Designs & Displays: Holiday Displays With Selling Power

Ballerina Boutique captures hearts (and pocketbooks) with holiday displays studded with gift ideas.

Every season in dance retail—recitals, graduation, back-to-school—merits special attention for displays, but Christmas deserves an extra dose. Why? “There’s a strong emphasis on this time of year because the customer is available and wanting to buy—and not just the dance customer,” says Caitlin Hoffman, owner of Colorado Springs–based Ballerina Boutique. These customers, while avid shoppers, require extra effort to capture, due to competition not only from neighboring dance stores but also from mainstream brick-and-mortar and online retailers.

Displays that are unique and on-brand will give you the merchandising edge to increase sales as you reinforce your brand image. First, you need a strategy. Look on Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration from around the world, and consider the ideas below.

Establish a Theme
Maybe Nutcracker continues to work for you. Maybe you’re ready for a change. In either case, review your display strategy, and make sure it is consistent with both propping and color. Don’t be afraid to switch it up. “Christmas doesn’t have to be red and green to be festive,” says Hoffman. “One year we used periwinkle and purples and blue, and they brought a whole different element to the store.”

As for visual merchandising, Hoffman advocates a clear point of view with strong, bold vignettes. “They keep visitors in front of the display longer, and then people are more likely to buy.” The theme can be a riff on a story, such as The Nutcracker or a popular movie like Frozen, or it can be as simple as a prominent use of product in offbeat ways, like a wreath ringed in pointe shoes.

The Glass Slipper ups the glamour at Christmastime, with ornaments that fit the store’s soft aqua and ivory color scheme. A tutu swaddles the small tree, which is perched on a side table.

In a cozy 1907 house in downtown American Fork, UT, Christie Jo Bateman stays true to the soft aqua and ivory color scheme that has made her store, The Glass Slipper, a destination, but she ups the glamour at holiday time. “We make it really glittery, with crystal snowflakes, jeweled crowns and ornaments that work well with the existing soft palette already,” she says. Because the store is a former house, she also incorporates home decor, like small side tables, that she tops with miniature trees swaddled with a tutu at the base.

After years of decorating extravagantly, Leslie Roy-Heck now takes a less-is-more approach that complements the sleek pink-and-gray makeover of her store, Saratoga Dance, Etc. With four large windows on the street in downtown Saratoga Springs, NY, “it used to take an enormous amount of time to prepare for the holidays,” says Roy-Heck. Now, she and manager Erin Wigzell opt for a few simple, signature elements: an oversize pointe-shoe-covered wreath for the window and a fresh evergreen garland intertwined with large paper stars and paper-lantern lights by the cash wrap. A second garland bedecks the shoe-fitting area.

Embellish Mannequins
Year-round you use body forms to show off dance apparel. At holiday time, why not decorate the mannequin with product to sell? Hoffman takes a short, stiff tutu and layers pink folded legwarmers atop for a witty treatment. “People are surprised, and they linger at the display instead of glancing and moving on,” she says. Further switching up the tree theme, you might create a skirt out of artificial greens dressed up with flocking, lights or ornaments. A sash at the top or a swirl of fabric for the bodice hides the branches at the waist.

Wigzell and Roy-Heck create a tutu out of cardboard and then layer on decorations, like faux leaves or butterflies, with a glue gun. You could also apply paper snowflakes, or faux flowers, or small, colored Christmas balls, or any small item en masse.

Bateman dresses mannequins to sell them. She stocks up on torso forms from Pottery Barn and dresses them in a leo and tutu. “They fit the tutu nicely. Then I’ll say to a customer, ‘You could put this in your daughter’s room for part of the decor.’ A lot of times that will sell it.”

Paper magnets with sayings like “Will Dance for Chocolate” decorate the tree at Saratoga Dance, Etc., bring a smile to customers’ faces.

Trick Out Trees
It wouldn’t be Christmas without a tree. A traditional approach still captures hearts and pocketbooks: draping a tannenbaum with a mix of ornaments and sparkly gifts and accessories. Roy-Heck adds some humor to the mix. “We decorate a towering white tree with tiny ballet slippers, tiaras and paper magnets from BPlus Printworks with statements like ‘My Feet Hurt’ or ‘Will Dance for Chocolate,’” she says. “The sayings bring a smile to our dancers’ faces, since they can really relate.”

Here’s another fun variation: Take a multitiered display table from manufacturers like Melvin Roos or The Fixture Zone and load the shelves with a single product, like pointe shoes, to create a riveting, tree-shaped display.

No floor space for a tree this year? Create tree-shaped wall art from a collage of ornaments and accessories.

Improvise With Simple Materials
Wherever your business is located, snow says “holidays.” In place of flocking or faux snow or packing popcorn, which can get messy, create your own snowfall from…marshmallows! String each marshmallow an inch or so apart on fishing wire. Suspend from the ceiling in a window to create a wintry backdrop. Cotton balls on sewing thread would also work.

Don’t have a window budget this year? Do like one London department store and place 24 posters of dance scenes from The Nutcracker for the days leading up to Christmas.

As an alternative to mannequins—or if you’ve grown weary of Nutcracker figures and dolls in your windows—group boxes, open on one side and painted white, to make a moveable display case. The box will frame the product inside and invite the customer for a closer look. Stack the boxes in graduated numbers, with more at the bottom and one at the top, to simulate a tree shape, then top it with a star. If you try this display on the store floor, arrange the boxes so that their openings face out in all directions, allowing customers to approach on all sides.

Say It With Signage
Your windows should signal holidays without any words, so signage is not mandatory to drive traffic. However, it can alert customers to events or actions taking place only at this time of year, like holiday operation hours. Post store hours at both the front door and the cash wrap, so that new as well as regular customers can’t miss the notice. Also create signage for any special services you offer for the holidays, like free gift-wrapping.

Holiday displays delight customers and motivate your staff with an excitement that is contagious. However, there’s more at stake here than maintaining a festive mood. “The rest of the year, you do displays, but they are not bringing the same revenue,” says Hoffman. Put the passion and imagination you have for your business into your holiday displays and make it your best Christmas ever.

You don’t have to be a professional designer to create displays like this eye-catching evergreen skirt and pointe shoe wreath at Ballerina Boutique.

2 Knock-Out DIY Displays
Add fashion flair to your store’s holiday ambience with these two do-it-yourself displays. Here’s the step-by-step.

Evergreen Skirt
Materials: You will need evergreen branches (faux are best because they are flexible) and florist’s wire from a craft store, like Michael’s. Caitlin Hoffman uses a metal dress form instead of a mannequin, so she can tie the branches to the wire.

Instructions: Work around the circumference of the form several times so that the boughs softly and naturally overlap. Cover the tops of the branches at the waistline with a wide fabric sash or with fabric draped like a bodice.

For additional ideas, plus a tutorial and kits for transforming dress forms and mannequins into holiday decor, visit

Pointe Shoe Wreath
Materials: You will need a wire wreath form, florist’s wire, a yarn needle that can be threaded with wire, and pointe shoes.

Instructions: Leslie Roy-Heck advises puncturing the shoe through the satin in the heal area where you can’t see it, wrapping the wire around the form once to hold the shoe, then puncturing the next shoe, working your way around the wreath. When finished, use ribbons on shoes to cover any exposed wire. Fill in gaps with a bit of faux evergreen. —CB

From top: photos courtesy of Ballerina Boutique; The Glass Slipper; Saratoga Dance, Etc.; Ballerina Boutique

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