At 2017 Summer NAMM, Tim Spicer of Spicer’s Music hosted an all-star panel of Nashville retailers to talk about store design. They included Christie and Walter Carter of Carter Vintage Guitars, Pamela Cole and Leigh Maples of Fanny’s House of Music, and Fred Carpenter of The Violin Shop. During the session, these Music City retailers laid out their creative ideas for effective displays, store layouts and building curb appeal.
Here are highlights from the session. (Watch the full video for design examples that reflect each store’s unique personality.)
Convey Your Store’s Theme
According to Spicer, your store’s theme should fit your community and local market; convey the vibe you want to create; and set the mood for your store, website and marketing.
Walter: What you see from our parking lot [at Carter Vintage Guitars] is a big mural on the wall of Mother Maybelle Carter and some old guitars and birds flying around. Inside, we had envisioned a very homey type of atmosphere.
Christie: People come in every day and sit on one of our benches and play. They act like they’re in their living room, and that’s our intention when you walk in our store. On the right side of the room, you will see a kitchen. When we first opened, we had a lot of in-house shows.
[These events] brought a lot of new people into our store that had never known about us. So, a lot of people would come in, and that really helped us.
Pamela: We celebrated five years three years ago. We asked a local artist whose kid was taking lessons at our store … to do a mural for us. We decided we wanted all women who were influential to other women players, and it does have a Nashville slant. This is actually the front porch of the store itself. We’re an old house in East Nashville, and that hangs on the outside of the building.
Fred: As you walk into the front door of The Violin Shop and look straight ahead, we were trying to create a museum and gallery-like feel, yet a homey vibe to sit around and play.
The biggest theme we’re trying to do is keep it simple and clean, so you can get a good, straight look at the instruments. I like to display the instruments facing you. The gallery of pictures are all Señor McGuire prints. They’re all famous fiddlers that were in bluegrass. And basically, we just took this old building and opened up the doorways, refinished the original floors, made a crazy ceiling light with a bunch of [violin] cases, and tried to get that vibe of friendly for violin or fiddle clientele.
Create Unique Displays
Spicer remarked that once you have your theme established, you’ll want to create unique displays that make your inventory stand out.
Walter: We started with no guitars on the floor. As we kept getting more and more inventory in, we looked for displays that looked open and almost transparent. At one point, we had [guitars] lined up diagonally. One of the sales guys said, ‘Let’s try them in a straight line,’ and it seemed to work better. It looks like we’re more organized.
Christie: The string shelves are bookcases. You can adjust the heights, and it just works perfectly. We try to group all of the strings together, where colors are together, and then the T-shirts are on the same shelves. We have a really modern building with concrete floors and steel ceiling. But all those old, vintage things really play to our design of a vintage guitar store.
Leigh: We wanted [our store] to be warm and different. We both really love antiques, and I wanted something that wasn’t sterile and industrial and unfriendly-ish. (Refers to an old, wooden library card file cabinet to merchandise and house guitar strings.) I believe this sat in a garage for several years … and Pamela said, ‘That would be perfect for the strings.’ She had a great idea.
Pamela: This particular display is another antique that was at our house, that radio. It’s an old radio … and then we have pictures on the walls. We also sell some art that makes it more of a home feeling when you walk in. We’re trying to be comfortable all the time. That’s a fireplace mantle—three fireplace mantles in the house. We’re lucky we have a house to build off of to put really fun displays in.
Fred: I really like the violins to face you, and this is another way of doing that. So I sort of envisioned taking some foam cases and cutting cutting off the ends where the rosin goes and just cutting into some oak and laying it in there. A friend helped me with building this design. It has eight fiddles. I try to keep some of my favorite-sounding instruments there, not necessarily any particular price range.
For four years, I’d been meaning to make a bow table [to display bows], so I took a big piece of Masonite, wrapped it in some foam and black material, and laid it up there and framed it out a little bit. It gives you a chance to see the actual brand on the bow.
Make Comfort a Store Feature
Spicer reminded the audience that you want to foster a comfortable buying atmosphere, keep customers in your store as long as possible and create customer loyalty.
Christie: When we were remodeling our building, it was a big open space—four walls and three metal poles down the middle. I thought a kitchen would be a great idea. And I found a kitchen that had been taken out of a home that was at a repurpose home store, and I bought it. But this place did not have a kitchen before we put that in.
Fred: The center [of our store] has comfortable chairs. There are a lot of times when people just come in and meet at the shop and start pickin’. It’s great when the customer will walk in and you have two really great players going at it right there. There’s nothing more inviting than walking into a store when there’s great music being played. There’s a little room to the left … that used to be a pantry off the kitchen. We closed off the other side of it and made that room to try out instruments or practice in, so you don’t have to feel like someone’s listening to you. Sometimes, when people come in and they hear someone really good playing and they’re just a beginner—it’s intimidating to even pick up a fiddle at that point.
What Makes Your Store Stand Out?
Christie: In addition to the old, vintage feel, we also invite people to pick up a guitar off the wall and play it. There are very few restrictions on what people can grab and play. So I think it’s just the fact that we’re a place where you can actually go and play guitar.
Pamela: The one thing that makes us stand out is that we have women players on the walls. Our atmosphere is female-friendly. That makes us different than most music stores.
Fred: It’s a combination of the employees … so we can understand what people are asking for and what they’re looking for. And also, I decided to specialize a few years ago and really focus on violins, violas and bows, and let the cellos, basses and everything else go. I wanted to be able to do what I really wanted to do and do it better.
What Is Your Biggest Advice for a Store Wanting an Appearance Update?
Christie: To be friendly, I think, is the No. 1 thing. Treat your customers like they’re your friends. Know your customers, and develop a relationship with your customers. They will keep coming back.
Leigh: Your store can look nice, but if you’re not friendly, it doesn’t really matter. It’s about relationships. You want to develop a relationship with the people coming in, even if they’re from out of town.
Fred: I try to spend as much time with someone who’s been playing for six months as [with someone] who’s been playing for 30 years.