With the rise of dance retail websites, big-box stores like Walmart selling ballet slippers, and even studio-exclusive dance-gear brands, it would seem like dancers have plenty of options for getting supplies. But savvy studio owners know there's no true replacement for the level of expertise and personalized service an independent dance retailer can offer. Here, three studios discuss the unique partnerships they've forged with local dance stores and explain how these arrangements are good for business and their students.
On-site Dress-Code Basics
Miss Jennie's Performing Arts Studio
+ Gabie's Boutique
The relationship When Miss Jennie's Performing Arts Studio opened four years ago, it was the first dance studio in town, so many customers were unfamiliar with the intricacies of buying quality dance apparel. (For example, many dancers and their parents weren't aware of the difference between a pair of tan dance tights and a pair of beige pantyhose from the nearest drugstore.)
To save parents the frustration of having to search far and wide for the right apparel or waste money and time buying the wrong supplies, owner Jennie Chapman and her sister, program manager Kate Badger, reached out to Amy Manning, co-owner of Gabie's Boutique, a 36-year-old store that has a strong reputation in the regional dance community for expertise and customer service. Because the store is located about 45 minutes away from the studio, Manning supplied the sisters with a small assortment of dress-code basics so parents could purchase them on-site.
How it works Manning orders products for the studio along with her store inventory and pre-prices all items so they arrive at the studio ready for sale. The studio pays Manning upon receipt of the inventory and displays the items on a wall of racks behind the reception desk. Chapman's receptionist sells items to the students as needed.
Chapman, Badger and Manning carefully coordinate larger orders for back-to-school and recital seasons, and they also check in via e-mail about once a week for smaller fill-in orders, which Manning fills straight from her main inventory.
Customer perks Parents can get everything they need for their dancers while their child is in class. If they want something that isn't immediately available, Badger adds that request to the next e-mail order so the parent can just pick it up at the studio when it arrives.
Business boost The convenience factor is really what makes this relationship worth it for the studio, say Chapman and Badger. “We're not really working with Gabie's Boutique for the profit," says Badger. “People were getting wrong shoes and going to wrong stores, so it was easier to just have it here and get what we wanted." It also saves Chapman and Badger from having to deal with the headache of true inventory management and the related cash-flow challenges.
The In-Studio Satellite Shop
Astound Dance Academy
+ Standing Ovation Performance Apparel
Fort Wayne, Indiana
The relationship When Alexandra Jackson launched Astound Dance Academy three years ago, she turned to Donna McCrea, owner of Standing Ovation Performance Apparel, to ensure that her students have easy access to everything they need for class. Standing Ovation is the nearest dance store, but it's nearly an hour away from the studio by car, so Jackson feared many parents would be tempted to purchase inferior products at nearby big-box stores. McCrea and Jackson worked together to create a branded, in-studio satellite shop.
How it works McCrea outfitted the studio with display equipment and merchandise and set up a special account for the studio on her store's point-of-sale system, so it's easy to keep track of inventory, refill orders and run credit card transactions. The studio's receptionists sell the products to students. Once a month, the studio receives a check for 15 percent of the total net sales of inventory sold at the studio.
Customer perks In addition to saving parents and students a trip to the store, Jackson and McCrea have amped up the convenience factor by creating customized packages containing the exact leotard, tights and shoes required for each particular class, all for one set price (around $50, depending on the shoes). Jackson says these packages have been especially popular with parents of young combo-class dancers.
Business boost Though the 15 percent share of sales helps the studio's bottom line a bit, Jackson says the main appeal of this arrangement is having the peace of mind that comes with knowing her students can get exactly what they need with minimal hassle. Also, as an avid believer that it's important for small businesses to stick together, she's glad to have found a mutually beneficial way to collaborate with another small-business owner.
The Parking Lot Pop-Up
+ The Dance Shop
The relationship Roughly twice a year (typically during back-to-school registration and just before recitals), Lindsay Pullara, owner of Dance Fusion, invites Micki Samson, owner of The Dance Shop, to set up a pop-up shop in her studio parking lot.
How it works Samson stocks her mobile dance shop with items that match Dance Fusion's dress-code requirements so students can easily find what they need. Pullara gives her customers advance notice of the pop-up shop so they can plan to stop by at the right time. On the day of the event, Samson and her staff work directly with the students for a few hours to help them find the apparel, shoes and accessories they need for class or performances.
Customer perks Each pop-up shop saves customers a 20-mile drive to the store. When they do need to make the trip, Samson makes it easy for dancers and parents to find the right products by keeping a detailed list of the required apparel, shoes and accessories needed for each Dance Fusion class.
Business boost By inviting the mobile shop to her studio, Pullara benefits from the goodwill that comes from giving customers a convenient shopping option—without having to stock or sell any inventory on her own. As a bonus, she receives a gift card from The Dance Shop after each sale, worth a small percentage of sales made during the event.
Colleen Bohen covered the dancewear business when she was editor in chief of Dance Retailer News.