It’s been a tough couple of years for music store owners.

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Quick recap: Government-mandated lockdowns terminated walk-in traffic, turning brick-and-mortar shoppers into online buyers. Then supply chain disruptions created havoc with inventories. Finally, what looked like at light at the end tunnel is looking more like a train of economic uncertainty fueled by runaway inflation.

How does a music store owner compete with such uncontrollable forces?

Even before the dreadful years began, music stores were positioned for long-term success about as well as bookstores when Amazon disrupted the entire retail experience. Book store owners and chains that adapted to the new reality succeeded by improving the shopper experience, adopting ecommerce, and adding in-store reading nooks, coffee bars, and reading-related entertainment.

Those that stayed stuck in the old bookseller paradigm for the most part had going-out-of-business sales.

Following the lead of the booksellers who are thriving in the Age of Amazon, here are some tips to help music store owners calamity-proof their businesses.

1. Cater to your customers.

Sounds easy, does hard. Customers are finicky and change with the trends. Success depends on how well you know your customers, what they want, how they make their buying decisions, and other places they can get what they want.

Some things to consider:

  • Are your instruments on trend? If your offerings are stuck in time, it’s time to update your thinking—and inventory. A great instrument will always be great, but you should also offer trending styles, models, and colors. Instrument styles, like clothing, are changing. That means knowing your customers and potential buyers well enough to understand whether they are button-down types or do they prefer athletic-leisure fashions.
  • Are you leveraging influencers? Regardless of where your customers fall on the trend line, social media has a tremendous influence on them when they are deciding what to buy and where. If Kim Kardashian says she uses Widget-brand tights, every man, woman, and child who wears yoga pants will want to wear Widgets. You probably can’t afford a Kardashian but consider local musician people in your buying area to follow. Trade them a little influencer love for some free promotion on social media, mentions in blog articles, or a complimentary instrument.
  • Do you listen to the latest music? Your customers do. When guitar rock gets hot, guitar sales heat up and electronic instrument sales tank. Keep listening to “hear” the future of your inventory.
  • Do you expect customers to come to you? The whole world began buying online during the lockdowns, it still does and probably always will. Open an online shop on Amazon. Sell your wares at street fairs and music festivals. Sponsor a popular local music venue. Figure out where your customers are and meet them where there are.

You need your customers more than they need you. That’s why it’s critical for you to figure out what they want now—and how you can deliver.

2. Improve the in-store experience.

Successful bookstores sponsor customer-oriented events to get them through the doors. Things like poetry readings so they can promote the collected works. They host book club meetings and put Oprah’s must-reads on their end caps. You get the idea.

Now follow that model:

  • Invite local talent in to demonstrate your newest item. Do you think your customers would rather hear an instrument or read about it? Moreover, it gets buyers and potential buyers in the door, and that is sine qua non in brick-and-mortar retail sales.
  • Music fans love the minutiae of their favorite genres, and music historians enjoy talking about the evolution of instruments and performance styles. Put them together in your store. Again, you’re catering to your customers and bringing in potential buyers.
  • Use digital media to stay connected. Post short videos of your in-store demonstrations and lectures, this-just-in alerts, and anything else of interest to your musical community, which will include influencers. That’s called a force multiplier.

3. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

That’s why people who began buying online during the lockdowns are still doing it—click a few keys and the purchase lands on the doorstep the next day. If automated e-commerce is out of your depth, offer curbside service or free delivery within a certain radius of your store.

If you haven’t updated your consumer experience in the last couple of years, do it now. Brainstorm with your staff on ideas on ways that will raise your store’s profile, entice customers, and intrigue prospects. A solid investment may be hiring a marketing firm. You can set the parameters of the engagement to limit its work to simple consultation or turn it loose to remake your entire customer experience.

4. Don’t be Brand X.

It’s a branding exercise: When customers and prospects hear your store’s name, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Are you:

  • The jazz shop in town?
  • The place where parents go to buy their kid’s band instruments and for lessons?
  • The go-to spot for fans of rock (or rap, or concertos, or singers, or opera aficionados?

Figure out what makes your business better than—and different from—your competitors and make it your brand. You may lose some customers when you’re no longer a “generic” music business, but you’ll gain a whole lot more when you claim your space.

5. Be a gracious host.

Is your store a space that welcomes new customers? Here are some ways  to do that:

  • Expand your inventory of Stratocasters to include instruments and lessons for newbie strummer. Few can afford a high-end instrument—or play it for all it’s worth—but helping new players get started is your opportunity to keep them coming back as they gain proficiency.
  • It’s a fact of retail that customers will research online then visit brick-and-mortar stores to get their hands on whatever it is they want, then make the purchase online. Make the in-store experience memorable, offer service after the sale and a few complimentary lessons. That’s a smart way to earn a customer.
  • Do you provide a comfortable place for people to enjoy each other’s company? Skip the hard-sell and instead offer prospects a venue for trying instruments and talking about music.

Use these tips and they might help you thrive through whatever comes next, be it murder hornets, panic and lockdowns, even a persnickety customer.

Need help getting there? Contact us for ideas on new things you can sell, services you can offer, and ways to promote your shop that will resonate with people today.