Building the Ultimate Retail Destination (2015 NAMM Retail Summit)


Carter Vintage Guitars won a NAMM Top 100 Award for Best Exterior—the vintage guitar shop has murals on both sides of its standalone building. But a pretty storefront is just a small part of Carter’s story. In two years, the Nashville retailer, led by husband-and-wife couple Walter and Christie Carter, has grown into a nearly $4 million business with a bustling location. During the “NAMM Retail Summit,” the Carters revealed their success strategies to NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond. (Watch the video for the full interview.)

Strategic Location
The company’s storefront in the Gulch neighborhood is a short walk from Nashville’s convention center, Third Man Records and several popular breweries. This has helped Carter Vintage Guitars not only attract customers from downtown but also tourists who come through the city.

“There’s a brewery right next to us,” Walter said. “There’s another one a block and a half one way and another one two blocks away and a couple of restaurants. It turned into a great location.”

“It was sort of an, ‘If you build it, they’ll come’—and they have,” Christie added. “We’ve already done almost as much in the first six months of this year as we did all of last year.”

Carter Vintage Guitars trades, in part, on its homey atmosphere. It’s not uncommon for customers to get served drinks.

“We’ve put out a lot of seating areas, so you don’t have to worry about where to sit,” Christie said. “We have a sofa. A lot of the wives and children will sit on the sofa and get on our wireless Internet while the husbands and boyfriends shop. We offer people something to drink. It could be water. If it’s lighter in the day, it could be something harder than water. We just try to make people feel comfortable.”

Early on, the Carters also made the decision to stay open on Sunday—a day when many Nashville retail operations are closed. “Sunday’s been a big day,” Walter said. “We’ve told ourselves all along if we have two consecutive bad Sundays, then we’ll hang it up. But it hasn’t happened.”

Vintage Amp Niche
Vintage guitar amplifiers have turned out to be a powerful, profitable niche for the company. Walter acknowledged this wasn’t intentional but driven by demand from his salespeople.

“We initially just intended to have enough amps to try out guitars,” he said. “Fortunately, people on our sales staff were knowledgeable about vintage and new amps and had their finger on the market. So we just listened to them and gave it shot, and the things they recommended worked out. So now we have a store full of amps—some really high-dollar vintage amps, as well as some new ones.”

Social Success
The Carters have also harnessed social media channels to promote their brand. Being in Music City has given them a robust base of artists to call upon for Instagram photos and YouTube videos. Walter admitted that he and Christie filmed many of their popular YouTube videos with inexpensive gear—a “$500 Nikon that we bought to take product shots with.”

​“So we just had somebody play, and they had a good time,” he said of the company’s YouTube videos, which feature such artists—and customers—as Steve Earle to David Grisman. “It kind of gained its own momentum and supported the whole idea of the store as a comfortable place where musicians like to come.”