Breaking Down Barriers to Making Music (2015 NAMM Retail Summit)


Gayle Beacock of Beacock Music in Vancouver, Wash., and Myrna Sislen of Middle C Music in Washington, D.C., operate under a simple but powerful strategy: Break down the barriers that keep people from making music. This theme runs through everything from their lesson programs to the way they promote their stores. During the “NAMM Retail Summit,” NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond interviewed these two powerhouse independent retailers about how they execute this day in and day out. (Beacock won NAMM Dealer of the Year in 2013, and in 2014, her company took home a Top 100 for Best Merchandising Display. Sislen won for Best Special Event.)

“In our store, every single day is an event and a promotion to enjoy, love and play music,” Beacock said. “That’s our bottom line. When we decide to do anything, we think of that first. And if it doesn’t fit that category, we scrap it and move on to something that does make folks play music.”

More highlights from the video:

Summer Workshops, Beacock Music: “We’ve done so many summer group classes and that sort of thing over the years,” Beacock said. “And I’ve noticed that over the years, it’s really changed. We’ve had fewer people taking the classes, and they kind of got a little stale. And [we] said, ‘OK, we’re going to do something different now. We are going to not have anything intimidating. We’re going to have classes that are free and open to anybody, that are short.’ I’ve really learned that lately people want shorter, more focused, interesting classes. We invite everyone to come and play, whether it’s ukulele, whether it’s songwriting, whether it’s recording, whether it’s singing, it’s playing, it’s pots and pans. And we do them really quickly in the summer, all summer long. And that has really enabled us to seriously get people just playing music.”

TV Commercials, Middle C Music: “I had a little contest with my staff to come up with songs that we could use for this commercial,” Sislen said of creating a TV commercial to promote her store. “And we did it. We made a commercial. The first one was last July. I found a very small station that we can afford.

“We put it on, and all of sudden, people were calling and saying, ‘This is the best commercial I’ve ever watched. This is the only one I don’t turn off. This is the only station I can watch with my kids.’

“Mine cost nothing because I did it in-house. I’m using everyone that is in the store. And the unintended consequence of this—in addition to bringing in people every day who say, ‘I saw your commercial, I’m coming into the store’—is the galvanizing of the staff. Everyone is so excited to be participating in this. It was a surprise, and a wonderful surprise that everyone is so energized.”

“When we’re talking about the physical store, every single day is slightly different,” Beacock said. “Every single day is an event. It starts in the parking lot. We have things outside. We have inspirational music chalkboards outside. We have water for the dogs in the summer and displays outside when they walk in. And we’ve got coffee going. We’ve got kids playing. We have a beautiful visual store. It is spotless clean every single day.

“Our experience is who we are. There are so many wonderful products in the world that we can purchase. To some extent, that’s all transparent. And pricing is transparent. Everything’s transparent now. So what makes us different is all the things that make us us.

“We really do things our own way, in our own time and oftentimes against the trends. And that has really worked for us.”

Sislen added: “What I wanted to create from the very first day was a place where people feel safe, where they feel nurtured, where they feel comfortable. When someone comes into my store—and I’m very, very fortunate that it happens frequently—they say, ‘I really feel like I can relax in here. I feel so good.’ And I go, ‘Yes!’ That’s what I’m about. It’s never for me been about selling. It’s about making people fall in love, then they will buy stuff.

“It’s really about feeling safe and feeling comfortable. It’s been 13 years, and I think that I’ve done that. And it has been because it’s non-traditional. The spaces are non-traditional. Everything is very low-key. And it seems to be working. I’m now multimillion-dollar.”

Sislen shared why she participates in the annual NAMM Fly-in to advocate for music education in Washington, D.C.: “It’s an education. Even though I live in Washington, it wasn’t until I started walking those halls and talking to the congresspeople and the senators that I learned how the process works—or doesn’t work, as it may be. And I think to go even further, for us as individuals, you are interacting not only with the politicians but you’re interacting with really the leaders and the smartest people in this industry. And that is so special, I think.”