New Ways to Upgrade Your School Music Business

At 2019 Summer NAMM, Robert Christie, president of A & G Central Music, shared his approach to improving a school musicbusiness in this time of rapid change and competition. Christie invited music retailers to apply these new ideas and tools to their own businesses to stay relevant.

Recognize the New Consumer
Christie noted that he’s had to change his delivery and service because the customer has changed. In other words, renting an instrument can’t be “work” for the customer. It must be frictionless. Communication with customers via text, after you’ve gotten their permission, can be effective. It shortens the time window, and you’re making it easy for them to do business with you. He cautioned not to text sale notices but instead specific information tailored to your customer, such as repair cost and status.

Christie also mentioned that auto-bill can be effective. Use a recurring payment system that’s easy to interface with and is robust. If you’re shipping online orders to existing customers, think about offering free, in-person delivery as you stop by their school. Also, offer subscription services to your customers who might place recurring orders and capture that business up front. Likewise, work on curating an amazing experience. Make it valuable for your customer to interact with you because you’ve thought of everything to make it easy for them.

Make Your Rental Program an Event
Christie offered four ideas to encourage parents and customers to come to your rental program.

• Booster organization participation. Usually, this social network is made up of supporters and fundraisers for your rental program. Invite new parents to be part of the program.

• Students providing a first lesson. Invite older students to give new students an introductory lesson with how-to’s and tips. This leads to powerful mentorship and built-in retention.

• Music, games, fun and food. Include fun activities and food­—always an excuse for people to gather. It provides your staff with an opportunity to have informal conversations with parents.

• A selfie station. An event is often defined by social media, so make sure there’s a way to take pictures to post. Have a branded backdrop.

Enhance Online Rentals
Capture customers who don’t come to your rental-program events through your website. As a side note, Christie warned that too many drop-down menus on a site make it difficult for customers to get the information they need, so simplify usually works best.

Pre-package and offer recurring purchases. Consider asking fewer questions from customers and focus on the basics, such as what school district they’re in and what instruments they need. Have everything pre-packaged so they can add it to a shopping cart. Give them the flexibility to remove anything they don’t want. Make it easy.

Enhance the experience with special content for students on your website, particularly useful, robust information. Christie shared that they produced short videos, such as animated explanations of the rental process and videos of teachers giving instructions on how to take an instrument out of the case and put it together.

Use the Empowerment Toolbox
• Ask why. Christie suggested we regularly examine our practices, policies and procedures and question why we’re doing something. This leads to innovation.

• Look less at targets and deadlines. Christie advised spending time looking at what’s happening around you. Focus on learning in your organization, and encourage employees to work alongside you. This will fuel the ideas you use to make changes in your business.

• Be vulnerable. According to Christie, a little bit of competition inside your workplace is a good thing, but too competitive an environment can crush your business. Enable your employees to share and give input. This raises the game inside your organization.

• Allow for flexibility and freedom. Once your employees are aware of your policies and procedures, let them make decisions for themselves, even if the idea is slightly outside of the box—or your rules. Free your staff to consider what’s in the best interest of your business and the customer, and to problem-solve.

• Happiness inside your culture. Christie reminded the audience of their passion for music and shared that he tries to make that joyful connection to music in his daily tasks. He encourages his staff to do the same. It’s created a vibe in his store that can’t be faked.

• Trust yourself. Believe in your intuition, vision and yourself. You have a lifetime of experience. After you’ve finished your strategic plan, stay focused on your vision. You know where you want to go. Leverage the tools you already have.

Christie also reminded school music dealers and other retailers not to compete and compare. Focus on why you do what you do, embrace your uniqueness and build your vision.