Focusing on the pointe
Empire Dance ShopJuly 1st, 1999
The owners of Empire Dance Shop, who write out their monthly balance sheets by hand on pieces of ledger paper, maintain a computer database that tracks which pointe shoes each of the shops customer has tried over the years and what they thought of each pairall in an effort to arrive at the perfect fit.
I dont really know business, says Phillip Broadbent, who owns the downtown Spokane store with his wife, Sally. I know feet.
Broadbent does know feet. In fact, he doesnt really even need the database because he has each customers shoe size and preference committed to memory.
A customer named Erin, for instance, wears a Freed-brand pointe shoe, size 7.5 medium with some special adjustments, while a customer named Jennifer wears a specialized Capezio-brand pointe shoe in size 5.5, he recited to a reporter who recently visited the shop, at 214 S. Post.
Broadbent, who was born in England and began dancing at age 7, later danced for 12 years for Kiel Opera Ballet, a professional ballet company in Germany, which is where he met his wife, who also was a dancer for the company. He says such experience taught them the importance of customer service about fitting pointe shoestwo traits that he believes have helped Empire Dance survive.
Empire Dance, which opened in 1955, sells dance wear and accessories, such as leotards, tights, skirts, legwarmers, and dance bags, as well as ballet, tap, jazz, and pointe shoes.
The 2,000-square-foot shop carries eight brands of pointe shoes, including Freed, which Broadbent describes as the Rolls Royce of pointe shoes, as well as top brands such as the handmade Capezio Professional Tap Oxfords, which retail for $190 a pair. Broadbent even has designed his own pointe shoe, which is made for the shop by Capezio. That shoe was designed around the foot of Empire Dance customer Jennifer Martin, who now is a ballerina with the Western Ballet Theater in Boise, he says.
The store has two main types of customers: those who walk into the shop and those who call its toll-free number to order merchandise from a catalog it publishes and mails annually.
Broadbent says he used two fingers to peck at the keys of an electric typewriter to craft the text for the shops first catalog, for which he pasted photos into place. That first catalog, which was sent to about 200 people, went out in 1987. The catalog, which since has taken on a more professional look, now is sent to about 3,000 addresses, he says.
The Broadbents, who bought the shop in 1984, were introduced to it by Sally Broadbents uncle, Jack Hood, who had co-owned the building in which Empire Dance Shop occupied space. He repeatedly would tell the Broadbents, who were living in Germany, that they needed to buy the shop, which was owned by Floyd and Althea Braman.
In 1983, during a U.S. visit with Sally Broadbents parents, the Broadbents came to Spokane to see their uncle and ended up taking out an option to buy the shop.
The Broadbents returned to Germany and fulfilled their contracts with the Kiel Opera Ballet. The following year, they packed up and moved to Spokane to buy and operate the shop, which now employs seven people.
We went from being ballet dancers to businesspeople, Broadbent says. It was definitely a new venture in life.
Broadbent believes that his background in ballet has helped him as a businessperson, although he still has a hard time seeing himself as one. He says ballet taught him how to work hard and how to work with others. Being a professional dancer is demanding work. You have to love it in order to stay with it, he says. I believe the same is true in business. I stay with this because I love it.
Broadbent is most comfortable working the shop floor, greeting customers as they enter the door and fitting ballerinas with their first pair of pointe shoes, while his wife handles the business side, handling payroll, bill paying, and taxes.
He declines to disclose the shops annual sales, but says business typically slows during the summer and picks up in early September when many dance classes here resume. In the fall, many of the customers include young girls and their mothers who are in search of pink ballet slippers, leotards, and tights.
Since Jazzercise and other forms of aerobic exercise have increased in popularity, Empire Dance has felt a bit of a squeeze.
Theres an incredible amount of competition. You can buy dance wear just about anywhere, anymore, Broadbent says. He thinks of his shop as one that appeals to the more serious ballet, tap, and jazz dancers, though.
Weve developed a niche for the discerning dancer, Broadbent says.
His knowledge of balletand the fitting of pointe shoes specificallyhas lent some credibility to the shop, and, as a result, the sale of pointe shoes to advanced-level dancers has become a big part of the shops business.
Empire Dance sells shoes to dancers at the School of American Ballet in New York, as well as to members of the Seattle-based Pacific Northwest Ballet Co., the Alabama Ballet Co., and the Miami Ballet Co. Broadbent fit some of those dancers with their first pair of pointe shoes, while others found the store through word-of-mouth, he says.
I like to think that Im one of the few people in Spokane who sell pointe shoes because Im one of the few people here who know them, Broadbent says.
The appropriate fit of pointe shoes is crucial, and there are several aspects of a pointe shoe that might require tweaking to assure a good fit. Pointe shoes, Broadbent explains, have at least two measurements: a number, which indicates the shoe size, and a letter, which indicates the width.
Certain brands of pointe shoes, mostly Freeds, also have a symbol branded onto the sole, which signifies the cobbler who made the shoes. For many customers, Broadbent will order ballet shoes from specific cobblers, and many cobblers even are willing to custom make shoes for dancers.
Broadbent prefers that a customer come into the shop so he can see her feet and how the pointe shoes fit. He has been known, however, to fit pointe shoes based only on a tracing of a persons foot and on answers to his questions.
Despite customers requests, Broadbent says he has no desire to open additional Empire Dance outlets.
Theres no way I could McDonalds this place, he says.
Broadbent does hope to increase the shops exposure through its new site on the World Wide Web. The web siteat EmpireDanceShop.comcarries information about the shop and lists the various types of merchandise it stocks.