What Works for Me: The Best Ideas From Master Retailers

Master retailers came together at the 2014 NAMM Show to share their views on what it takes to be successful in the music retail business. During this session, George Hines of George’s Music moderated a panel discussion with retailers from the Alliance of Independent Music Merchants (AIMM).

The panel included Skip Maggiora of Skip’s Music, Jon Haber of Alto Music, Ryan West of West Music, Leslie Faltin of Instrumental Music and Paul Decker of Music Villa. These leading retailers provided new perspectives and inspiration for building a strong music industry during times of intense change.

"The goal is that you take one idea today that will impact your business and take you beyond,” Hines said. “A strong industry is good for everybody.”

Highlights from the video:

Boosting Store Traffic
Panelists acknowledged that declining store traffic remains a challenge. “Pick a category in your store that you’d like to move more of, pick a month and title it, such as Repair Month, Amp Month, Guitar Month,” Faltin said. “Your customers receive discounts for the entire month on that product, and you can line up your promotions calendar for the year.”

Maggiora said he considers music-lesson events to be increasingly critical for building foot traffic at his store. His teachers generate sign-ups for private lessons by hosting educational classes on such instruments as the harmonica. This creates dependable, ongoing business.

Haber stressed the importance of creating a “wow” factor in the showroom. “Look at your store through the eyes of someone else walking in your store for the first time.”

Improving Reputation
More than ever before, a retailer’s reputation is defined by what customers say about the store. This makes it especially important to pay attention to what customers are saying online.

West said he views this as an opportunity for his staff and sales associates to learn what’s working and what areas require more attention. His employees encourage customers to post reviews of West Music online.

“We have internal tracking tools that aren’t in the public forum in order to work constructively with our sales team, whether that’s coaching or celebrating,” West said.

“There’s nothing wrong with asking your customers to give you a good review and go online to Yelp or Yahoo and Google Forums and Discussions,” Hines added.

Leslie Faltin said she believes in investigating complaints that have merit. “When things go spectacularly bad, that’s a fantastic opportunity for us to get to the bottom of something that’s failed in our system.”

Staying Competitive
Panelists also shared their best ideas for differentiating themselves among the fierce competition.

Maggiora’s motto is “We’re gonna take a little extra care of you.” His company’s S.A.V.E. program (Skip’s Added Value Extras) gives customers that extra support through extended warranties, on-site repairs and free emergency loaners—all spelled out up front before customers make a purchase. The program helps close sales with even the most price-conscious customers and keeps them loyal to Skip’s Music.

Decker uses social media to build a community within a community. “There’s got to be a vibe of a cool store, and by offering them exciting opportunities, they’ll support you.” He said he also believes it’s key to specialize in an area and be passionate about what you do.

Haber is a proponent of creating a strong storefront plus a strong online presence. “Having a strong website takes the apprehension out of shopping online.”

“What makes us different is our people and our customer service,” West added. His company sends handwritten thank you notes to every customer.

“We need to make sure we’re keeping our business personal,” Hines said. “It’s still about relationships. The customers still want to feel special.”

Marketing Essentials
Panelists weighed in on their most successful strategies to advertise and market their stores. In some cases, taking chances and being able to react quickly is the best tactic. In Faltin’s case, that meant participating in Tucson’s annual Festival of Books, where she found her target market of moms in minivans. “Be bold in finding your target market, even if it’s not in areas where you think they are,” she said.

Decker seeks out chances to create an opportunity that’s not readily apparent, especially through his online community. He takes a close look at his Web presence and keeps a slow build going. “The more you give back, the more you build.”

“I use Facebook,” Haber said. “It’s easy to bring the excitement of a NAMM Show back to our local community.”

George shared his philosophy of FUD—Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. “In this business and industry, don’t let the fear of loss be greater than the joys of gain.”