Nick and Lena Kosovich have been dancing since they were kids growing up in Australia and Siberia respectively. After meeting on the dance circuit, the couple competed together for 15 years while also building their stellar reputation as competitive-dance instructors, choreographers, teacher-trainers and highly esteemed industry consultants. Nearly two decades ago, when Nick and Lena were living in New York, they started designing and selling one or two dance costumes a month to help pay for their travel expenses. Word spread about their custom-made, rhinestone-bedazzled dresses that were also highly functional and comfortable. Realizing there was great demand for their designs, Nick and Lena launched LeNique so competitive ballroom and Latin dancers, as well as ice-skaters and other performers, could look and feel great in the spotlight. When the couple relocated to California in 2005, it only took them a month to ramp up to their New York-level of sales. Now, LeNique has 24 full-time and part-time employees including sales reps on both coasts and a team of professional tailors and seamstresses who make up to 50 new costumes every week. We talked with Nick about the company’s shiny, sparkly success.
Nick, tell us a bit about the dance-sport industry and the amazing costumes you create at LeNique.
Lena and I both started competing as dancers from an early age, and we have an enormous passion for this industry. We love working with students who take dance very seriously. It’s a lot like golf – someone starts playing socially, then commits to lessons and enters some amateur tournaments. That leads to pro tournaments and, perhaps, a career. Others start dancing as kids and work their way up through the competitive rank.
The professional and amateur dance community tends to be affluent, and our clients spend between $50-200K a year on their hobby. LeNique ballgowns typically run from $5-10K each, although we offer a $2,000 dress that’s minimally decorated and draped for our budget-conscious clients. If a customer decides to commit to the sport and wants to upgrade the costume, we can add Swarovski crystals and other adornments later on.
LeNique started with a team of two, with you and Lena doing everything. How does the business operate today?
Lena is still the source of all our creative inspiration, and she handles 75% of all the designs herself. I’m Mr. Fixit. If there’s a problem with a sewing machine or a computer system or if we have a particularly challenging client, I’ll step in. I work directly with our sales reps and handle the logistics for events, too.
We have built a team of dedicated, professional tailors and seamstresses who know exactly how to make and “rhinestone” a dress. We think of our employees as being part of our family, and many have worked with us for more than a dozen years.
In our business, scheduling is critical. We have an amazing office manager who handles the scheduling from design all the way through shipping. From ordering to fittings to delivery, each dress can take 6-8 weeks to complete, so time management is a very important part of our process.
A big part of our business model is resale. Most of our costumes come back to us, very lightly worn, after two or three years. We thoroughly clean them, make repairs and adjustments and then sell them for close to the original price.
Tell us about a challenge you’ve faced as you’ve grown your business.
One of the biggest challenges is that people come to us because of our individual reputations in the industry and because they know our services are very much hands-on. Most people ask for Lena by name, and, as a result, she quite often overextends herself. I’m working on keeping her out of the public eye so clients focus on the brand as a whole, rather than on Lena or myself as individuals.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out in business?
I’ve learned the value of planning your exit strategy straight away. The smartest thing you can do is plan how to build a company that’s recognized as a valuable brand so you can sell it when you’re ready.
Nick, what do you love about running your own business?
Working for ourselves gives us the opportunity to do what we love doing while spending as much time as possible with friends and family. Being a part of the dance industry is truly a blessing. We meet and work with amazing performers from a diverse background who all deeply love performing. It’s electrifying to be around such passionate people.
Fundamentally, dance is an art that allows us to have physical contact with another person and experience a nonsexual, emotional release. It’s a way of communicating that has strong ties to tradition, moral values and the lost art of good manners. Lena and I believe dance helps us change people’s lives one step at a time to the universal language of music.
Now it’s your turn
QB Community members, what surprises or challenges have you faced as your business has grown?
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