What to Expect at This Year’s Virtual Dance Retail Trade Show

Wondering what it will be like to navigate the virtual version of this longstanding annual retailing event? While many of the same rules that we follow at in-person trade shows still apply, other elements are very different. Here’s how to make the most of it.

At a busy dance trade show with lots of booths and tables, a group sits in front of a table, talking to vendors.
In the before times, when chats with vendors at the Atlantic Dance Retail Shows were across a table. Photo by Jonathan Leung. Courtesy of Atlantic Dance Retail Show.

For dance retailers committed to moving forward and growing in this new normal, a virtual trade show is just one of the many changes to navigate. When the industry cannot come together in person to place orders and gain important business education, logging in from the safety of our home is the next best thing. 

On January 31, the Atlantic Dance Retail Show will host a virtual trade show for dance retail storeowners. The show will run, online, through February 2 and will feature live and pre-recorded presentations from manufacturers, fashion shows, fitting workshops and sales strategy sessions. 

“Having this event, period, is a positive thing,” says Mary Ann Hanlon, owner of Mary Ann’s Dance and More in Easthampton, MA. Travel restrictions and smaller budgets will likely make getting to the show near impossible for many, so Hanlon welcomes the opportunity to meet with vendors from her home. “Networking will be totally different,” she admits, “but many of us already connect through Facebook groups so we have experience networking this way.” 

This type of event is still so new and may be confusing to navigate. While many of the same rules that we follow at in-person trade shows apply here, other elements are very different. To get the whole scoop about what storeowners can expect, we checked in with show organizers Sandy Askin and Roger Leung. Read on for their best advice on how to make the most of this year’s virtual show. 

How This Year’s Show Will Work

The show will run for three days, but the attendee portal with access to each recorded session will be available for 90 days. “People don’t have to see the whole show in three days, and they can make everything available to their employees and staff so they can bring everyone into the decision-making process,” says Askin. 

That’s a huge benefit to retailers who in the past felt rushed or strapped for time and overwhelmed with so much new information. “You don’t need to remember every single detail,” adds Leung. “If you miss something, you can easily go back through the videos.”  

Trade show attendees sit around tables watching a slideshow presentation about a pointe shoe
The show will still include educational seminars—live and prerecorded sessions— that retailers can attend virtually. Photo by Jonathan Leung. Courtesy of Atlantic Dance Retail Show.

Since there will be a mix of live and prerecorded sessions, Leung suggests prioritizing the live meetings, as there will be an opportunity to ask questions and connect with the exhibitors. “Then fit in the prerecorded sessions at your own leisure,” he says. 

One new feature retailers can expect is the “Laugh and Learn” section that will spotlight a wide variety of educational content from exhibitors, such as fit tutorials or brand ambassadors showing off new products. There will also be another section for “Sizzle Reels,” or mini versions of promotional ads that retailers can view to learn more about what each brand is all about. 

Most important, there will be an appointment module where retailers can schedule one-on-one meetings with vendors. Look for that to go live on January 27, says Askin, adding that exhibitors will be contacting retailers before then for appointments, and retailers can feel free to contact exhibitors on their own.

Before You Go

Here are our best tips on how to prepare for this year’s show. 

Prepare your budget: It’s always wise to analyze year-to-year sales in each category before you head to a trade show. However, this year will be different due to the effect last spring’s shutdown had on sales. It’s still too early to tell [what sales will be like], cautions Renee Laverdiere, owner of Repertoire Dance Shop in Scarsdale, NY. “We’re not seeing the competition teams the way they used to be and who knows what recital will bring,” she says. With that in mind, she plans to focus her budget on categories that remain proven, like pointe shoes and fashion. 

Hanlon usually prints out reports of her inventory before a trade show so she will know exactly what she has to order. “Without fail I always forget something,” she says. “One more advantage of virtual is being right where your inventory is.”

Map out your schedule: Laverdiere plans to prioritize meetings with new or smaller vendors to help build relationships with them. “We have to support them and take advantage of that because, unlike some of the bigger vendors, they won’t be visiting us in our shops,” she says. If there is a new brand that you’re interested in carrying, this would be an ideal time to meet with them. After all, says Laverdiere, bringing in fresh product is one way to bounce back from COVID-19.

At the Show

Order wisely: “Don’t be overly optimistic about what you can sell,” says Leung. He knows that many stores are still holding extra inventory from the spring and suggests placing orders on a need basis, as well as planning to bring in new looks and fashion to keep the merchandise mix interesting. “I will be careful how I spend my dollars,” adds Laverdiere. “I have to be. I need to be able to sell things quicker.”

Look for fresh items that can be cross merchandised with older products left over from last year that you’re trying to move out quickly. Dancers this year are opting more for fun and exciting fashions over dress code basics, and these new items can easily be paired up with dancewear staples already in your inventory.

Divide and conquer: Many stores have more than one staff member registered for the show, which gives them the ability to spread out the workload. “Split up the companies,” says Askin. Then you can compare notes with each other after the presentations.

Consider show specials: One draw to any trade show is the discounts and deals, like free shipping, that vendors offer to retailers who place their orders during the event. Retailers can still expect to see show specials this year, but pay close attention to how long they will run for. Leung suggests retailers check out what the specials are within the first three days of the show to avoid missing any incentives. Although the content will be available for 90 days, vendors are not obligated to run their promotions the same length of time. 

Attend the educational seminars: This year, veteran dance retailer Gilbert Russell, who owns Brio Bodywear in Ottawa, Canada, and is a retail consultant, will lead three seminars focused on the current state of dance retail. “Rebuilding Your Sales Post Pandemic” and “Winning the Online Game—Keys to Your Online Success” will both feature targeted advice for dance stores ready to turn their attention to building sales in the coming seasons. Additionally, Russell will lead a “Dance Retail Mastermind” call. In this session, three retailers will present an issue and others in the call will be able to make suggestions and ask questions. “This is your chance to help another retailer,” says Askin. “Listening to other retailers’ suggestions will help you in your store.”

Don’t skip happy hour: One of the big attractions of the annual dance trade shows has always been the chance to network with fellow retailers. We know a Zoom cocktail party is not the same, but it can still be beneficial to connect with other storeowners. To make the most of it, reserve this time to relax, pour yourself a glass of wine or cup of tea, be sure to turn your camera on so people can see you, and update your screen name so it includes your full name and store. Happy hour is also be a great opportunity to share feedback on the event. 

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