Three Visual Merchandising Trends for Dance Retailers in 2020

Woo customers to your brick-and-mortar dance store with these creative approaches.

A dancewear designer pop-up shop at Gabie’s Boutique, with AinslieWear leotard displays and a meet-and-greet with company founder Ainslie Cyopik (right). Courtesy of Gabie’s Boutique

Clearly, it’s not the need for a product that drives consumers into stores, when they can shop for almost anything they want without leaving home—groceries, eyewear with at-home try-on, subscription services for everything from makeup to dog treats. Instead, shoppers go to a physical store for the experience. And just as online shopping has evolved over the last decade, so, too, has the experience of shopping in a store. 

Retailers in all categories are enhancing their physical spaces with interactive, hands-on merchandising. “Through display, brick-and-mortar retailers can give customers a reason to hit pause,” says Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, founder of Retail Minded. Dance Business Weekly spoke to Reyhle about the merchandising trends emerging in 2020 that create engaging and experiential displays capable of competing effectively with digital retailing. Plus, we look at how dance retailers are translating these trends for their stores.

TREND: Display Bolder and More Informative Signage 

One of the goals of clever visual merchandising is to catch the attention of shoppers who are just dashing into your store to grab a pair of tights, say, or a replacement leotard. Informative signage can help slow down their journey through your store so that they notice the full array of dancewear you stock and are tempted by the new products you highlight. In your signs, “offer an explanation of the product that is more savvy than just a hang tag,” says Reyhle. That way, a customer will know the name, size and color of the leotard they’re looking at, and its price, but also might get helpful tips and photos that show off different ways to style the garment. 

Sharing peer-to-peer reviews on signs is an effective way to make your customers stop in their tracks, she says. “Share testimonials about what customers have said about the product. Consumers are more motivated by what other consumers think than by what a brand is telling them.”

It can be as simple as incorporating into the display pictures of dancers wearing “new arrivals,” or printing pointe shoe fitting reviews onto cards and hanging them in your shoe area. “It will help them hit pause because they will stand still to read it,” says Reyhle. 

Janet Stoney of Amore Dancewear in Saginaw, MI, has sprinkled her displays with signage that offers more information than just the basic product details, and she says it does make customers stop and take notice. “They browse more when there is signage,” she says. “They say, ‘There is so much in this store.’ The signs really draw attention.”

Last year Stoney added a small frame with a suggested summer-intensive packing list to a leotard display. She says that when customers saw it, they stopped to look at the items, a few called their programs to check on their specific needs, and some mothers made additional purchases after seeing the list.

Amore Dancewear uses signs to inform customers about products and promotions. Courtesy of Amore Dancewear

When Stoney displayed a yoga wheel, she created a sign with a picture of the circular stretching tool being used, along with a brief description. This sign helped Stoney sell the wheel to dancers who realized it was a great stretching tool for them, too, and to several dance moms who practice yoga. 

Several of the signs throughout the store, including the one on the yoga display, are taped onto the store’s shopping bags. Stoney fills the bags with colorful tissue and ribbon, just as she would at checkout, a merchandising trick that suggests the pleasure of unwrapping a new purchase. “Adding the ribbon and the tissue makes it look like a gift,” she says. “It gives people the idea to purchase that item as a gift.”

Crystal Bogorae, owner of The Barre Room in Uniontown, PA, uses bold signage outside of her store to catch the attention of distracted customers on their way in. Large posters advertising ongoing or upcoming sales and events fill the windows. She works with a local photographer who designs and prints the posters. Bogorae says they are inexpensive to produce and can easily be hung with tape. While her business is mainly a destination store, the posters do help to make it stand out in the shopping plaza where the store is located, as well as inform regular customers of sales. “They may not have come for tights, but then, as they arrive, they see that there is a tight sale going on,” she says. 

Big-Store Inspiration: Enhanced Signage at Amazon

The Amazon 4-star stores feature the most loved products from the giant’s online site in nine (and counting) brick-and-mortar locations around the country. The stores use customer ratings and reviews to curate their product selection. Signs in the stores point out the “Most-Wished-For” and “Frequently Bought Together” items. Reyhle loves how the stores go one step further by incorporating actual reviews from customers on digital signage placed with the displays. 

TREND: Build a Store Within a Store

Pop-up shops are a concept that helps retailers create buzz and excitement about coming into the store. As with flash sales, the limited timeframe of a pop-up gives a sense of urgency and exclusivity (not to mention FOMO). “There is a lot of appeal for customers in things that are marketed as limited,” says Reyhle. 

Major retailers, like Nordstrom’s, have special store displays that feature rotating designers for limited periods of time. The concept can work for dance stores, too. Gabie’s Boutique in Newmarket, ON, has been hosting a different designer in the shop each month this year in celebration of its 40th anniversary. In August, Canadian manufacturer AinslieWear kicked off the celebrations and was featured in-shop. “We were fortunate that Ainslie [Cyopik, founder of AinslieWear] could be with us on the day of the event, and we invited customers to come in and meet her, shop the new collection, and even had a trunk sale on some past styles,” says co-owner Amy Manning. “Our customers love this brand and were excited for the opportunity to be able to meet the designer and owner of a brand they love.”

Customers at Gabie’s Boutique posing with Ainslie Cyopik of AinslieWear. Courtesy of Gabie’s Boutique

Manning says this pop-up was all about offering the customers a memorable experience. “It all got started when Ainslie visited the store, and we posted a picture of us with her on our Instagram,” she says. “Customers started commenting that they wished they had been at the store while she was there, and that sparked the idea.”

From a dancewear designer’s perspective, pop-up concepts are extremely helpful in growing a brand, too. Lisa Choules, owner of Elevé Dancewear, recently took her collection to New York City for two short events. “We wanted to test out the New York market,” she says of her first three-day pop-up shop that ran during Youth America Grand Prix. While she set up in an empty space rather than an existing dance retail shop, Choules has some valuable advice for retailers looking to create a store within a store.  

She says that signage is important. Choules suggests creating large banners or posters that show off leotards on a dancer. “That or a mannequin is necessary for people to see how the item looks on the body,” she says. Since mannequins were more expensive to ship to New York, large banners helped her to beautifully achieve this. 

At a New York City pop-up last summer, Elevé Dancewear displayed large banners showing dancers modeling its leotards. Courtesy of Elevé Dancewear

Reyhle advises retailers to be sure that the space is easy for customers to navigate and is well-lit. Set up a feature display for the brand you are hosting front and center in the store. For the AinslieWear pop-up, Manning used the store’s main display area to showcase the brand. “Then we set up our store backdrop behind a table for Ainslie to do her meet-and-greet,” she says. The banner, which featured the store’s logo, created a clean and branded look for photos and also stood out against the rest of the store displays so customers could easily navigate to that area.

Designer showcases or pointe shoe trunk shows are not the only pop-up events that you can offer. Look locally for compatible vendors you can partner with for special events that will create an exciting in-store experience for customers. We love the idea of teaming with a calligrapher to personalize small gifts around the holidays or recital season—the experience will add a special touch and a guaranteed add-on sale. Some rearranging of your space is required for these types of events, but the effort will be well worth it. 

Big-Store Inspiration: Pop-up Perfection at Levi Strauss & Co.

The denim company has in-store tailor shops at several of its flagship locations. Customers can have their Levi’s jeans personalized with unique patches, replace button flies with zippers or create new back pockets from unique fabric. The in-store concept also includes screen-printing so customers can design their own T-shirts. In-store tailoring gives customers the opportunity to personalize their purchases, but it’s also a unique experience that is exciting for them to watch in-person. 

TREND: Create an Instagram-able Moment

Instagram is rolling out changes to the platform, including hiding likes, in an effort to make the space more authentic. Retailers can follow suit by encouraging customers to capture natural and authentic moments in their store. 

It’s easy for dance retailers to add these unique touches to their merchandising strategy. Instead of a sign for dancers to pose with, add your hashtag to all the mirrors in your store—from the fitting rooms to the shoe fitting area. This will empower customers to share more candid moments from their visit, like a dressing room mirror selfie or an Instagram Story of taking a twirl in their new shoes. 

Add inexpensive decals with fun, inspiring quotes to the flooring in your shoe fitting area (and don’t forget your Instagram handle, too!), and customers will be compelled to take a photo. Consider printing inexpensive signs like Bogorae uses to promote sales. The bold, “Dance” banners she displayed in the store window are a fun way for customers to share their love for it on social media. 

The Barre Room’s banners outside and starry wall inside the store create social-media moments for customers. Courtesy of The Barre Room

The Barre Room also features several black-and-white painted walls with bold stripes and stars that Bogorae says customers can’t help but stand in front of for photos. She also painted the walls in the dressing rooms black with big, white stars, which encourages her customers to capture their shopping experience at her store. 

Her best advice to retailers wanting to create similar experience in their stores: Keep it simple. “Make spaces clean, with not too many distractions in the background,” she says. “You want to notice the customer and what they are wearing. You want your product to pop.”

Big-Store Inspiration: Instagram-able Moments at Draper James

Women’s clothing store Draper James in Nashville, TN, has a handful of small, shareable design features that customers can’t help but post. The brand’s hashtag is printed on the mirrors in the dressing room; customers are offered small cups of sweet tea with the store’s blue and white gingham design; and outside is a large mural with the brand’s logo and Instagram handle. In front of the window is a bench where shoppers pose with their shopping bags. Search the hashtag #draperjames on Instagram, and you’ll find more than 30 thousand photos that highlight those store features. The store doesn’t just attract fans of the brand, either. The brick exterior is painted with bold blue and white stripes that are used by local wedding photographers for posing their newlywed and engaged couples, spreading the brand’s identity to an even bigger audience (and more potential customers).

Libby Basile is a former editor of Dance Retailer News who writes frequently on retail merchandising and displays.