Could establishing a pointe shoe fitting standard and spreading sound fitting skills make the whole dance retail industry stronger? That’s Josephine Lee’s goal.
Having established herself as a recognized pointe shoe fitting expert, Josephine Lee is now moving to create an industry standard by developing a fitting certification and retail partnership program.
Her business—ThePointeShop—is based on Lee and her three fitters knowing most every major brand just as well as the next, so they can get the best fit for each dancer. With a pointe shoe fitting educational playlist of 130 videos (and counting) on YouTube and 65,000-plus followers on Instagram and Facebook combined, Lee believes she’s well-positioned to create a certification for the industry—and that the marketplace is ripe for it.
An Innovative Business Model
Lee grew up working in her mom’s dance retail shop and started fitting dancers for their pointe shoes when she was 15. She launched her own dance retail business in 2011 and moved her focus solely to pointe shoes in 2014 after dancers kept saying they wanted accessible and knowledgeable pointe shoe fittings. ThePointeShop, based in California, adopted an innovative business model: traveling fittings. Lee’s longest tour last year was a 50-day trip in a cargo van filled with 500 pointe shoes. The business also has two brick-and-mortar showrooms in Santa Ana and Oakland, and does San Diego–based fittings in a shared office space.
Yet even with the growing reach of her business, Lee continues to hear from dancers across the country who say that as much as they might love their local dance retail store, it can be difficult to access a trained pointe shoe fitter. “Sometimes the storeowner is the only one with extensive experience in fitting or who has the time to be able to know how to do a proper fitting,” Lee says. Plus, with the complexities of multiple pointe shoe brands, sizes, shanks and so on, it can be a challenge for storeowners to choose the best inventory to stock.
Because pointe shoes have a high price point and a good profit margin, having a certified fitter on staff can help a store enhance its reputation and increase sales in that area, Lee says. And by giving more dancers better access to trained fitters, she believes it will help the dance industry overall.
The Fitting Programs
ThePointeShop’s new programs have two aspects: fitters and retail affiliates.
The “trained fitter” program provides in-depth educational information involving fitting methods and pointe shoe models. It’s designed for anyone who wants to learn more about the mechanics of pointe shoes. That might include dance teachers, dancers, dance storeowners or studio owners, physical therapists or individuals interested in becoming pointe shoe fitters. The $300 tuition includes three months of virtual classes, reading materials and discussions with ThePointeShop fitters.
The “certified fitter” program, designed for those who want to continue training and become certified, is $600. It includes the trained fitter curriculum as well as one-on-one trainings doing actual fittings. Certified fitters will also be listed on ThePointeShop’s website as a preferred fitter; get ongoing referrals, support and education; and be invited to events and seminars. There will be a $200 annual renewal fee for certified fitters; some graduates may be invited to train as a “master fitter.”
What’s in It for Retailers
The retail partnership program is for dance stores that would like to become fitting partners with ThePointeShop. It will be limited to a select group of vetted brick-and-mortar stores (the application deadline is July 20) that will need to have at least one certified fitter on staff. For a $450 annual fee, these businesses will be listed on ThePointeShop’s website as a referral store, and they will receive marketing support, education, a curated list of pointe shoes they will need to carry, three years of territory protection (ThePointeShop will not take on any other partners in the region) and discounts on certain brands and models.
“Once we have a retail partner in place, ThePointeShop won’t be traveling to that region anymore to sell our own shoes. Instead, we will be helping the retailer build up their client base and reputation to become a leader of pointe shoes in that area,” Lee says. “We are still planning on keeping our three locations in California and will consider expanding and traveling to regions where we do not have partners, but hopefully we’ll be scaling back on expansion and traveling as more retailers join.”
Samantha Weissbach is director of operations for Dancewear Center in Kirkland, WA, a 20-plus-year-old dancewear store that she’s co-owned for about two years. She’s also an active dance teacher—and one of the applicants for Lee’s retail partnership program. “We want to learn and do our best by our local dance community,” Weissbach says. “I’ve followed Josephine for years on social media, and she is so clearly passionate about what’s best for the dancer. This is our opportunity to get all of the information and resources.”
So how do these new programs fit into Lee’s business plan? Even if she accepts 100 retailers to participate the first year, the best-case scenario with $450 annual fees is that ThePointeShop will break even.
Instead of creating a profit center, Lee sees her programs as a way to help build community within the dance retailer industry. “It’s important for me to unite us all in a community setting rather than to make money on this. All of us can be better if we have a standard,” she says. “The future of business is collaboration. The dance retail industry needs to come together and share clients and knowledge and profits, so that we can save our industry and be better than ever.”
By creating a network of certified fitters and shops, Lee believes it will give the brick-and-mortar dance industry an edge that online sellers just cannot compete with: the power of one-to-one connection with a human being. “While every industry is going online with e-commerce and Zoom, there is a place in our industry where brick-and-mortar is necessary, and that’s pointe shoe fittings,” she says.
Lee is also looking ahead to longer-term growth possibilities for her company. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, customers have been reaching out to ThePointeShop from all over. It has responded by offering virtual fittings worldwide, something it once just offered by word-of-mouth for clients in Alaska and Hawaii. While the U.S. will always be ThePointeShop’s main focus, Lee can see the strong potential for having a global reach someday. “My ambition for creating a pointe shoe fitting standard is to go worldwide,” she says, “so that no matter where you live, you’re able to work with someone qualified to get your pointe shoes fitted.”
Hannah Maria Hayes has an MA in dance education from NYU and has been writing for Dance Media publications since 2008.