First came the food trucks, then came the mobile fashion boutiques. Now, we have the mobile dance boutique. Launched this summer, Micki Samson’s dance-store-on-wheels is the latest embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit that keeps our small-but-mighty industry thriving.
Samson, owner of The Dance Shop in Altoona, PA, since 2004, isn’t giving up on brick-and-mortar retail. Her 3,200-square-foot store is going strong. (Read all about it on page 22.) She’s using her new retrofitted box truck to bring products to potential customers wherever they happen to be—at local studios, community events and more. Samson is going above and beyond to serve her customers, and it’s paying off. When I first spoke to her about the truck in early August, just a few days after she announced it to her customers, she already had eight requests for appearances at local studios. Not too shabby.
Between competition from discount websites and services that allow studios to sell apparel and shoes directly to students—not to mention the still recovering economy—traditional dance retailers are facing many obstacles right now. But it’s encouraging seeing storeowners like Samson, who are rising to the challenge and finding innovative ways to keep their businesses competitive in an ever-changing environment. Bravo!
Talk to Me
What’s your primary source of competition right now? How are you staying competitive in today’s environment? I want to know! Send your thoughts to email@example.com!
To remain competitive in today’s marketplace, storeowners must strive to make a lasting impression on customers. A good place to do that is in your approach to shoe sales. Shoes are an essential profit-driving category for dance retailers, and it only makes sense to fine-tune your selling strategies. If you can provide a young dancer with a comfortable, memorable shoe-buying experience, you’ll gain a customer for life.
The key to closing a shoe sale is offering a professional fitting. It all starts with an inviting fitting area. Turn to “Superb Shoe-Fitting Areas” (page 32) for a peek inside four dance stores with attractive, functional fitting areas that keep customers coming back. Then read “Getting to the Pointe” (page 24) for expert advice from veteran retailers on creating the perfect first pointe shoe fitting. And don’t miss “What Dancers Want” (page 38), which gives feedback from experienced ballet dancers on the special touches they most appreciate during fittings.
Once you’ve updated your shoe sales strategy, turn to “Get Creative with Your Loyalty Rewards” (page 22) for innovative ideas that will take your store’s customer loyalty program to new heights. Implement these strategies to make your devoted customers feel as valued as possible.
The holiday season is often called the most wonderful time of the year, but for retailers, it’s also the busiest. The pressure to compete for shoppers’ attention is never higher than in those few bustling weeks before Christmas. And with promotions from big-box and online retailers encouraging customers to start their shopping earlier each year, independent retailers must work even harder to pull shoppers into their stores.
This issue is filled with inspirational ideas that will help you make a splash this holiday season. For example, “Seasonal Sales and Promotions” (page 22) showcases several creative techniques dance retailers have used to attract gift-hungry shoppers—from a sale designed to keep customers returning to a store multiple times in a matter of days, to a magazine-style gift guide that helped shoppers see existing inventory in fresh ways. Plus, in this month’s Seen and Heard (page 36), several veteran retailers discuss their go-to moves for pulling in foot traffic during the holidays.
Since seasonal decor is such an essential component of creating an inviting atmosphere, we’ve highlighted four dance stores that have incorporated Christmas trees into their decor. In “Creative Christmas Trees” (page 32), we offer ways these iconic holiday symbols can be both seasonally appropriate and in keeping with stores’ larger mission to promote dance-specific sales. And, on page 34, Leslie Groves offers step-by-step instructions for three wintry window arrangements.
Finally, because getting customers to visit your store is just half the battle, “Jolly Good Gifts” (page 14) features products sure to please every dancer on shoppers’ lists.
Wishing you a season filled with profit and joy,
Congratulations! After months of preparation, you’re finally seeing some light at the end of the back-to-school tunnel. Now that the fall rush is almost over, it’s time to decide how you’ll keep your momentum through the end of the year.
“Planning for Successful Sales” (page 20) will interest any retailer looking to time sales for maximum impact. From the best times of year to host a sale to tips on how to successfully shorten your sales to create a stronger sense of urgency in customers, you won’t want to miss this one.
You also have other challenges. Since so many of our readers have purchased their stores from previous owners, “Making Your Store Your Own” (page 22) addresses the unique hurdles that second-owners face when taking over existing dance stores.
A small-business expert gives feedback, and several experienced storeowners offer practical strategies that will help you know how and when to make changes to your store.
Finally, if you run your store with the help of a spouse, child, sibling or other family member, you’ll want to read “All In The Family” (page 24). Managing a small, close-knit staff can be tricky under any circumstances, but maintaining a professional, respectful and productive atmosphere can be even more challenging when family is involved. This feature is filled with practical advice from veterans of family-run dance stores on how to successfully manage in-store interactions with co-working relatives.
You’ve probably been following the minimum wage debate playing out in the fast food and big-box retail sectors. In this issue, we look at how this labor revolution could affect your business and offer strategies to help you prepare for an increase. After all, as the article on page 24 points out, some states have already bumped up their minimum wages, and a national increase is likely not far behind. We’re here to help you through this seemingly inevitable transition. With the right planning and the right frame of mind, you’ll come out on the other side of any wage bump with the assurance that your increased investment in your employees will be worthwhile.
Whenever we discuss a potential minimum wage increase on our social-media pages, readers typically express concern that such changes may force them out of business. While there’s no denying that finding more salary money in the budget can be challenging, it shouldn’t be impossible. We’re not saying this to be dismissive or insensitive to the struggles of the small-business owners who faithfully read this magazine. We’re saying it because we see this debate as an opportunity for readers to reevaluate and make sure they’re putting their money where it will really pay off.
Brick-and-mortar dance storeowners hang their hats on the idea that customers should be willing to visit their stores, rather than shop online, because of the expertise and above-and-beyond service only found in stores. Unless you run your store single-handedly, you are not the only one providing those services. You likely rely on a staff of faithful and passionate employees with years of dance-world experience. You’ve taken the time to train them in the art of fitting, taught them exactly how to treat your clientele and entrusted them with your livelihood. These people are valuable and cannot be easily replaced. Whether it’s mandated or not, we’re willing to bet that in the long run you’ll be pleased with an increased investment in the living, breathing assets who keep your business thriving. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.
Welcome to summer! After surviving the longest winter in memory, you’ve earned the chance to take a breath and reflect on the year you’ve had so far. With the bulk of your customers away at camps, intensives and on vacation, now is also an ideal time to deal with some issues you may not have time for during your busiest seasons.
There’s no better way to position your business for long-term growth than by making sure you’re literally in the right place. Our feature on mastering your lease renegotiation (page 24) offers advice from commercial real estate experts that will help you use your track record as a good tenant to negotiate more favorable terms when you renew your lease. Locking in a better monthly rate or convincing your landlord to spruce up your facility can give you the confidence and flexibility you’ll need to grow your business.
Similarly, you’ll want to keep your social-media skills sharp. At this point, all retailers know that a strong social presence is key to connecting with and courting customers.However, ever-changing algorithms are keeping marketers on their toes and making it necessary to continually tweak one’s approach.Turn to page 20 for the latest tips and tricks for making a splash on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.
Finally, be sure to set aside some time to check out our new-and-improved Dance Retailer News Directory, which has been mailed to you with this issue. This annual resource features essential information on more than 550 key vendors that sell everything from POS systems and fixtures to dance bags and pointe shoes. Essentially, you’ll find everything you need to keep your business running smoothly!
In DRN, we’ve always talked about the importance of building relationships with local dance teachers and studio owners as a way of driving traffic into your store. But those partnerships have never been more necessary. With seemingly unlimited discounts available online, the increasing prevalence of studio-only apparel and shoe brands and the introduction of services that allow studios to sell directly to students without the need to hold or manage inventory, you now need teachers and studio owners more than they need you. You must continually work to show them that you’ll go above and beyond to keep them and their students happy.
Get creative: Consider hiring a messenger and adding a same-day delivery service so your busiest customers can have the last-minute tights or shoes they need within a few hours of picking up the phone. Or try renting a corner of the lobby at your busiest studio and setting up a branded satellite location filled with tights and studio uniform basics, so students can grab them before class and be prompted to visit your main location for fashion items and accessories. And make sure you’re offering can’t-miss services to remind studio owners that it’s worth supporting your store because you’re providing more than just product. (For example, in “Relationship Reboot” (page 36), Diane Stein discusses how her in-store custom costume service is a huge draw to local dance educators.) The game has changed, and you must make it clear to your VIP customers that you will do whatever it takes to adapt.
With this in mind, back-to-school is more crucial than ever. Don’t wait to make sure you’ve got all of your ducks in a row for the busy season. “Back-to-School Guide” (page 20) features key fall ordering deadlines and incentives from leading manufacturers, plus ordering tips and tricks from several veteran retailers. Read on and get to work!
*Talk to me: How are you incentivizing teachers and studio owners to support your business in today’s marketplace? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject! Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Ten percent of the stores I visit are ‘dance stores,’ while the other 90 percent are ‘stores that sell dance products.’” A rep for a major manufacturer whom I met at a recent trade show made this startling comment. He explained that most of the stores he sees lack atmosphere and unique identities—you could swap out the pointe shoes and leotards for cell phones or appliances and the shopping experience wouldn’t change. Meanwhile, the exceptions to the rule have distinct looks and vibes that envelop you the second you walk in the door.
During that same trade show, a veteran storeowner told me that even though the retail world has undergone many dramatic changes in the past several years (see: recession, growth of online retail, etc.), brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going away. However, “mediocre retail will not survive much longer.” In other words, the bar is higher than ever. Today’s most buzzed-about retailers (Warby Parker, Lululemon, etc.) have captured customers by providing unique on-brand experiences that translate seamlessly both online and in store. Customers demand engaging environments, a breadth of inventory and competitive pricing. Your challenge is to find a way to be indispensable. You already have the products, the knowledge and the passion. Now, you need to take all of that and build it into an exciting shopping experience.
To get you started, “Mastering the Meet-and-Greet” (page 22) will help you plan a successful event, during which you’ll connect customers with a dance idol and draw in extra traffic. (One recent event featuring “Dance Moms” stars pulled hundreds of customers into a Tampa, FL, store on a single afternoon!) Then, turn to “Storefronts: Beyond Window Displays” (page 32) to get inspired by several dance stores that are making immediate and lasting impressions on customers. You’ll be amazed at what a
difference a few simple decorative choices can make!
First impressions count. Want to gain customers who have the potential to be loyal shoppers for the next few decades? Spend some time courting tots—and their parents. By creating an inviting environment for your youngest customers and carrying inventory that will satisfy both children and their parents, you’ll establish your store as a dancewear destination long before that little one masters her first pirouette. This issue is devoted to helping you forge those lifelong relationships.
Read “Attention, Small Shoppers!” (page 30) for expert advice on how to create kids’ apparel and shoe displays that will enchant patrons and drive sales. Then, turn to “Little Ones in the Limelight” (page 18) and “Tiny Toes” (page 16) for a roundup of manufacturers’ latest apparel and footwear for those young-but-discerning customers. Finally, don’t forget to check out “Togs for Tots” (page 38) for insights from teachers on what they want to see their youngest students wearing in class.
Of course, you don’t just have to appeal to tots. Consider the clothing you and your employees wear in the store. What kind of messages are you sending? “Look the Part” (page 22) discusses all the benefits of instituting an employee dress code or giving your staff a uniform—from making it easier for customers to find employees on busy days in the store, to reinforcing shoppers’ belief in your expertise. There are also tips on how to select a look for your employees that’s functional, fashionable, practical and professional.
*In this month’s Retailer Spotlight (page 26), we visit The Dancer’s Hut in Morrison, IL. Karla Green and Tyler Smith (a mother-and-son team) run the store, along with a custom T-shirt business and a tanning salon. Find out how they make it all work!
Dance retailers always tell me they can’t read enough about ways to promote their stores. Marketing is more challenging than ever because storeowners must compete for attention in more mediums than ever before. This month, we’re looking at a tool every retailer needs in his or her promotional arsenal: a strong tagline. A good one gives customers a sense of your store’s role in the marketplace and helps differentiate your shop from the competition—every store needs one. Read “Tagline Tips” (page 24) for pointers on how to write a great one and how to use it to make your business stand out.
Once you’ve mastered the art of catching customers’ attention, turn to “A Matter of Time” (page 22). Through monitoring dance stores on social media, we’ve noticed several that adjust their hours with surprising frequency. While we always encourage readers to experiment, it helps to know when you’re doing too much of a good thing. This piece will help you optimize your schedule, so you’re open when customers need you and when you’ll stand to make the most profit.
Finally, it’s time to prepare for recital season. To help get you started, “Taking Center Stage” (page 18) is filled with performance-ready looks, and “Simple Pleasures” (page 14) showcases several must-have gifts. Then, check out “Recital Window Ideas” (page 32), for fresh window concepts that will draw in customers this spring.
Wishing you showstopping sales!
*Speaking of Shows…
If you’ll be attending the Atlantic Dance Retail Shows in Chicago (February 9–10) or Baltimore (February 23–24), set aside some time for DRN! I’ll be hosting business-building seminars each day during lunch. Visit atlanticdanceshow.com for registration information, and then e-mail me at email@example.com to tell me which topics you’re dying to talk about. I’m looking forward to meeting you!