Creating Music Retail Longevity (2015 NAMM Retail Summit)


Sam Ash Music took home a NAMM Top 100 Award for Best Online Presentation. At the “NAMM Retail Summit,” Sammy Ash, COO of the Hicksville, N.Y.-based company, joined NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond for a candid conversation about how the chain retailer reached its 91st year in business. Sammy touched upon everything from finding the right employees to the company’s website to the importance of keeping retail environments updated.

Here are Sam Ash Music’s cornerstones of longevity, as told by Sammy:

Staying in touch with customers:
When they get a call back from Sam Ash … it kind of blows them away because most people are expecting a customer service agent or expecting a store manager with directions from the office. I feel it’s my duty to find out what’s wrong. It also lets me know what’s wrong in my stores.

Updating retail stores:
Stores get tired. They really do. You’re in a place for 15 years, and the only thing that changes is the inventory. After a while, the customers want to start looking at other places.

You’ve got a store that’s been in place for 15 years, you’ve got to put some new carpet in. Otherwise, the customer says, “You know, that coffee stain’s been there for five years. I know. I’ve been shopping here for five years.” You change signage. You change color. You move departments around. You move locations.

An award-winning online presentation:
One of the reasons we earned the honor was by looking at other people’s websites. What is it they’re doing right? What is it we are doing wrong? And there are some really intelligent websites out there that are very customer-driven. We also look outside the industry. What is Best Buy doing? What are other companies doing that maybe we can? Because whether we want to realize it or not, we’re a lot more of a consumer industry than people think because if all we did was sell to musicians this room would be empty. 

Finding the right employees:
You will always have that undercurrent, that small group of people that—if I may speak frankly—are very happy making $250 a week living in their basement with enough for one night to go out with their girlfriend and enough to buy another bag of weed. That’s what a lot of people are happy about. I don’t want those people. They’re not hungry. They don’t know what it’s like to be a person. They don’t know what it’s like to want to take care of somebody. They do their job, they go home. I don’t want you working for me.

I want you to do your job and want to stay late to clean and polish or finalize that sale because it’s after hours, not kick the customer out. I want you to work for the customer. And that’s another thing we say: “Don’t make the sale. Make the customer. The sale will happen. It may not happen today. But if you put a lot of effort into it, you’ll make that customer. And that is more important than making a sale.”

Smart cost-cutting:
Believe it or not, we’re saving money on bottled water. We’re saving a fortune on garbage. We hired a company to take a look. We have 50 various locations and a whole lot of different garbage companies. And I’m saying to myself, “This store is 20,000 square feet [and] does the same amount of business as this store that’s 20,000 square feet, yet this one pays $300 a month for garbage, this one pays $1,700 a month for garbage. What’s wrong with this situation?”

​We thought we were doing the green thing 10 years ago when we went from regular bulbs to compact fluorescents. The problem is, compact fluorescents make your gear look like garbage. As your bulbs blow out, you’re replacing your bulbs with LED. The LED, though it is five times the price, lasts 20 years, uses 15 percent of the energy. Plus, if you have an acoustic guitar room with these very high-intensity lights, your humidifier is working all day long. So that goes down. Costs go down. Your air conditioning costs go down. We have looked at every possible thing that you can look at to save money without affecting the customer experience and without affecting the morale of the staff. And it took several months. And it’s all bottom line. And we’re saving a lot of money.