Karen's Dance Supply strives to keep up with local dancers' needs
Powder pink satin ballet slippers and fluffy tooled tutus have an amazing way of triggering happy childhood memories. And while dancing requires more than sporting cute shoes and adorable leotards, for an owner of a dance supply store, carrying those items is all part of the fun.
Karen's Dance Supply of Spring Hill is a serious resource for dance attire, shoes and accessories. But owner Karen Herod-Franzel is not too serious to forget that pretty and pink are the images of childhood dreams.
She recites a particular moment involving a little girl around three years old who came in with her father. "She had big bouncy curls and the biggest brown eyes you've ever seen," Franzel remembered. "And she was wearing pink high-top Converse sneakers."
With some coaxing, they managed to fit the little girl for shoes although she was reluctant to remove her sneakers. "It was a Kodak moment," Franzel said.
Franzel has gathered many heartwarming stories, from frantic dancers needing a last minute pair of tights to little girls, like the little one in the pink high-tops, who come in for their very first ballet and tap shoe fittings.
And while Franzel wasn't a dancer herself, her daughter was, for fifteen years. So she built up the kind of unique experience parents of dancers share. She remembered the stress of annual recitals and competitions and rushing to get everything just right.
Franzel considered those experiences when she molded her store into more than just a place to purchase shoes. She wanted to provide a safety net for parents where they could take a deep breath and know that this part, at least, would be easy.
And she has succeeded. Karen's Dance Supply has become such a valued part of the dance world in Hernando County that each year she is invited to attend the recitals. "I try to go to as many as I can," Franzel said. "I think it's important to give back."
With the help of her two employees, Marilyn Eccard and Meredith Coats, Karen's Dance Supply can serve as many as 45 customers a day during the busy recital season.
Ten separate dance studios in Hernando County rely on Karen's to provide their students with supplies. And she draws customers from Pasco and Citrus Counties as well.
"I try to keep on top of what each studio uses," she said.
Franzel's history in Hernando County began long before she opened her store. She and her late husband, Tim Herod, were residents for years before she decided to start her own business. "The kids were grown," she said, "and Tim was a truck driver so he was on the road a lot."
She had spent some time working for the Dance Boutique, a supply store owned at the time by Tina's Dance Academy where Franzel's daughter danced. And when it changed ownership, Karen and Tim decided to open their own store.
"We opened in 2005," Franzel said. "Tim was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006 and passed away in 2007."
The events after his death are a blur. "I'm not sure how I got through it," she said, her eyes moistening with emotion.
"Tim was my high school sweetheart," she added. "And he was a big part of getting the store up and running."
Franzel has since remarried and moved forward with the support of her husband, Jerry, her family, her church, her customers and the Spring Hill community as a whole.
"I call Spring Hill our little big town where everyone knows everyone," she said. "It's a big town but it's got that little town feel."
Now in its seventh year, Karen's Dance Supply is thriving as the only dance supply store in the three county area that has survived the rocky economy. She contributes her longevity to a loyal customer base that helped her define her business.
Franzel admits her biggest competitor is the Internet. "We try to compete with them as best we can," she said. "We have a lay-away program and all our dancers get a 10% discount." They also do professional pointe shoe fittings.
Franzel also understands the consumer side of the dance world. "We do whatever we can to help them," she said. "I know the expense. I know what it's like to have your child in competition, in community dance and in four or five different classes."
Dianna Uhlich, whose daughter Brenna has been dancing for Charlene's School of Dance for five years, is a regular customer of Karen's Dance Supply. Brenna takes ballet, tap, jazz and lyrical.
"Once or twice I've gone online," Dianna Uhlich said. But she was uncomfortable with the idea of not being able to try the shoes on before making the purchase.
And Karen's hours fit well with Uhlich's schedule. A very busy speech pathologist in Hernando County, Uhlich needs flexibility because her time is limited. She often runs in after dropping Brenna off for practice.
Karen's Dance Supply is highly recommended to new customers, like Patrick Bahnken, who came in with his 8 year old daughter, Jenna.
"I'm a dad," Bahnken said. "I don't know anything about dance." He came to Karen's after asking around. "When one or two people tell you about a place, you may go elsewhere. But when everyone says 'go to Karen's,' you go."
Bahnken's impression after walking in for the first time? "I'm going to find everything I need," he said.
Karen's Dance Supply is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Wednesday and Friday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Biz at a Glance
Name: Karen's Dance Supply
Location: 4047 Mariner Boulevard, Spring Hill
Telephone: (352) 686-3566
Visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/karensdancesupply