Make the Most of This Year’s Trade Shows

In addition to making appointments with vendors, storeowners get the chance to walk the dance-retail-show aisles together, trading reactions and bouncing ideas off each other.

Winter’s arrival means the unofficial start of trade show season. As the new year begins, dance storeowners will be heading out to one of the regional Atlantic Dance Retail Shows in Dallas, L.A. and Baltimore, or maybe to a NorthEast Dance Retailers Show in Providence. Joy Ellis, owner of Footlights Dance & Theatre Boutique, which has three locations in Frederick, MD, Silver Spring, MD, and Alexandria, VA, has been attending the Atlantic Dance Retail Show since its start in 2010. In addition to looking at product and talking to vendors, Ellis loves to walk the aisles of the show with other storeowners. She’ll hook up with someone like Micki Samson, owner of The Dance Shop in Altoona, PA, for instance, to discuss what she thinks about new vendors or what’s moving in her market. “She has great ideas,” says Ellis. “That’s part of the benefit—it’s always good to compare notes.”

Roger Leung and Sandy Askin, co-organizers of the Atlantic Dance Retail Shows, understand this appeal of the show: It’s an easy and affordable opportunity for retailers to come together and talk shop. “If you’re serious about your business, you want to know what the industry is doing,” says Leung. That also means taking the opportunity to meet suppliers face-to-face and take advantage of limited-time deals. “You don’t want to be just an account to any supplier,” says Leung. “When you go to a show, you meet your sales rep and company executives face-to-face, you personalize your relationship and you become more than just an account number. You are a familiar face.”

If you’ve been to a trade show in the past, or if this is your first time, DRN wants to help you get ready for your trip so you can come home with the most knowledge and best inventory for your business. Here, six retailers offer their best trade show advice.

Storeowners Josephine Lee, of The Pointe Shop, and Gilbert Russell, president of Brio Bodywear (seated to her left), lead a discussion with fellow storeowners at the L.A. Atlantic Dance Retail Show. Conversation ranged from online selling platforms to creative ideas for store events.

Do Your Homework

The first step to a successful trade show visit begins at home. Before each trip, Loube McIver, who was a dancewear sales rep before she and her husband bought New Mexico Dancewear in Albuquerque 12 years ago, analyzes sales in each category against the previous year to look for a decrease or increase in volume. This informs all her buying decisions.

“I see a major difference in the stores that prep for the show and the stores that just wing it,” says Leung, who has observed that retailers who look at their inventory before they leave—to see what they need in each category and what new items they want to pick up —have an advantage. “By making those a priority when you arrive, you don’t miss out,” he says.

Stephanie Carney and Paulette Coleman, co-owners of two-and-a-half-year-old Grit & Grace Studio to Streetwear in Newnan, GA, set a budget before going to a trade show. “It’s so easy to see all the new, wonderful products and fashion trends in dancewear and get caught up in the moment and order more than your business model can sustain, especially when some orders may not ship until the fall,” Carney says.

For Ellis, show preparation includes checking in with her three locations to get a better idea of what each store needs. Since her stores are all about 40 miles apart, each has a different customer base and inventory requirements.

Nathalie Velasquez , owner of Nathalie & Co. Dancewear and Little Things in Phoenix, AZ, likes to set goals for herself before each show she attends, whether it’s a dance-specific trade show or a larger retail show, like MAGIC. “We specialize in dancewear, but I’m located in a shopping mall and get a lot of walk-by traffic,” she says. “I like to bring in some fun stuff to complement the dancewear.” To prepare for these shows, she makes a physical list to bring along. “It could be to bring in cheer shoes or more fashion options, or to open two new accounts,” she says. “I also have a lot of events in my store, so one goal may be to plan at least one in-store event with a brand. Sometimes I also make a list of questions I would like to ask my suppliers or other vendors.”

Two vendors ready to talk shop with toreowners: Sanni McElvey, Glam’r Gear (left); Jeffrey Peterson, Happy Dance.

Once you have an idea of what you would like to accomplish at the show, it’s wise to make appointments with vendors you expect to order from. But don’t overschedule yourself, warns Samson. It’s important to leave room for unexpected changes and keep your plans flexible. “I don’t schedule too many appointments at the show, because I don’t like to be too structured,” she says. Her priority is discovering new vendors and products, so she likes to make time to visit every booth.

Pace Yourself

If you think you can do it all, think again. Time management is vital to having a successful visit, says Coleman. She advises keeping your time with each vendor to under an hour and prioritizing your visits. She and Carney typically spend 30 minutes with brands they regularly order from and who visit their store throughout the year, and closer to a full hour with new suppliers. “Those meetings are a way to build relationships with new vendors,” Carney adds.

Ellis keeps her team on track (she brings store managers with her) by focusing their time on new accounts. “We only buy from small vendors at the show,” she says. “All the larger vendors with reps come to the store. If we see a great item or deal, of course we’ll take advantage of that, but we mostly are always looking for new brands and exciting new product.”

“I’ve seen retailers spend too much time in one booth,” adds Leung. “You don’t need to see everything from A to Z to get the gist of the line.” To keep meetings from running long, he suggests planning follow-up meetings with brand reps in your store to go over the finer details after the show. “Any meeting over an hour is too much time,” he says. “You only have two days, and you want to use your time wisely and efficiently.”

Sometimes vendors’ schedules can run late, and that can throw off your schedule, says Coleman, so it’s important to keep your plan flexible. “When that happens, talk to the vendor to see if they have another time slot you can fit in, or shorten the amount of time you spend with them to get back on track,” she says. Be sure to attend the cocktail party—that’s where you’ll have time for your personal conversations and chitchat, suggests Leung.   

Storeowners network at lunch and cocktail parties.

Soak Up Business Know-How

Boot camps, product seminars and retailer round tables are all great ways for show attendees to stay up to date on the industry. “Last year was the first year we hosted a boot camp for retailers that focused on using social media to improve their businesses and to sell products,” says Leung. He says the boot camps are geared toward overall general business practices that a store can use. This year the session will focus on how to enhance your business by building studio relationships. McIver says these relationships are important to running a successful business. She will be talking about “how to take your store out to studios or areas that are 60 minutes or more away,” she says.

Ellis attended the social-media boot camp last year and took back a lot of useful information on using Snap Retail as part of her marketing efforts. While her priority is scouting new brands and product, Ellis says, “I do attend some of the seminars, if I feel they are discussing something new and innovative.”

Velasquez feels she usually gets the most benefit from attending seminars, especially at larger shows, like MAGIC. “My biggest thing is being able to attend all the seminars,” she says. “You can always grab a business card from a vendor you like and look at their stuff online after. Whoever is doing the seminars has valuable things to say, and I ask them a lot of questions.”

The vendor-led seminars give suppliers a chance to go through their product lines. “Most seminars center around pointe shoes and fitting,” says Leung. These can be especially helpful for your new store staff members, who can educate themselves on the key parts and fitting techniques of various shoes.

Wear Moi sales rep Matt Boutdavong goes over a product line with two retailers.

Make Time to Network

The cocktail parties and lunches give retailers the opportunity to do more than just refuel; they allow attendees to meet fellow storeowners with similar styles and build relationships with current suppliers. “I love to go to the show and see new things, but more important are the networking contacts that I have made along the way,” says Samson. She attends the Baltimore show and has found it to be the best place to catch up with other storeowners and learn what they are doing in their stores. “I learn new things every year from people I meet at the show,” she says. “I have met other storeowners in different markets, like Joy at Footlights, who has been doing this longer than I have, that I look up to. I have also talked with people who are just opening up their store, or have just purchased a store. It is easier to share information with stores that are not your direct competition. For me, the social aspect of the show is the most beneficial.”

Velasquez always makes it a point to attend the networking events, as well as any dinners she’s invited to by a vendor. “Usually other retailers are invited, and since we both may stock the same brand, we can have a conversation about what we carry and share different ideas,” she says.

Additionally, Velasquez spends time visiting the stores of retail friends she has made during her time at the shows. “I go to the L.A. show,” she says, “I visit the garment district afterward, and I like to visit other dancewear stores on the West Coast that I share a lot in common with. I like to see how people display their things. I have had my store for seven years and have always struggled with displaying wrap skirts. I got an idea from visiting a friend who owns a swimwear shop. When I visit another dance retailer, I tell them I own a store in Phoenix, and we ‘like’ each other on social media and can support each other.”


Don’t Leave Home Without These!

We asked the most seasoned retailers to share what they stash in their luggage to make the most of their visits to dance retail trade shows—and who they bring along.

Business cards “I have two sets of business cards that I use at a trade show,” says Nathalie Velasquez, owner of Nathalie & Co. Dancewear and Little Things. “One for the public, and then a special business card with my tax ID number and shipping and billing information that I can give to a vendor rather than fill out a long form when I am placing an order.”

Inventory sheets “I bring inventory sheets and purchase orders with me to the show to take advantage of the show specials that the vendors offer,” says Micki Samson, owner of The Dance Shop in Altoona, PA. “I will often place orders at the show, but also make a list of what I want to bring into my store at a later date.”

Snacks and comfortable shoes “I always pack light snacks, like energy bars, and water, because you often don’t have time to eat,” says Velasquez. “And, of course, comfy shoes.”

Store managers “Being away from the store does cause issues, but I try to bring the managers of each store with me,” says Joy Ellis, owner of Footlights Dance & Theatre Boutique in Frederick, MD, Silver Spring, MD, and Alexandria, VA. “I like to get my staff to the show for at least a few hours to do a quick run-through. They know their clients best, so I like to have their input. They might notice something that I won’t.”


2018 Show Dates


Grapevine Convention Center

January 27–29, 2018


Sheraton Gateway Hotel

February 10–12, 2018


Delta Hunt Valley Inn/Marriott

February 24–26, 2018


Photos by Jonathan Leung

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