If managing inventory for back-to-school and holidays isn’t enough to keep dance retailers busy, competition season requires its own special attention. Costumes, shoes, tights, bags—these items and more are what ballet, jazz, hip-hop, tap and contemporary dancers need once competitions roll around. Typically, checklists from local studios are the starting point. Retailers can then do the necessary inventory check (everything from garb to accessories) and make sure they have everything they need to make their customers’ competition season a success. Special tights programs, “competitive” discounts, snail-mailed postcards—here, several retailers share some tricks for staying on top of the competition.
In the Studio
Tights, half-soles, jazz shoes, character shoes and even ballroom shoes are all up for grabs at Footlights Dance & Theatre Boutique during competition time. “It totally depends on the routine and how they want to costume the number,” says owner Joy Ellis, who adds that competitions are prime time for group orders. “This is mostly accomplished by reaching out and working directly with the team directors and making sure we have what they need.”
The store, which has locations in Frederick and Silver Spring, MD, and Alexandria, VA, doesn’t do any specific promotions for competitive dancers, but instead works closely with individual studios for teams. While competition product assortment depends on the studio’s requirements, there are also some in-store costume offerings for customers as well.
“We do offer some basics that can be embellished,” says Ellis, “but most of the teams want more sophisticated costuming.”
For the store, it all starts with the legs, Ellis says: shoes and tights. “We normally stock such a wide variety of shoes that most of the competition groups will use something that we have. But if they want something different, we are happy to size a group and do a group order for them.”
Overall, most dancewear vendors offer something that can and will be used by competitive dancers, according to Ellis. “It’s all about communication and outreach with your studios,” she says. “It’s amazing what a call or quick visit will bring back to you”—including intel that will ensure your competition customers leave your store satisfied.
At Dancingly Yours of Plainville, CT, accessories, shoes and tights are the competition focus. To promote competition products, the retailer offers customers 10 percent off shoes and tights and a 20 percent discount to certain competition teams to encourage them to shop with Dancingly Yours rather than online.
While there are no costumes in stock at Dancingly Yours, the retailer always has several catalogs on hand for quick special orders. Top sellers at the store are Dream Duffel, hairnets, pins, jewelry and other accessories, according to manager Megan Wolfe-Pelletier. Dream Duffel is a very popular brand with the store’s customers, so its duffels, garment bags and accessories are always in stock.) “Fashion hair accessories, like big flower clip-ins, are great to have in stock for dancers looking to jazz up a solo costume,” says Wolfe-Pelletier.
Above all, a bountiful inventory of shoes during competition is top priority. “Pretty much all of the same shoes we sell in September we will need to replenish before comp season,” says Wolfe-Pelletier. “Jazz shoes and lyrical shoes will be especially important.” The retailer also stocks basic black pro taps from Só Dança and can order custom tap shoes for dancers who want to match their shoes to their costume.
When it comes to promoting competition items at Dancingly Yours, Instagram does the trick for younger dancers. “Teenage dancers will look at hashtag pages, such as #competitionseason #competitivedancer, so that is a great way to get their attention,” says Wolfe-Pelletier. The retailer also sends out an e-mail blast to studios before the back-to-school season and again before competition season, asking them to send in a list of what their students will need. “Our staff will model products that we know dancers need, and we post these photos with a friendly reminder asking if they have everything.”
During competition season, Mary Ann’s Dance and More in Easthampton, MA, has a special studio tights program. Owner Mary Ann Hanlon creates order forms for a studio’s specific tight, collects the orders, then packages and delivers everything out. “This ensures all comp teams have the correct style and color tights,” says Hanlon. “It also saves parents time.”
During competition season, the biggest sellers at Mary Ann’s shop are clean shoes (many parents wait to get new shoes until competition time) and tights. “We always have studio-required shoes in stock—jazz shoes, tap shoes, lyrical shoes,” says Hanlon, who makes sure to stock brands of quality and at a good price point. “It helps to make competition season a little easier on the pocketbook of the parents,” she says. “And some studios approve the ‘non–big label’ brands, so that makes their studio parents happy.”
Social media, e-mail blasts and even postcards that are mailed out are how Mary Ann’s Dance and More promotes product during competition season. “We have very good relationships with studios,” says Hanlon. “We are always checking in with the owners and dance teachers to get feedback on how to better serve them as well as their studio parents.”
Tina Benitez-Eves, a writer based in New York City, is a regular contributor to Dance Retailer News.
Photo courtesy of Footlights Dance & Theatre Boutique