By Mark G. Auerbach
Kathryn Sullivan had a distinguished career as a professional ballet dancer, performing globally with the Boston Ballet, Les Grands Ballet Canadiens, the Connecticut Ballet, and Les Ballet de Nancy in France. Like many dancers, age cut short her performance career, and she turned to teaching, and built up a solid resume teaching at STEPS on Broadway, the Peridance Capezio Center, and the Joffrey Contemporary Summer Intensive, as well as Barnard College at Columbia University.
After teaching for 25 years–and she still has a full teaching roster–Sullivan noticed that some dance students needed extra support when doing barre warm-ups and exercises. “After teaching ballet in for many years, I would see dancers put items on the barre to cushion their ankles when we did stretches on the barre. These items could include scarves, coats, sweaters, washcloths, and even pants. Inevitably, these things would fall off the barre during the sliding movement, or not slide easily. There was not a product out there that would fulfill this need,” said Sullivan.
An idea and a business blossom
To solve this common problem, Sullivan experimented with a few prototypes similar to washcloths, and finally came up with a practical shape of 9 X 11 inches, and a gliding fabric with cushioning inside–”a secret ingredient,” says Sullivan. This is how she invented The Ballet Glider by KAS. “I introduced them to my students in class, and got a positive response,” says Sullivan, who saw a need for her product and therefore her own business.
Since 2012, when The Ballet Glider by KAS first appeared in New York City dance stores, they’ve become a popular accessory. Ballet students and professional dancers have taken to them, along with people who do barre stretching exercises or gymnastics at the gym
Now, with a staff of two, and a used industrial sewing machine in her small New York City apartment, Sullivan makes the fleece barre sleeve in a variety of patterns and colors, all reasonably priced.
Sullivan added, “Gradually other uses became evident, such as encouraging students not to grip the barre. The Ballet Glider by KAS also promotes barre hygiene, as many hands handle the same barre all day. Students have come up with other uses such as saving their spot at the barre in a crowded class, holding tissues inside, and a neck rest for floor stretches.”
Sullivan has always believed in her product, and she’s never doubted its value.
The best business advice she’s received? “Be patient,” says Sullivan, who was told it would take two to three years to turn a profit. “I had many start-up expenses in the first year, from supplies to marketing,” she said. The worst advice? “I made my wholesale price too high at first,” she admits. “The product was unknown, and it would have been better to sell more at a lower price point to get them seen.”
Sullivan says social media, specifically Facebook, has become an effective and affordable way to get The Ballet Glider by KAS noticed in front of its potential audience.
For details on The Ballet Glider by KAS, visit: www.balletglider.com.
Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.