When Baz Luhrmann’s costume designers come knocking on your door, wanting to use your product in The Great Gatsby, that’s a pretty clear indicator that your business is doing well.
That’s what happened to Glitter and Dance, a Brisbane based family business last year. But it’s not like Baz was taking a gamble on them – in fact Warner Brothers would have been mad to look anywhere else for sparkly, stretchy fabric worthy of their superstar dancers.
Most people think they can throw an outfit together for their kid the night before a big show and then halfway through, with the kitchen table a disaster zone, the panic sets in.
Kerry Young discovered that she was so good in this exact situation that she opened her own dance costume shop. That was 19 years ago and now her shop Glitter and Dance turns over $1.2 million to $1.3 million per year and employs 10 people, including her two daughters, Cassandra Wallace (fabric wholesale and retail manager) and Carly Vidal-Wallace (marketing, social media and human resources). They’ve even opened an outlet in London.
Early on, Kerry discovered that people appreciated not just the costumes she was selling but the fabric she was using too, and so she started selling it separately – a smart move both financially and a relief on her poor, aching fingers, because by this stage incoming orders had her sewing all day and night.
From those early moments alone with her sequins and swirly cloth, Kerry Young became the godmother of Australian dance fabric and costumes. You’ll see Glitter and Dance’s fabric on So you think you can dance, Dancing with the stars, Celebrity splash and, of course, The Great Gatsby, as well as on amateur and professional dancers, prancers and tappers all over the world.
Glitter and Dance is also a nice exception to the usual family business statistics surrounding gender. Just 10 per cent of Australian family businesses are owned by women and only 9 per cent of daughters are actively involved. In fact, this business goes the other way entirely – you won’t find any men working for them at all, but I’m assured that hasn’t been deliberate.
The business went through three phases, each represented by the members of the family. Founded as a costume retailer by Kerry, then as a pioneering online costume and fabric business with help from Cassandra, it’s now found a way to break away from the copycats through social media with Carly’s know-how.
It all started in 1994 (just two years after Baz helped launch a craze with Strictly Ballroom) when Kerry opened Glitter and Dance in a little shop in the Brisbane suburb of Stones Corner, selling handmade costumes to dance mums just like her.
Cassandra started working with her mum on weekends and after school, helping out more and more as she got older and becoming a full-time employee at 20. Ten years ago, she was instrumental in taking the business online, making it the first of its kind.
That was the start of phase two – their ‘eureka’ moment. In the last 10-12 years Glitter and Dance has experienced what Kerry and Cassandra say is about 500 per cent growth thanks to the quality of the fabric and customer service.
But sooner or later every pioneering business has to deal with the marketplace catching up. Before Glitter and Dance came along you’d have to hope for the best at a Spotlight or another non-specialised fabric shop. But unlike in the early days, they now have competitors who seek to provide a similar service.
“I guess we got a bit too relaxed and then everybody caught up and we weren’t really sure what we needed to do next to keep ahead of the game. That’s where Carly came in,” says Cassandra.
Carly immediately set her sights on social media and now Glitter and Dance has over 5300 Facebook likes and engages with its fans every day.
This is the third phase of the business – social media. Something an incredible two-thirds of family businesses don’t use.
As far as Facebook is concerned, Glitter and Dance has nailed it. They ask fans which costumes they prefer, offer giveaways and post pictures of their ‘office dog’ Oscar (just to name a few posts from this week) – all textbook ways to increase a business’ social media profile.
Cassandra says all the important people in the dance community knew who they were (made abundantly clear when Warner Brothers came knocking). But Facebook makes even more sense for businesses like Glitter and Dance that don’t advertise and rely heavily on word of mouth.
The business operates with three clear divisions – fabric wholesale, fabric retail and costume sales. Kerry runs the costume department and Cassandra is in charge of the fabric retail and wholesale side, by far the larger part of the business.
Kerry is always saying that she’d like to retire, but there’s a catch – the skill and speed with which she makes costumes has been the foundation for the costume part of the business.
“We would either need to get someone else to replace Kerry or possibly sell that whole side of the business,” says Cassandra.
When Kerry does retire, the succession plan is clear, but it’s not in writing. With 20 years of experience, the understanding is that Cassandra will take over.
As for the future, Glitter and Dance certainly has plenty of orders coming in (I’m told the warehouse is jam packed with rolls of fabric – even in the spare bathroom) and they’re looking to expand.
Cassandra won’t be ruling anything out when she’s in charge. She might split the business, but she might not. She’s open to selling it one day, but not any time soon. She’s perfectly happy working with her mum and sister surrounded by glitter, sequins, lycra and tulle.
“I love coming to work, I know I’m very lucky,” she says.