by Lee Noles
MONROE – It’s a weekday afternoon at M.A.Zing Dancewear on Main Street, and customer Hannah Miller has set a challenge for owner Kerry Thomas.
Miller wants Thomas to remember each of the dance shoes the 17-year-old has bought since she first came to the store nearly five years ago. Miller smiles because she feels she has Thomas stumped.
Thomas names each brand and size of the three shoes. The response leaves Miller speechless and Thomas laughs jovially.
“That’s what people come back for,” Thomas said. “It’s our attention to detail.”
Thomas’ attention to her customers has made M.A.Zing one of the premier places in the area for dancers of all ages to find the right ballet shoe or outfit for their performances.
Thomas opened the business in Monroe, following a family push from mother-in-law Maria Angela, who started the original two stores in Florida. Angela approached Thomas about expanding into North Carolina nearly 10 years ago, but Thomas declined, wanting to continue training horses and giving riding instructions. Five years passed before Thomas said she was ready to make the change.
Angela and Thomas started by doing market research in Union County. They visited dance studios and stores in the area. The two then wanted to see how much of an interest there was from dancers wanting to buy shoes fitted to their own needs. Thomas then had Angela come from Florida with her dance shoes, and they went to Bonita School of Ballet for a pointe shoe fitting. By the time the pair finished, they had fitted 40 dancers with new ballet shoes.
“I know what type of shoe your teacher likes and what type of fit they are looking for,” said Thomas, who was a dancer until she was 16 years old.
One of the most important things for Thomas is her knowledge of what ballet shoe best fits a dancer. She said a wrong one could cause serious injury and make it a challenge for dancers to perform at their best. To know what shoe works for each person who comes to the store, Thomas keeps cards on each dancer with information on the type of shoe they have worn in the past. She personally sits down with each customer and helps put the ballet shoe on to see if it fits perfectly.
But it is not just knowing the ballet shoe that it is important to Thomas. She also knows returning customers by name when they walk into the store.
“I think that is important,” Thomas said. “Because it’s not just having to deal with competition, but more people shop online these days, as well. The only way to compete is customer service. We know the person, and what studio they go to, and the style of dance, and what would be there need. That is what we are.”
The personal style Thomas has implemented brings dancers in from more than an hour away. Thomas said she had dancers from Mount Holly and Statesville make the drive for a shoe fitting.
Kelli Drye brought her daughter, Savannah, to the store to try on new ballet shoes. The Dryes have driven from the Mint Hill area for the last five years to shop at M.A.Zing.
“I know it’s going to be right and you want (the shoe) to feel well,” Kelli Drye said. “… You can tell a difference. She knows what she is doing.”
Drye also likes the personal attention Thomas gives to each of her customers. There’s a story Drye tells about how her daughter needed some last-minute dancewear for a performance. The only problem was that Drye and her daughter were already at the venue. She texted Thomas, who hurriedly got what Drye needed and they were able to get Savannah ready for the performance.
“There is no other place that you can go to that can do that.” Kelli Drye said.
There has been talk about possibly opening another store. Thomas has said she is interested in maybe going mobile and going to places for shoe fittings, but added she has no desire about having a second place.
“My husband says I’m too humble,” Thomas said. “But I don’t see that I’m doing anything special. I’m just doing what you are supposed to be doing, which is helping people.”