They have dancers; you have dancewear. What’s the secret to keeping the flow of customers headed your way?
For dance storeowners, establishing strong ties with their local dance studios can be the key to building a strong, profitable business. “For retailers, having a good relationship with studios definitely helps the bottom line,” says Brenda Schwenzer, a former dance teacher who owns Inspiration Dance Wear in Webster, NY. “That partnership brings in group orders, and studio owners advise their students to shop with me for their dance shoes, dancewear and accessories.”
Since many retailers are former dancers and teachers, or at least love dance, this partnership is a natural fit. But with so much competition from online retailers, the relationship with dance studios can’t be taken for granted. We asked several dance retailers how they form and retain partnerships with the dance studios in their area.
Meet and Greet
When Schwenzer opened Inspiration Dance Wear in 2006, she regularly dropped off flyers at many area studios. Although she has since slowed down on this kind of in-person outreach, taking the initiative early on translated into half of her business coming from area studios. “Teachers like the way I fit,” she says. Because of this reputation, Schwenzer’s pointe shoe business has tripled in the last two years. Students come for ballet, tap and jazz shoes, as well as gymnastics and skating apparel.
Meeting studio owners in person has also worked for Caitlin Hopwood, owner of Ballerina Boutique in Colorado Springs, CO. The store serves 15 area studios that specialize in ballet, pointe, jazz, tap and Irish step dance. However, many of those studio owners sell their own merchandise or shop online, so Hopwood has forged the closest ties with four studios, and about 70 percent of her business is generated from those studio partners. “I was able to connect with the directors because I danced professionally,” says Hopwood. “Having this relationship is important because studios and their students are our most vital customers. If you can’t please them and make things convenient for them, they will shop elsewhere or online.”
Similarly, since Sylvia Allinger and Jessie-Emma Allinger took over BodyGear in Ithaca, NY, in 2012, the mother-daughter team has called on studio owners to introduce themselves and invite them to the store. About 80 percent of their business is generated by relationships with area dance studios and schools. “The most important factor is great customer service,” says Sylvia Allinger. “It’s how we let our customers, teachers and studio directors know that their business is valued and appreciated.”
You’ve Got Mail
E-mail can help keep your store top of mind with studios. In addition to making the rounds to meet studio directors, Hopwood sends out e-mail blasts about sales to studios (including those who sell their own merchandise or shop online) four to six times a year. Schwenzer also e-mails studios and customers as often as several times a month to advertise special sales during holidays and back-to-school, or when business is slow.
Trunk Shows and Joint Events
To introduce teachers and students to her merchandise, Hopwood has hosted 12 trunk shows at local studios since her boutique opened in 2009, usually before competition or back-to-school season. “I bring a lot of product to sell, and I also do shoe sizing,” says the former dancer with Tulsa Ballet. “It’s convenient for parents. I size their children and then deliver the shoes back to the studio.”
The Allingers collaborate with their studio partners by selling studio event tickets and by donating items for raffles. Their store also hosts an annual scholarship at the studio where Jessie-Emma teaches, which includes tuition for the studio’s summer advanced dance camp and dance-rehearsal attire from the store for an entire year. Each year this scholarship is announced and awarded on the last day at the studio’s dance recital, giving the store a high profile at the studio event.
Studio Discounts and Incentives
To attract more studio business, Hopwood leaves stacks of postcards with each studio, sometimes with a $5 or $10 coupon attached. As another incentive, she offers her studio partners personal sale days and discounts. “The weeklong sale is just for that specific studio’s students, teachers and director,” she says. “I e-mail a flyer to the studio director, and they e-mail blast it out to their students.”
The offer to one studio might be professional fitting of all required dancewear for company dancers and 10 percent off the entire order with the purchase of jazz shoes, tights and Dance Paws. For another, it might be 10 percent off
all the studio’s recital dancewear.
“This gives each studio a chance to come in and receive a discount that is just for their studio on those dates and is not open to the public,” she says. “It allows me to keep my stock up and to increase stock of specific items that, from talking to the teachers and director at that specific studio, I know they need.”
Each of the dance retailers we interviewed offers group fittings for their studio clients. “If a studio or school needs personalized on-site service,” says Sylvia Allinger, “we do on-site fittings, and we can bring the specialized products the school has requested.”
To keep up with dress-code changes, Schwenzer calls her studio partners and researches each of them online to find out what they require. “The majority of the studios stick with black leotards and pink tights,” she says. “But we keep a variety of colors. Our customers tell us we have the largest inventory in Rochester,” so customers have a lot of choice and know their shopping trip won’t be wasted.
Hopwood’s studio partners don’t necessarily stick to black and pink, but her studios’ dress codes rarely change from year to year. So she keeps their perennial colors, styles and uniforms stocked. When there is a change, directors e-mail her their new requirements, and she keeps those e-mail notes at the cash wrap for reference.
Before becoming a dance retailer, Schwenzer worked for 49 years teaching ballet, tap and jazz, and she owned a dance studio with her mother. Because of her background, studios initially saw her as competition. “This region is very competitive, and some studios thought I was competing with them,” she explains. “I had to win them over with my knowledge and reassure them I wasn’t trying to influence their students.”
To gain their trust and their patronage, Schwenzer worked hard to build up a good reputation as an expert pointe shoe fitter. And she tries to make life easier for studios. “If you’re in our business, you spend a lot of time waiting for stuff,” she says. “So I follow through on orders and let people know when there’s an issue.”
Tact an Asset, Too
To avoid drama, Schwenzer doesn’t favor one studio over another when asked to recommend a studio. “That would get me in trouble,” she says.“I tell customers to go observe classes and see how the teachers deal with students.”
While most retailers agree they face the biggest competition from online retailers, dance studios that sell their own merchandise can also affect dance retailers’ bottom line. Hopwood, for one, doesn’t let it worry her. “Studios specialize in teaching, not fitting. And they really can’t access everything I can, because they’re not a retailer,” she says. “I can’t stop them from selling, but even if they sell products, I am still able to capture that audience.” n
Tracy E. Hopkins is a Brooklyn, NY–based writer who has contributed to Woman’s Day and Essence.
From top: Caitlin McBride; Matthew Murphy, courtesy of Dance Teacher magazine