This Summer, Take Your Dance Store’s Shopping Experience Outdoors

Dance retailers are always looking for ways to boost summer sales. This year, as COVID lingers on, sidewalk sales may be more attractive to customers than ever. Keep these six best practices in mind.

Dance store sidewalk sale, showing storeowner and staff wearing monarch butterfly dress-up wings and young girl in tulle ballet outfit with pink wings in middle.
Sidewalk festivities (and sales) at On Your Toes Performance Wear in Durant, OK; owner Adrienne Hansen is at right. Courtesy of Adrienne Hansen

When the weather warms up and people head to parks and beaches, moving merchandise beyond the four walls of your store with a sidewalk sale has always been a smart way to entice customers to include shopping in their summer plans, too. This year, more than ever, outdoor sales events will have benefits for your business. As the pandemic stretches on, consumers continue to seek out safe (and fun) ways to shop. Health experts, including the CDC, still recommend outdoor activities as safer than those held indoors. A sidewalk sale can help you maintain a comfortable, well-ventilated shopping environment and boost sales during a notoriously slow period for dance retail. 

Looking for the best practices when it comes to planning and executing a summer sidewalk sale? We turned to retailers who have held outdoor sales in the past. While their events mostly took place before the COVID-19 outbreak, their methods can be used this summer. Here are six key areas to consider when hosting an outdoor sale. 

Think About Fixtures and Merchandising

When you set up displays outside, you’ll need fixtures that are easy to move. Racks with wheels or a traditional salesman-style rolling rack are ideal for making a speedy setup, and they also look attractive to customers. 

In the hot summer sun, a well-ventilated tent is also a smart investment. Your customers won’t stay long if they are uncomfortable in the heat, says Adrienne Hansen, owner of On Your Toes Performance Wear, in Durant, OK. In the past, she has used a tent with zippered side panels she could open and close. Beware of too many customers gathering under a tent at once, though—post a sign that lets people know how many can safely fit inside at a time, and be sure to have additional merchandise racks located beyond the tent to hold the attention of those waiting. 

Portable changing stations can also come in handy during an outdoor summer event. Jennifer Ward, owner of The Station: Dancewear and Studios in Kalamazoo, MI, has used them during her annual summer clearance sale to allow more customers to try items on.

Don’t forget to add a few interactive props to help build excitement among shoppers. Create a photo backdrop for a selfie station and encourage customers to share on their social pages. Or add a wheel that customers can spin for a prize when they check out. You can also easily catch the attention of people passing by with balloons, mannequins and sandwich-board signs.

Connect With Your Local Community 

It’s likely you’re not the only business considering an outdoor sales event this summer, so look for opportunities to partner with others or participate in a town event to take advantage of a larger crowd of shoppers. Even though dancewear is a niche category, you likely sell crossover products like leggings and water bottles. And it’s important to show local shoppers that your business is alive and well. 

Grit & Grace Studio to Streetwear in Newnan, GA, has several outdoor events planned for this summer, including a community-wide event being held in response to a devastating tornado that struck the area in March, and an annual Summer Wined Up event run by the downtown association Main Street Newnan. (Merchants who host the wine-tasting event offer hors d’oeuvres and a variety of wines for visitors to sample at their store.) 

Mary Ann Hanlon, owner of Mary Ann’s Dance and More in Easthampton, MA, has participated in her town’s annual Cultural Chaos arts event that takes place one block off from her store’s former location. The event featured food trucks and local performers, so one year Hanlon invited a local dance studio to perform outside of her store.  

When On Your Toes was located on a main street, Hansen would participate in the annual sidewalk-sales events. “If you’re doing it outside and want to bring in customers who normally don’t shop with you, show leggings, bra tops and T-shirts—things that appeal to a broader audience will help bring people in.”

Or Design Your Own Event

Ward used to participate in her town’s downtown sidewalk sale but found that most of her business during the event came from her existing customer base. “Now I just have my own event, on my schedule—usually around the same time each summer—and it works out much better,” she says. 

Last year, mid-pandemic, customers signed up online for in-person shopping appointments. Ward held the sale indoors but spread it out into the adjoining studio in order to allow for physical distancing. She also ran the sale a few days longer to make up for reduced capacity and plans to do the same this summer. 

If you host an independent sidewalk sale, be sure to give it a fun theme or plan it around a summer holiday to build excitement. Celebrate your store anniversary or arrange for an ice cream truck to park in your lot during the event. “You won’t have success if you simply move a few racks out to your parking lot and wait to see what happens,” says Hansen. 

Another way to offer a safe shopping environment is to coordinate with local studios to set up sidewalk sales in their parking lots, says Hansen. This is a great way to get in front of your target customers and offers them a comfortable and convenient way to shop. Plus, you’ll be top of mind when it comes time to buy their next leotard.

Market, Market, Market

As with any sale, your marketing efforts will determine the success of your event. Be sure to reach out to local studios to let them know about your sale, so they can share the details with their dancers. 

When Ward took part in the community’s annual sidewalk sale, she had local dancers donned in tutus hand out postcards and engage with shoppers on the main street. Not only did the postcards offer a coupon, but they also featured a map that directed customers to the store. In return, she offered the local dancers a $50 credit to the store. “A lot of my fellow business owners who saw them told me it was fantastic—they saw the dancers engaging with kids and taking photos with little girls,” she says. “It was considered a huge success from our local downtown organizer because it added vibrancy, energy and fun.” 

Make Checkout Easy

Maintain safety protocols throughout your customers’ entire shopping experience by setting up a mobile checkout station outside. Hansen uses Square, which comes with the option to add the platform to more than one device and offers you a card reader to swipe credit cards. She pays for two additional iPads and points out that you can easily add or subtract devices from your account as you need them. 

This option will allow customers to remain outside and give them a contactless option for purchasing. It also saves time. “The more convenient you can make it, the better,” she says. “When you take credit cards outside, you don’t have to run inside to do that.”

Hanlon took a different approach. When she hosted outdoor sales, she directed customers inside to check out. “The Wi-Fi wasn’t great outside the store,” she says. “Plus, it gave customers a chance to see what else we had to offer by coming inside.”

Prevent Losses

When you leave the confines of your four walls, it can become harder to monitor for theft. One of the best ways to keep your merchandise from walking away is to bring in more staff. Hansen always has a staff member working outside whenever she has outdoor displays. Hanlon would ask friends and family members to volunteer a few hours to stop by and watch the outdoor displays. 

Another way to secure your inventory is to create a defined space. Hansen says her tent, which has four walls that can zip open and closed, provides security around the items on display. With things not so out in the open, there’s less opportunity for shoplifters.

The Bottom Line 

Many retailers are looking at a surplus of inventory that needs to move, and dancers are heading into a new and exciting year at their studios. Ward, for one, feels this summer will build a lot of momentum and prime everyone for a very successful fall season.

Libby Basile reports regularly on visual merchandising, retail strategy and store design. She is a former editor in chief of Dance Retailer News.