store, while dancewear and swimwear are displayed on the ground floor. Courtesy of Brio Bodywear

Use Color to Unify the Brand

Retail consulting firm Kizer & Bender says many businesses don’t pay enough attention to color in store decor, which can be one of the easiest ways to unite diverse product categories under one brand. A brand’s primary color should be a warm neutral tone so the merchandise can “pop,” and bolder accent coloring should appear in signage, carpeting or uniforms. 

Purple dancewear displays with dance shoes in background.
Color-blocked dancewear displays at Nathalie & Co. Courtesy of Nathalie Velasquez

Nathalie & Co. Dancewear|Swimwear|Activewear of Phoenix, AZ, absorbed a well-known local swimwear business in September 2019, after the previous owner retired. The product was initially on consignment through Nathalie Velasquez’s dancewear business, but then she relocated to a 4,000-square-foot space. Now half of the sales floor is dedicated to dance and activewear and the other half is swimwear. “Our colors are blush, maroon and sea foam green, and we try to keep that all around the store,” Velasquez says. “The swimwear is in front of a sea foam green, and the dancewear is against a white wall.”

Pink and mauve dance leotards and skirts for tiny dancers displayed together at Nathalie & Co store in Phoenix
Dancewear for tiny dancers displayed against white walls at Nathalie & Co. Courtesy of Nathalie Velasquez

For merchandising, the dancewear is currently color blocked (see above). A wall of bikinis, which is the store’s best-selling swimwear style, shows off new arrivals. Other swimwear styles are grouped by size to make it easier to shop them. “We put exceptional items as the end caps and we try to coordinate everything with our branding,” she says, but added that it can sometimes be challenging to always merchandise things to match with the colors in her logo. That’s why Velasquez uses black merchandise as a unifying filler color; the cash wrap is glitter purple.

Display wall of bikinis with other swimwear styles on racks in front of it.
Bikinis are displayed against a sea foam wall at Nathalie & Co., with other swimwear arranged on racks in front of it. Courtesy of Nathalie Velasquez

Simplify Your Social-Media Presence

When you have several product categories, it can be a challenge to determine how to handle social media. Stores take different approaches. Brio Bodywear, for example, promotes its swimwear and bras on one Facebook and Instagram page and its dancewear on separate ones because it believes its different audiences can be more clearly targeted that way. 

Nathalie & Co., however, has one main Instagram and one main Facebook page and uses them to showcase all of its categories. “We try to do everything in threes—three photos involving dance and then three involving swimwear,” Velasquez says. “We try to focus on showing what we have in the store, and we do a lot of our own photography with our own models and brand ambassadors.”

Kizer & Bender usually recommends that retail stores have one brand presence per social-media platform, rather than separate accounts for each unique department. “When you filter the brand through one account, it’s a stronger presence for the store,” says Georganne Bender. “Have one account and know that’s where all of your content will be shown.”

Segment Your Audience for Email Blasts 

One of the best ways to give your customers the information they want is to segment your email lists. For example, some of Brio Bodywear’s customers might be interested in bras, swimwear and dancewear, but teenagers will likely be looking for different types of bras or swimwear than the ones their mothers will want. “We segment our customer base because we want to make sure each group of customers feels like this is their store,” Russell says.

The Bottom Line

If you do add a new category, Kizer & Bender advises that you remember that your brand is the emotional connection and physical reaction that customers feel when they hear your store name, see your logo, visit your website or walk in your front door. If you keep that at the forefront of your planning, you will be able to successfully tell your brand’s story.

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