Incorporating retail into your studio environment can add another layer of service and convenience for your clientele, grow enrollment and boost your bottom line as well as business skills. But selling dancewear on-site often comes with an added set of responsibilities and challenges. To provide you with experienced insight on running a dance boutique, we asked four studio owners with successful shops to share their ordering, price setting and managing methods.
Synergy Dance Academy and Performing Arts Studio
When Lynne Taylor-Kilgore and her mom opened The Dancers’ Niche at Synergy Dance last year, they made an initial inventory investment of $1,500, with an additional $600 for equipment and supplies like display racks, signage and merchandise bags. The investment is slowly paying off, with $200–300 of revenue per month. “Feedback from parents has been very positive,” Taylor-Kilgore says. “When we tell classes what type of tights and accessories they need, we can now say, ‘We have that for you right in the back.’”
The 400-square-foot boutique carries all dancewear essentials except for pointe shoes, for which Taylor-Kilgore provides referrals to another local shop. She and her mother (the store’s manager) meet once a week to consult on inventory. “Our initial order was a shot in the dark, but we keep track of what’s selling and use those figures to determine how much and what new stock to buy,” she explains. Her biggest piece of advice: “Make sure you pay attention to what the kids are wearing—not just what you think is cute—when ordering.”
Central Park Dance
Miss Talia’s Boutique launched 24 years ago, when Central Park Dance opened. The 2,300-square-foot boutique is divided into three separate areas (children’s, adults and sale items), strategically placed outside each of the dance studios. Open seven days a week, the store carries everything from gift items to accessories to dancewear and shoes, and it brings in more than $16,000 in revenue every month. Owner Maria Bai says that 70 percent of the store’s
clientele are students; 30 percent of business comes from the public and outside referrals.
Bai and her husband, Mario LaStrada, rely on store manager Alice Masters to handle all retail matters, but Bai often works in the store fitting shoes. To keep inventory moving, they regularly run promotions, like offering a free leotard, shoes and tights to students who sign up for classes in June, or giving $50 store certificates to those who register early. “It really jumpstarts our class sessions and helps bring business to the retail end. Many people used the gift certificates as Hanukkah and Christmas gifts, and the recipients ended up spending more,” says Bai.
Free to Dance Foundation/Encore! Dance Project
Over its 26 years of existence, Encore! has seen a lot of transformation (most recently, a conversion to nonprofit status), but the one constant has been Encore! Boutique. The store currently provides anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of total revenue, and it is slowly rebounding to its pre-recession rate of 20 percent. To keep overall costs down, co-owners Lisa Girdy and Stephanie Johnson sell on demand, placing orders for students and using shoe-sizing kits to determine accurate fit. Samples and catalogs are displayed throughout the store, alongside regular merchandise like tights, skirts and legwarmers. “We’ve learned that having everything available all the time isn’t beneficial; it ends up going on sale and we have to sell it at cost,” says Girdy. She advises collecting payment up front and not allowing customers to put purchases on their studio accounts, unless they have a credit card on file. Why do they love running an in-house boutique? “It provides an extra service and convenience for our customers, and every time someone comes through the doors, it’s an opportunity to grow our enrollment,” says Girdy.
A Leap Above Dance
With the nearest dance retail store 20 minutes away, shopping at A Leap Above Dance’s on-site shop makes life easier for those who frequent the studio. The shop started with a simple counter display. Now, after eight years, it is a 10' x 24' room adjacent to the studio. Owner Natalie Nemeckay estimates the shop brings in about 10 percent of total revenue.
The store sells tights, leotards, shoes and apparel, including branded logo wear that doubles as advertisement. It also sells show DVDs and recital tickets. The greatest challenge for her is working double-duty. The store is open until 7 pm every day, and although she has three employees and an office manager, Nemeckay still spends five hours a week ordering and additional time managing other needs. “It’s like running another business,” she says. “But when I look at the pros, they outweigh the extra work.” DT
A former hip-hop, dance fitness and cheerleading instructor, Jen Jones is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer.
Photo courtesy of A Leap Above Dance