I’m thankful to be in a position to have some great relationships with all sorts of “type’s” in the music instrument industry. I’d love to blabber about this sort of topic relating to the manufacturer and artist relation sides, but today I’m focusing on retailers. I’m going to participate in a gross generalization by separating retailers in three groups of personalities in this conversation.
First of all, we have to bring up the past to really understand this first group. You have to remember there was a time when there was 20,000 locations and now I think they’re saying something like 8,000, so the majority of the first group have been weeded out. The rest I coin as the survivors. These are guys that have gigged or are gigging and have a great love for gear, and in their defense, just simply don’t have the interest in being in retail. They ended up with a room full of gear and an open sign and no marketing plan. They’re holding on to pay bills with what they know and eventually sell their company. Before the internet you could have a 300 mile radius around you with no competition and sell Martin’s above list and get away with it. In these days they called Atlanta Discount Music the biggest store in Nashville. The same thing goes for Don’s Music Land in Peoria. He was known as the biggest Martin dealer in Chicago. These guys have essentially been whipped out. They existed because of the opportunity and social network, not because of drive and business sense. The majority don’t even have a grasp of the models of each brand they themselves stock. They just respond like Pavlov’s dogs to phrases chanted by the rep of the day like “deal” or “free freight” or “10 off.” These guys tend to be naturally pessimistic and blame the internet and Guitar Center for all the ills of the world. A sort of rationale of their own failure at retail. Again, in their defense, their ambition was never to be retailers to begin with. It’s not their personality. They survive…That’s why these days they’ve been pushed into the corner of the industry where they just provide a service that their given community demands. You often hear them say things like “once the guitar market tanked I really just focused on installs” or lessons, or repair etc….Personally, I don’t believe retail is dead, I just think bad retail is dead, and those that were in that group have been pushed into focusing on local services to survive.
The second group I’ll call the entrepreneurs. These guys, if not musician’s, would still own a small business in another industry. These personalities get no greater joy than reading a 30 day report just see if a decision they made a month ago was justified. This lot tries something out and if it sells they buy 3 and if those sell they buy 6 and so on until there’s a diminishing return regarding the time they held it. They never let something get to just one in stock because the idea that they could have sold more in the time it took to restock is more a pet peeve than it is an economic hit. Although as an accessory guy, I can say it was indeed an economic hit. Nonetheless, it’s more of an annoyance than it is striving to turn dollars. In the big picture, they chose to adapt to change rather than run from it and survive. They want to be relevant, not just survive. They have strong personalities, they’re naturally optimistic (which you have to be to take big risks) and they manage people well.
The third group in our industry are the academics. They have high degrees in Music Education, or Sax Performance and didn’t want to stay in academia. I know this line of thought all too well. When you went into college and majored in Music you were told ad nauseam by your parents that all you could do with your music degree is teach. They simply found a career outside of teaching. Often you find them as the heir to a successful store and didn’t go through the “process” like their entrepreneur father. What’s the easiest way to demand legitimacy in owning a big music shop when it was given to you? Go to school and get a degree in music. This group you’ll also find as the buyer of a statewide chain, they regularly try to be proactive as the vice-president of a group like NAMMYP or AIMM and they love event planning. Almost as if they were directly groomed for it after student council, or the Greek life on campus. It always baffled me to find that the guitar and guitar accessory buyer had an oboe performance degree. They are team leaders and operate in groups. They lobby the government on behalf of NAMM for a larger budget to music education, but not for education, it’s more so that Yamaha can get a government contract to supply the schools with $99 keyboards. They are feel gooders that mistake money allocation with inspiration to get the next generation to learn instruments. After all, inspiring others takes great drive and creativity and organizing groups and organizations takes money and outside incentives, like an annual rebate if you do X amount of business with a particular manufacturer. They are union management, magazine editors, award presenters, band and orchestra dealers, AIMM members and donation recruiters. As opposed to the entrepreneur’s and survivors which are remarkably individualistic, these people find legitimacy in social standing.
These are obviously gross generalizations, but a fair assessment in the major personalities than make our little big industry. I have to say…I have immense respect for all of these people in different ways. As someone that was raised by a survivor, mentored and groomed by an entrepreneur, and holds an advanced degree in Music Theory and Composition, I completely understand and sympathize with each personality. I find myself apart of each.