Innovative Store Design Ideas From Top 100 Retailers

At The 2017 NAMM Show, Tim Spicer of Spicer’s Music led NAMM Top 100 retailers in a session chock-full of innovative store-design ideas. His panel included Carlo Gonzalez of Steelwood Guitar Shop & Club, Mark Maxwell of Maxwell’s House of Music and Rand Cook of The Candyman Strings & Things. These three independent retailers operate in vastly different locations­ and markets—Mexico City; Louisville, Kentucky; and Sante Fe, New Mexico. Each retailer shared his unique vision to inspire fellow music retailers to get creative with store design.

The following are highlights from the session. (Watch the full video for design examples and to hear each retailer’s personal comments.)

Communicate Your Store’s Theme
Spicer cautioned that everything you do as a retailer needs to fit with your store’s theme. Create a theme that makes a statement, cultivates a vibe and sets the mood for your store, website and marketing.

Gonzalez: We wanted to make a solid statement as a new store by introducing who we are, what we do and what we believe. Our logo is featured prominently, our guitars are showcased in jewel boxes, and we used a song lyric as signage to connect with our customers. Our theme is comfortable, laid-back and unique. We also have a built-in coffee bar.

Maxwell: Listen to your reps. Our Yamaha rep told me to be careful about how we tried to fill a large store with music equipment because of inventory costs. So, we designed rooms inside the store that provide places for people to sit and get comfortable—a campfire scene, a basement, a kid’s bedroom, a church, a living room and other imaginative areas. We load them with things we think will fit into each themed room.

On the outside of our building, the city paid for a mural to be done. There’s also a park area outside of the store, and we used an old grand piano as a flower and plant container. Get your city involved to back your ideas. We also laid down old album covers, glossed over to create a signature album floor.

Cook: We started with a clean slate. We have high ceilings and a ton of natural light. We wanted to take advantage of the vertical space and fill it in with dynamic, multi-level displays and walls dripping with guitars.

Create Unique Displays
Spicer advised retailers to base their fixtures off of their store’s theme and also to be eye-catching and unique.

Gonzalez: We use wall frames to feature our guitars, which allow us to rotate guitars in and out. It’s not always the most expensive guitar. Give the same respect to every product, and your customers will respond.

Maxwell: Build a team of people you like around you, and ask them to get crazy with their display ideas, so that people who walk in want to stay and are floored because they’ve never seen anything like your displays. We made a “Game of Thrones” display, which also appears on our website. You have to do something different because we’re all selling the same products. My wife came up with the idea of a ukulele tree. It’s so unique, we sold out of our ukes twice this year. Customers walk up and ask, “What is this tree?” It didn’t cost a lot, but it’s a fun and successful idea.

Cook: We love the old record bins vibe. Our acoustic room is our crown jewel and has a glass door you can see into.

Use Textures in Merchandising
Don’t underestimate textures in your design materials and ideas to make your products pop.

Gonzalez: We use textures, such as purple velvet on the wall, wood floors, brick walls, and sheet rock. You can use textures to create different stories, help you categorize your products and then tell those stories. Remember that your product is always the centerpiece. Textures enhance the product and help tell your story.

Maxwell: We created a coffee shop in the store by buying a coffee machine and building a small stage. We get props from Craigslist at a discount. We have a bathroom scene in the store, which has a clawfoot tub we found on Craigslist and a new toilet that’s full of candy, so the kids come in and know there’s candy in that area of the store.

Cook: We have rooms that are separate and have their own character. The impact that we wanted people to have when they walk in is epic, with a new set of surprises as you walk through the store. We note that people stay in our store on average for 45 minutes. We want customers to come in and park it for a while.

Pay Attention to Customer Comfort
Spicer reminded retailers that customers need to feel good about being in your store.

Gonzalez: Use materials customers can relate to, such as finishes and materials you might find in your home. That helps make customers feel comfortable.

Maxwell: If I were to tell anyone how to design a music store, I’d put seating first and gear second. I learned that this is the most important thing in the store. Give them a place to sit. Give them a bottle of water. We even created a bedroom in our store for this reason.

Cook: Some of the things that help customers feel comfortable in our store are our acoustic guitar room; we hold a harp circle; beautiful warm light comes in our store; and we used inexpensive but easy burlap as a finish. The ultimate goal we had was that when people walk in, they won’t feel stressed out by too much going on but still have plenty to see. We want them to feel like they’re family.

Make Your Store Stand Out
Spicer asked each retailer, “What’s the one thing that makes your store stand out?” Find out, and embrace it.

Gonzalez: We have made friends, not just customers. We like to share and spend time in our store. For everyone who buys a new guitar, it’s the best day of their lives, and we share that with them.

Maxwell: We found a four-plex movie theater and negotiated a price to rent it. It has a Jazzercise room, lesson rooms, a concert theater with a stage and a neat vibe.

Cook: Our staff sets us apart. We have guys who have been with us for years. Without them, we’d be a beautiful space but not much more.

Biggest Advice
Gonzalez: 1. You have to create your own temple. Build it as your own because you’re going to spend a lot of time there. 2. You have to work with a purpose. Be clear about why your store exists and what you bring to musicians. 3. Create a concept. What story do you want to tell to your customers?

Maxwell: The only thing your competition can’t be is you. Figure out who you are, what you’re doing and how to put that spice of life in there. Be you, and deliver it. Create a place your employees and you want to be. It’s a little bit at a time.

Cook: I can’t add a lot more to that. Use NAMM U, come to the NAMM Show to have the opportunity to talk with other store owners, managers and reps, and talk to other retailers, but make it your own.