Tips for Organizing a Nutcracker Ballet Performance Boutique

Late summer is the perfect time to start planning your upcoming Dance Company fundraisers. One of the most popular fundraisers (paired with the most popular ballet performance) is a Nutcracker Performance Boutique. 

Volunteers research and purchase inventory, make crafts and baked goods to sell, and stand for hours in the lobby of a theater selling the fruits of their labor to support the dance company performing that season. How is such a daunting task organized and carried out? How do volunteers make time for coordinating such an event between taking their young dancers to classes, rehearsals, and costume fittings? We've put together some recommendations to help the volunteers of any non-profit dance company accomplish such a feat.


Start Early: Help Reduce Stress With Some Simple Planning

One of the best things you can do is start the planning early! After all, you will essentially be coordinating a temporary retail store! That is no small task. Basic planning can start as early as January, especially if the people who organized the boutique one year will do so again for the following year's Nutcracker production. The earlier the better. Some decisions will need to be made later when dance classes convene in August or September, but other decisions will need to be made from the beginning:
  1. Who will manage the Boutique? Who will resolve issues when problems arise?
    One to three people will need to be responsible for managing volunteers, deadlines, and coordinating with the Board of Directors. The person or people directing the boutique efforts would not only need to be an organized and detail-oriented person, they also need to be good with managing people and be able to keep volunteers inspired and motivated. Having a good motivator as a fundraising director can make a big difference in the success of the fundraiser.
  2. Where will the Boutique take place?
    Most Nutcracker Boutiques are set up in the lobby of the theater hosting the performance. You might also think of setting up a small version of your shop in the dance studio lobby or at a local holiday festival. Check with the venues to see if they have any particular rules about selling items on the premises. They may have rules about selling food, the height of displays, floor space, or they may even require commissions of your sales.
  3. Set a Budget.
    Check with the dance company's Treasurer or Accountant to see how much money can be set aside for Boutique inventory and materials. To help get an estimate of how much money should be set aside, review the sales from last year's Nutcracker Boutique. Since most items can be priced at two or even three times their cost to you, divide last year's sales by 2 and use that as a rule of thumb for this year's budget. You don't want to have too much unsold inventory, but you don't want to run out either!
    • Note: If this is the first time conducting a Performance Boutique or the numbers from last year's sale are lost, then here are some other helpful tips to help you estimate:
      • Consult with the Board of Directors and/or the Box office to determine how many audience members are anticipated to attend this year's production. (It's not always based on last year's ticket sales. )
      • Plan to spend about $1.00-$2.00 per audience member on inventory and materials.
      • Remember that you will be doubling or even tripling the price you paid to determine your sale prices!
    • If there just isn't that much money to devote to a Boutique, then be creative and see how far you can stretch a small budget.  Crafts and home-made goods will be extra helpful in this case!
  4. How will the Budget be handled?
    Talk with the Board of Directors to decide how inventory and materials will be purchased. You'll need to know ahead of time if all items must be paid for by check from the Dance Company or if volunteers can be reimbursed for their purchases. If volunteers will be reimbursed, set some ground rules for purchase decisions or have them present the possibilities in a meeting for a group decision.
  5. Delegate!
    Hold a planning meeting for all individuals interested in helping with the Nutcracker Boutique. Not everyone who signs up needs to be present at the actual event. People will be needed to help with a variety of tasks. Planning a performance boutique works best when one or two people manage the goals of the boutique (a.k.a. the "big picture") and are supported by a team of people each focusing on a particular task. Since most of the people participating will be volunteers and parents of dancers within your local group, everyone will have plenty of life's activities to attend to aside from their volunteer responsibilities. Every participant will need to take on a set of duties that best suits their talents and works with his or her schedule.


Research Products to Sell

  • Make a list of which types of items you would like to offer. Use your budget as a guide, but don't let it limit you! Keep an open mind and be creative. Be sure to check out After-Christmas Sales and discount stores! Even if some merchandise is not quite right or in need of repair, don't dismiss it immediately. These items can often be painted, fixed, decorated, or improved to help you achieve a higher resale value!
  • Take some time to do a little research about what worked for other non-profit fundraisers. Ask people you know who volunteer for other non-profit performing arts groups (not just dance companies!) about their recent fundraising events. Even if they didn't hold a "Nutcracker Boutique" per se, they may have had a creative or unusual display or way of advertising that worked well for them. Use these as inspiration for your event.
  • Don't forget to take a look at online stores for possibilities as well. Make note of the stores that offer quantity or wholesale pricing or special rates for non-profit groups. These stores are usually accustomed to working with non-profit groups and will likely have some recommendations about which of their items are best to sell at your performance boutiques. They may also offer special discounts to return customers or on orders placed by a certain date. Make a list and keep track of the specials!



Product Recommendations

We offer a variety of items perfect for your Nutcracker Boutique or fundraiser!

Don't Forget Hand-made Items!

If you have some creative people on your Boutique Committee, you're in luck! Homemade items can often be the best money makers. These can also be attractive activities to volunteers since they can work on these projects on their own time.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Decorated Pointe Shoes
    Use fabric paints, rick-rack, glitter, lace, rhinestones, decoupage, and other craft materials to decorate pointe shoes. Ballet and Holiday themes work best at Christmas time. Ask some of the more advanced dancers in the company to sign and donate their old pointe shoes for decorating. Aspiring dancers in the audience would be thrilled to own a pair of pointe shoes once worn by Clara or the Snow Queen or the Sugar Plum Fairy! If you would prefer to work with new shoes, ask local dance stores if they have any odd sizes in their pointe shoe inventory that they would be willing to donate or sell at a significant discount. Also consider offering a credit to their store or some advertising in exchange for the shoes. Store owners do not enjoy keeping track of inventory that they have a hard time selling. Donating the shoes would help them clear their shelves while contributing to your fundraiser at the same time!
  • Sewing Projects
    These types of projects could range from simple to complex depending on the sewing experience of the volunteers. Many fabric stores offer fabric with pre-printed designs for making holiday quilts, pillows, Christmas Stockings, teddy bears, and other festive items. Also consider creating some original cross-stitched or embroidered pieces that could include the dance company's name and be set in a beautiful picture frame or made into a pillow.
  • Baked Goodies
    Bake cookies or chocolates in Nutcracker or ballerina shapes. If you don't have fancy cookie cutters or candy molds, then decorate cookies or brownies with holiday or ballet themes. Be sure to make a sign in your goodies display that lets the audience know which ingredients were used to make them. If you make sweets that contain tree nuts or peanuts, also offer a version without nuts. Before making any baked goods for the event, it's important to check with the venue where your boutique will be held to see if it is okay for audience members to have food in the lobby. Most ballet performance venues do not allow food in the actual theater itself.
  • Bundle Items into Decorated Gift Baskets
    Dress up a collection of "dollar store" items by arranging them in a basket, surround it all with cellophane and adorn the whole thing with beautiful ribbons and a gift tag! You would be able to sell these gift baskets at a higher price than if you sold each item separately.
  • Christmas Wreaths & Evergreen Decor
    These traditional holiday decorations are something that many families already typically purchase at Christmastime. Why not offer some at your Nutcracker Boutique? This may be more profitable if your group's Nutcracker Production occurs on Thanksgiving Weekend or the first weekend in December. If the performances are not until later in December, audience members may already have done their Christmas wreath shopping for the year. Ask a local nursery or Christmas Tree shop if they have any leftover evergreen sprigs. These would typically be thrown away, but they make a wonderful base for holiday decor that could be used to decorate your Boutique tables and displays. Decorate wreaths and garlands with brightly colored ribbons, small nutcrackers, or silk holiday flowers.


Set your Prices, Consider your Audience

A Nutcracker Boutique is no ordinary retail shop. Your advantage will be that audience and cast members will already be actively looking for ways to remember their experience. By offering a variety of items in a range of prices, you can cater to just about everyone!
  • You can typically double or triple your cost of an item to determine the selling price.
    Keep an eye on what sells the most during your sale. If price may be deterring customers from buying a certain item, don't be afraid to change your prices during the next performance. Mark everything down on the last day to help sell off extra inventory.
  • Let audience members make you an offer! If a young audience member comes to you with a $5 bill hoping to get a particular item representing her favorite character from the performance, but your price is $1 or $2 higher, make a deal with her! The enjoyment and memories she'll have from this experience will far outweigh the dollar or two extra you might have made.
  • When pricing craft items or baked goods, consider the cost of the materials that went into them and the time involved in each item. Also consider what the average customer might be willing to pay for such an item. Customers may not understand all of the work that went into each craft item, but price can reflect value. If you price these items too low, the customer may think that the item is not well made and you risk losing money on materials. If these items are priced too high, they could scare the customers away and you will still lose money on the materials that went into each project! Determining the right price is key. Ask yourself, "What would I pay for this item?"
  • Don't forget to consider the demographics of your audience. Consider age, backgrounds, and spending habits to help you decide on your range of prices and inventory. Be sure to offer items at a range of prices. A few high-priced items set off by mostly mid- and some low-priced items tends to be a good mix to start with.



Preparing for Opening Night

Just like the performers rehearsing for opening night, the volunteers who help with a Nutcracker Boutique have many preparations to do before the big event!
  • Attach price tags before the day of your sale!
    It can take quite a bit of time to put a price tag on each item, but this practice can be a great help during your busy sales times. Not every volunteer will have the prices memorized and it will save time if they can refer to the price tag on the item instead of having to find and refer to a list. Pricing your items is best done as they are packed in boxes for storing until the big day.
  • Have a place to store inventory before the performances.
    You might not have any warehouse space to store your items until the big day, so consider storing items in some extra space in the dance studio or at volunteers' homes. Keep a list of who is storing which items. Be sure that everyone has a way to transport the goods to the theater in time to prepare for your sale.
  • Do your best to keep things organized!
    Whether you plan to stock a large inventory or just a few items, keeping track of inventory and sales will be much easier if everything is kept organized. Be sure that items are protected well enough during storage so they will not get damaged. Wrap un-packaged items in newspaper, cloth, or bubble wrap and store them in large cardboard boxes or plastic bins. Be sure that the items are kept protected from dust, mold, and pests!  Ensure each box is labeled with the type and quantity of its contents.
  • How will you accept payment? Cash, Check, or Credit Card?
    Of course the easiest form of payment for your Boutique will be cash. Just be sure you have a secure money box or cash register to keep track of it! Personal checks are less commonly used these days as debit and credit cards are becoming the preferred method of payment for customers. Even though it can take more time and can be an added expense, try to have a way to process credit cards at your Boutique. The dance company or school might have a machine or smartphone device for processing tuition payments or other miscellaneous payments. You may be able to use this machine if the appropriate resources are available. If there will be a dependable wireless internet connection in the lobby of the theater, you may want to bring a laptop or smart phone to process credit cards with an online processor. If you will have an extra long display, you may want to have more than one money box or credit card processor along the length of your presentation.
  • Decide who will operate the Boutique.
    Discuss with your volunteers which days and times will work best for operating the Boutique display. Be sure that everyone will still have a chance to see the performance in full! Write out a schedule of each shift as a reference.


Keep Displays Simple, Clear, and Festive!

  • Look for low cost options.
    Since your display is not something that you will be reselling, try to keep your expenses to a minimum. Borrow folding tables and festive table clothes. Ask around for unwanted materials that could make nice decorations. Check the remnants section of your local fabric store for table covering and decor possibilities. Make sure your tablecloths are long enough to be about an inch or so off of the floor in the front of your display so you can take advantage of the storage space below the tables without creating an eyesore. Label all borrowed display items with the name and phone number of the owner. 
  • Create multiple levels in your display.
    During busy intervals, your customers may have difficulty seeing your display unless they are right in front of it. Creating at least one additional level above the table level will help to grab the eye of customers who may need to wait in line. Cover cardboard boxes with gift wrap or fabric that coordinates with your table cloth. Stack a few of these boxes to make colorful a "gift tower". Use a few artificial Christmas trees to show off your ornaments and create focal points along your display table. Attach a few inflated Nutcracker or Ballerina Balloons at key points along your table to attract the eye of audience members from across the lobby! Put a variety of items at each point along your display.
  • Set up merchandise in multiples areas.
    If you are using a long set of tables to display your products, it's unlikely that your customers will be able to visually take in your entire display. Set up a few of each type of item at various points along the table so that a customer could get a picture of all you have to offer at one glance. A theater lobby can get crowded during Intermission and after the show. These are the times when your Boutique will get the most traffic and you don't want to miss a sale just because someone looking for a Nutcracker was at the wrong end of the table!
  • Be sure to have some storage space.
    Use table clothes that are long enough to touch the floor or hang an inch or two above the floor. This creates a clean and more professional-looking display than bare tables do and you can store some extra inventory under the tables. Volunteers selling items at the Boutique may also need a place to store their personal belongings while they are working. You could even keep the money box out of sight during the slow times. Large tubs or boxes can also be kept behind the table in a few places as long as they will not interfere with volunteer foot traffic.
  • Use Clear Signage and Price Tags.
    Have a sign listing the prices of all items at various points along the display. One sign every 8 to 10 feet is a good rule of thumb. You may want to ask and artistically inclined volunteer to draw or paint a few large colorful signs with the title of your Boutique saying that all proceeds will benefit the dance company performing that day. Print a few clear price lists on a home or office printer. You can even print prices directly on to small stickers to use as price tags to save time. If you will have a credit card processor, put up a few small signs directing customers who wish to pay by credit card.
  • Some item display ideas:
    • Use silver serving trays filled with dry beans or rice to display jewelry and other small items.
    • Place colorful Christmas ornament globes in clear glass fishbowls or vases to add some extra color and Holiday charm.
    • Hang strings of Christmas lights at the front of the table or behind your booth.
    • Use artificial Christmas trees or Ornament Stands to show off your ornaments.
  • Visit a few Christmas stores and do some window shopping for inspiration!
    Retail stores must be creating new eye-catching displays all of the time. Many stores change their window and in-store displays one a month and perhaps more frequently during the busy Holiday Season. Don't hesitate to glean some ideas from their experience.


Create an Extension of your Nutcracker Boutique

In addition to the Performance Boutique, consider these ways to extend your fundraiser:
  • Ask your local dance store for a little counter space or display area for some of your products. Offer the store a commission for any sales they make for your fundraiser. Staying involved with their local dance community is good business practice for dance stores, so they should definitely be receptive to a cooperative effort.
  • Take pre-orders of items that have custom options or are more expensive to stock. Let people know that you are taking orders for customized items and how they can contact you. Be available at the studio during Party Scene or Battle Scene rehearsals when the most parents and students will be in one place. See the links below for helpful ideas for taking pre-orders.
  • If your dance company is raising money for a certain cause such as new costumes or scenery or a scholarship fund, set up a small table and display separate from the Boutique tables. Audience members who may have finished their Christmas shopping but still want to support the Ballet would welcome such an opportunity to contribute.



Helpful Fundraiser Ideas

  • Fundraising Kit for Non-Profits
    We offer a Fundraising Kit designed to make it easier to take pre-orders for our customized items. This kit is especially for non-profit dance company fundraisers. Available free of charge in Printed or Electronic versions. Request your kit early!
  • Wholesale Discounts for Fundraisers
    We offer great discounts for wholesale orders.  Setting up your account is easy.  Simply fill out the wholesale set-up form and create an account using an email address and password of your choice.  Wholesale discounts will appear once your account has been approved for wholesale status.  We only require a small $100 minimum order for wholesale orders.  Great for Nutcracker Boutiques, Audience Favors, or Cast Gifts!



The Day of the Event - Everything Comes Together

  • Since you've done so many preparations ahead of time, everything should be smooth sailing on the day(s) of your sale. Just remember to remain open-minded and receptive to change if needed.
  • Be sure to leave plenty of time to transport inventory, set up your tables and displays, and make any last minute changes.
  • Remember to brief the volunteers attending to the Boutique on some of the special details of your items in case customers have questions about them.
  • Make sure at least one person on duty knows how to operate the credit card processor.
  • When it's all over, make plans for storing extra inventory until next year's Boutique. Don't forget the After-Christmas sales are right around the corner for adding items to next year's Boutique inventory!


Most Importantly...

Plan ahead, stay organized, but most of all have fun!


What Worked For You?

We'd love to hear what has worked well for your Nutcracker Boutique. Which items sold well? What kind of displays worked the best?  Do you have any preparation advice? What other types of fundraisers work well for a Nutcracker Ballet performance? Please share your ideas with us or comment on our blog to share your ideas with others!

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