At 2014 Summer NAMM, music lessons guru Pete Gamber distilled 35 years of retail and music lessons experience into a candid, tell-all session. It revealed his unique approach to building a successful lessons program—one with a staggering 2,000-plus students per week.
Gamber characteristically described his program as music lessons on “steroids.” He went on to acknowledge that significant growth doesn’t happen overnight. The real catalyst for his company’s success was when “we stopped giving music lessons because everyone gave music lessons. We started developing a music lesson program. It became our brand. We pushed it every minute of the day because it was our product, and no one else had it except us.” He added, “I knew it was a brand we could always carry.”
Gamber suggested that retailers who want to grow their lesson programs start by developing a blueprint. Having a blueprint will change the way you do business, and it becomes the guiding mechanism for your lessons program and your store. Don’t be afraid to scrap what doesn’t work along the way.
He also shared his building blocks for a successful music lessons program—what he called “the 4 R’s”:
Gamber's process of recruiting teachers was a little unorthodox but true to his blueprint. He stated that 70 percent of his teachers didn’t have a degree, but they had a talent for teaching and passion. He suggested creating an internal teacher training program by working with promising kids enrolled in your lessons program. Gamber and his staff grabbed every opportunity to recruit students through professional and personal networks. He emphasized that 100 percent of his customers were given fliers or told about music lessons. When printing fliers at Kinko’s, he even recruited the Kinko’s staff and customers waiting in line to help spread the word about his lesson program.
Retention is the key to growth, according to Gamber. If teachers, students and staff are having fun playing music and allowed to progress, retention follows. He created a teacher advisory board that met once a month. “Keeping your teachers engaged is also keeping your students engaged,” he said. He enthusiastically described his students as being hooked on music.
Gamber encouraged retailers to hit the streets—schools, churches, and any and all community gathering spots. When hosting student showcases, tell your friends, use social media and remember that everyone in the audience is a potential referral. Your store employees, teachers (and other teachers they know) and vendors are all tied together. He suggested calling everyone who bought something from you to say, “Hi, we teach lessons.”
According to Gamber, this is the most important of the 4 R’s. “Don’t assume anyone knows that you offer lessons,” he said. Then Gamber shared some final tips, including: hiring flexible teachers who can teach all kinds of music and all ages (not just adults); running videos of lessons and students playing and performing in your showroom (get a TV); establishing rental programs (if you teach lessons on a particular instrument, rent it); providing quality instruments that match the levels you teach (don’t carry only the cheapest product); promoting multiple instruments (the ukulele can lead to guitar or both); and giving your students a stage and a goal—to perform live after 60 days.