Owners of small stores often have one thing working against them—space. That was the case for these three retailers, who struggled to optimize their businesses due to the constraints of their locations. Their racks and displays were crowded, the fixtures were dated and their floor plans needed rearranging.
When opportunity arose, these storeowners took the valuable lessons they learned as they established their stores and applied them to their dream spaces. The results are fresh and inviting atmospheres, better branding and more room for growth. Here’s how these retailers took their shops from cramped quarters to vibrant and effective shopping havens.
Each Move Is a Chance to Hit the Reset Button
After four moves, Bobby’s Dancewear is finally in two locations that reflect the true brand image and shopping experience that owner Melissa Jewell envisioned when she purchased the business.
The original Omaha, NE, store opened in 1962, and Jewell had been an employee there since 1997. She bought the business in 2006. Jewell knew the Bobby’s Dancewear brand was ready for a refresh. “Everything was still very old-school,” she says. “The logo and colors had a very old ‘theater’-type vibe. I made small changes, where I could, but I didn’t have the finances to really rebrand.”
Still, the store did well, soon outgrowing the 1,000-square-foot space, and in 2012 Bobby’s Dancewear moved into a space twice the size. Here, Jewell was able to increase her inventory—and she could now afford more of a makeover. She wanted to give her store a lively look that delivered the upbeat and friendly shopping experience she envisioned for her customers. “That first move was a huge change,” she says. “We upgraded everything—fixtures, our POS system and the store layout. It gave everything a more current feel.” Jewell worked with a graphic designer to rebrand the entire business, including an updated logo, website and color scheme for branded materials and store decor.
Three years later, the Omaha business had once again outgrown its space, and in July 2015 Bobby’s Dancewear moved into an even larger space in the same plaza, where it remains today. This store is 3,800 square feet but has the same overall look that Jewell had worked out after the first move, she says—large accent walls painted in the brand’s color scheme (magenta, purple, teal and lime green) and updated blond wood fixtures. “It finally felt like it was completely my store and not just the previous store with a few changes here and there,” she says. “It felt fresh and new, and I think our morale was boosted because we were so proud of the changes
we had made and wanted to live up to them.”
Then, in January 2017, the opportunity came for Jewell to purchase another dance store, in Lincoln, NE, about 50 miles away. She jumped at the chance to grow her business further. The spot the store was in was not ideal. But, she says, “I wanted the store’s existing customers to continue coming to the same location, even if they hadn’t heard about the change in ownership. Nine months in the space gave us time to spread our name and build relationships in the area.” Jewell also took that time to upgrade her POS system to the version that works for multiple locations and work out the kinks. Then in November, Bobby’s Dancewear Lincoln moved into a 3,300-square-foot space in a large shopping plaza at a busy intersection, with neighboring restaurants, stores and a movie theater. “We gave out flyers to every customer during back-to-school to let them know about the move.”
The new Lincoln location has 1,500 extra square feet of space, “a better layout, better parking and better visibility,” says Jewell. “We wanted to make the new Lincoln store look very much like the Omaha store,” she says. She bought new fixtures for the open floor plan (the old Lincoln store had a wall down the middle separating the sales floor into two rooms). “I feel like this is the first time the customers will actually experience the real Bobby’s,” says Jewell. “I’ve commented that until now we’ve just been Bobby’s in someone else’s clothing. We’re really marketing that this move will bring the real ‘Bobby’s Experience.’”
Disaster Leads the Way to Business Improvements
Bess Ondako, owner of Premier Dancewear in New Castle, PA, wasn’t anticipating a fresh start for her business, but that’s exactly what she got when her shop was flooded with more than two feet of water in June 2017. “I received a call at 1 am,” says Ondako. When she and her husband went over to the store, she says, her husband “could not pull his truck up to the door, because the water went as high as an average car’s door handle. I had my rain boots and pajamas on and was running in and out of the store grabbing whatever I could.”
Most of her stock was on racks and higher shelves, so she was able to salvage a lot. “I still lost more than $2,000 in inventory and fixtures,” Ondako says. “I lost mostly tap shoes, fishnets and undergarments.” All of her metal fixtures were salvageable. “My husband and children scrubbed them in my front yard with Clorox.”
Ondako feels that it was a bit of fate that allowed her a smooth transition into a new, bigger and better space only a few days after the flood.
“The weekend before the flood, a local photographer mentioned that a shop in her building had closed, and the retail space was vacant if I was interested,” she says. “I thanked her and said that I wasn’t looking to move just yet, but would call her later in the summer to at least look.”
The day after the flood, Ondako called back and learned the space was still available. “I looked and moved my stuff in the day after that,” she adds. “I only lost two business days.”
The new location offered Ondako more than just relief from the flood; it is larger and is located on a main road with better visibility. And the space
is adjacent to another retail shop, which Ondako says makes her feel more comfortable working in the evenings. “It’s nice to have someone to chat with, and a comfort to know I am not always alone,” she says. “That was not the case in the old space. I was the only business open after 6 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was a bit creepy being in the plaza alone.”
Ondako’s new space also features a more streamlined floor plan, which she feels allows her to serve her customers better. “It is larger and can accommodate dancewear shoppers on one side and shoe fittings on the other,” she says. “The original store was one long, deep space. The new one is split—as customers walk in, they can go to the left and step down to shop for dancewear, tights and consignment, or turn right to the shoe-fitting area.”
Many local high school dance lines order gear from the store, and Ondako says the whole team can fit in her new store on measuring day. “It was a squeeze in my old place,” she adds. “There is also a nice sitting area for the dads who come in.”
A New Store Gives Displays Room to Grow
Mary Ann Hanlon, owner of Mary Ann’s Dance and More in Easthampton, MA, had a laundry list of complaints about her previous store location. From bulging racks to an overcrowded sales floor during busy times, Hanlon felt that she was always looking for space for something. And the harsh New England winters left her constantly shoveling high snowbanks so customers could find a way inside. “Trying to shovel through the snowbanks to make openings for customers to walk was no easy feat, because most times the snow had hardened by the time I opened,” she says.
One year ago, Hanlon set out to find a solution to her troubles and came across a better space that had a wide-open, 2,000-square-foot sales floor. “When I saw the space for the first time, I envisioned a total change,” she says. “I wanted it to feel roomier and homier than the previous store.”
The new store has more than enough room for displays and traffic flow, including more slatwall for tights and shoes. The displays that were previously crowded and hard to shop now have more breathing room, which allows shoppers to easily find the styles they are looking for. “I found new-to-me racks from a boutique that closed, which are more attractive than the racks I had before,” Hanlon adds. “The response has been better than I ever imagined.”
Perhaps the biggest advantage of the move has been the freedom Hanlon has gained to run her business better. The open sales floor gives her plenty of options when it comes to changing the store layout, and a tucked-away office allows her to keep files and computers from cluttering the showroom, so she can work more freely behind the scenes. “I have also been able to bring in new lines to offer a wider variety for shoppers, such as Legging Army, Paparazzi and Java Momma,” she says.
The extra space has also allowed Hanlon to begin hosting monthly Girls’ Night Out events, which have featured shopping events with nondance-related vendors, therapeutic workshops and a holiday cookie swap. These events have helped increase her customer base beyond dancers and build deeper connections with her core customers and the surrounding community.
Finally, the new shop’s most practical advantage may be that the parking lot has more than 20 spaces for customers and is maintained by the building’s owner—a small benefit that now saves Hanlon from a whole lot of shoveling.
Photos courtesy of the retailers