Retailer Spotlight: Loretta’s Dance Boutique

Lorettas-9_R1Loretta Dub, owner of Loretta’s Dance Boutique, takes a high-energy entrepreneurial approach to her retail business. Launched in 2007 in a 1,300-square-foot space, the store moved to a slightly bigger space a few years later. By 2013, Dub had outgrown that space and moved to her current 7,500-square-foot location nearby.

Here, Dub has hit upon a creative business strategy that brings in multiple revenue streams. The building houses a 3,500-square-foot boutique, which sells both dancewear and imported women’s fashion, and an adjoining 4,000-square-foot ballroom, where she and other dance professionals teach barre fusion, ballroom, Latin dance and West Coast swing classes. “It was an ugly building, but I fixed it up. I use every single inch. The common thread is dance,” says the former banker and longtime dance teacher, who also organizes events, including weekly dance parties and dance-themed cruises. Plus, she sells online. “This is what I envisioned.”

So how does Dub juggle all these moving parts? Twenty-five years in corporate and commercial finance certainly helps. “Without a background like mine, I say good luck,” says Dub. “But I work very hard, and I enjoy what I do. I also have team leaders and choose staff who are willing to wear different hats.”

“There’s one facility, and each business plays off the other,” says Dub. “Someone comes in for a dance class in the evening, and they see the clothing and want to shop. Conversely, you have a young dancer come in for a pointe shoe fitting, and her mom sees the ballroom class going on next door. She’s always wanted to take a class, signs up and comes in with her husband for a lesson.”

Each part of the business plays a major role, with different cycles. “The beauty is that when I’m having a slow cycle on retail, the ballroom business is strong,” says Dub. “And the online store makes up for slower cycles. If there’s a gap in one, the other is there.” Although sales in each vary month to month, the dance boutique is the oldest and most profitable part of the company. “Inventory control is everything. I have my eye on the ball at all times,” she says.

 

A boutique-and-ballroom-in-one
A boutique-and-ballroom-in-one

Customers from All Over
Loretta’s Dance Boutique serves the greater Detroit area. The shop caters to tap, jazz, ballet dancers and gymnasts. But Dub is especially well-known for her expertise fitting pointe and ballroom shoes. She’s a former guest fitter for the Kirov Academy of Ballet summer intensive in Washington, DC. “I was able to take my pointe shoe expertise and use that in ballroom,” she says. “Ballroom shoes are as hard to fit as pointe shoes. Very few people in the industry do it, and that’s why I picked it. That will draw people to my store.”

Three or four dance studios are nearby, but much of her business comes from the bigger surrounding area. It’s not uncommon for customers to travel from nearby Windsor, Canada, and from Grand Rapids, about two hours away, she says.

 

Lorettas-20_R1Gotta Dance
Dub has always loved dance. “I was a ballerina in my head,” she says, although the Michigan native’s family couldn’t afford dance classes. Later in life, however, she pursued her passion with vigor.“I took 8 to 10 hours of lessons a week, while working,” she says. “I built strong ballet skills.”

When she quit the corporate world 20 years ago, she started teaching ballet barre classes at a fitness studio. Opening a dance business seemed the natural next step. “I felt I needed a new direction,” says Dub, who was a vice president for a bank. “I married those business skills with my love of dance and shopping. My building houses everything I’ve accumulated in my career.” She still starts many days with dance, teaching a morning barre fusion class a few times a week in the ballroom before the boutique opens.

 

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Windows for Miles
“When I saw the building, I said, ‘This works.’ I am blessed with more than 90 feet of windows,” says Dub. “One set of windows is dedicated to dancewear, another is for ladies’ fashion, with six to eight mannequins, and another is dedicated to the ballroom theme.”

 

The dramatic black onyx marble cash-wrap is lit up at night so passersby notice it from the street.
The dramatic black onyx marble cash-wrap is lit up at night so passersby notice it from the street.

Designs and Displays
Dub has taken a DIY approach to each of her stores. “The first location was like a fairy land. It was an old gas station, and I made it all pink and brown. I bought a crystal chandelier from Costco,” she says. She designed the second store to look like a modern New York City loft. And for her third location, Dub repurposed all “the goodies” from her previous stores, including the chandelier and a black onyx marble cash-wrap counter. “You can see the whole front desk from the street, all lit up at night,” she says. This time, she focused on the color purple, rather than a theme. “Everything is purple, from the tablecloths to the purple awning. I never lost any customers. They can see the purple.”

 

The pointe shoe fitting area has a barre and separate dance floor.
The pointe shoe fitting area has a barre and separate dance floor.

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Pointe shoe window display
Pointe shoe window display

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the Shoe Fits

Shoes are divided into two distinct sections in the store—one for pointe shoes, another for ballroom. On the pointe side, there’s a decorative mirror, a ballet barre, four chairs and a bench, and a separate dance floor. On the ballroom side, there are three overstuffed chairs and ballroom shoes on a wall. Tap, ballet and jazz shoes are also fitted in the pointe area.

 

 

A rare moment of quiet in Loretta’s ballroom
A rare moment of quiet in Loretta’s ballroom

Mad, Hot Ballroom
There’s always something going on inside the 4,000-square-foot ballroom, which opened in 2014 and has a dark, floating floor with 80 feet of mirrors. A variety of ballroom classes run during the day, while Dub busies herself with the boutique. Students can enter through a separate street entrance or come through the boutique. “People go back and forth all the time,” says Dub, which creates profitable synergies for both businesses. The space is also available for private parties and corporate events.

 

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Studio to Street
The 3,500-square-foot boutique sells dance apparel and ladies’ fashion. In addition to pointe and ballroom shoes, Loretta’s Dance Boutique specializes in high-end leotards. Some of the ladies’ fashion pieces are imported from Montreal. “From morning to night, I cater to women from dance class to work to date night,” Dub says. “All of my clothing has the undertone of dance. You feel very feminine in my clothes.”

To stay competitive in the market, Loretta’s Dance Boutique was one of the first dance retailers to launch its own online store. “We have great dancewear inventory on our site,” she says. “And now it’s also where you can see my dance class and cruise schedules.”

 

2017CruiseShip FlyerFront_R1Cruising Along
Another component of Dub’s business is events, which includes arranging dance-themed group trips on Norwegian Cruise Line. Her first cruise group was 25 people, mainly dance clients. She stresses this is primarily a fun way to engage dancers and instructors, not necessarily a profit center. Her second cruise trip will be in winter 2017. “It was so nice to have a group of people who loved dance,” she says. “The youngest was 32; oldest was 82.”

“I didn’t use an agent. I taught myself, and it was a high learning curve,” Dub says of her cruise venture. “I took two of my dance pros with me. We took daily dance classes and went to the islands at night.” She selected Norwegian because of its reputation for quality cuisine and customer service. The cruise line also had a nightly dance show, Burn the Floor, which she describes as “beyond ‘Dancing with the Stars.’”

 

Lorettas-42_R1Marketing and Branding
“Purple has always been my branding. Pink is too traditional, and I needed a passionate color. I spent a lot of money on a branding specialist for the first location, and it was worth it,” Dub says. “The ballerina in the logo is not typical. I put her hands in a different position. She has a contemporary flair and represents all of dance.”

To promote her business, Dub uses dance moms to distribute flyers. But social media has become ever more important; members of her team have helped her get on board with that. “Everybody in business needs to know SMO—social-media optimization. You have to get with the program,” she says. (Curious about SMO? See mashable.com/2010/10/22/social-media-optimization.)

 

Lorettas-36_R1Just the Facts

Loretta’s Dance Boutique
3065 Orchard Lake Rd
Keego Harbor, MI 48320
248-738-9496
lorettasdanceboutique.com

Store hours: Monday–Friday, 11 am–6 pm; Saturday, 10 am–4 pm

Number of employees: 4 full-time, 3 to 7 part-time. (Four core employees staff the boutique; 10 dance professionals work the ballroom side. Two of the four full-timers also teach dance classes.)

Busiest time of day: 2–5 pm

Busiest time of year: recital and summer intensive season and back-to-school

Typical customer visits per day: 10–15

Average purchase: $150 for dancewear; $200–$400 for ladies’ fashion

Best-selling brands: Wear Moi, Bloch and Russian Pointe

Most successful promotion: “I’m Irish, and Saint Patrick’s Day is my favorite holiday,” says Dub. “So we offered 10 to 50 percent off anything in-store. We had 30 shamrocks. I pulled a shamrock out of the hat, and whatever was on it, that was the discount.”

Biggest competition: “Vendors who sell directly to our customers, and online sellers,” she says. “They use our expertise. I tell all retailers to speak up or we will perish. That’s why I have my own online store. People can call me day or night and get fitting help. I give my personal cell number. You’re not gonna get that from Discount Dance.”

Tracy E. Hopkins, a writer based in Brooklyn, NY, has contributed to Woman’s Day and Essence.

Photography by Brian Masserman

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