Musical instrument stores adapt to survive: boredom, stimulus controls, and technology helped

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The pandemic caused ups and downs in sales at the Doo Wop store, which rents and sells instruments, sound systems, and other concert and event equipment. While in-store customer traffic has gone from non-existent during the spring close to extremely low today, some aspects of the business have flourished. For example, when everyone stayed at home while the first wave of the virus was circulating, people got bored. Learning to play music or picking up this old instrument has become popular.

“In the beginning, we actually had strong sales of beginner instruments,” said John Metcalf, store manager of Doo Wop. “We sent the lights for your $ 100 to $ 200 guitars, your keyboards, your cheap beginner level stuff. We had a record number of guitar chords every day because people were pulling out that guitar that they hadn’t played in 10 years out of the closet, and they had time to do it. As adults we often say, “Well, if I still had time,” and everyone did. “

It only lasted so long.

Now, with a drop in large orders of rental equipment, the challenge for the Doo Wop store has become to get customers into the store safely. It has safety measures in place, including rules for hand sanitizing for people touching instruments and how rental equipment is cleaned upon return.

“We had to do some serious homework before we unlocked the doors and the quarantine kind of stopped and you might have people inside,” Metcalf said. “One of our biggest problems was how to disinfect if someone wants to play guitar? Who buys a guitar before playing it?

Every musical instrument store LEO spoke to echoed the feeling that, throughout the pandemic, business has been an unpredictable mix of ups and downs, with repairs and online shopping being on the rise and in-store foot traffic on the decline. Like many small businesses, music stores have typically had to lay off some employees. And, more importantly, they tried to adjust to a fluid situation that drastically changed people’s buying habits.

Between closing and holidays

Jerry Hill, owner of J&J Old Louisville Music Shop, said late March and early spring were tough, but when the federal government cut stimulus checks, he saw an increase in business.

“When the shutdown first happened, boy, it was scary. We were able to keep sidewalking, but nobody was doing any of that, ”Hill said. “It wasn’t really until people got their stimulus checks that we started getting repairs done and people were buying string and stuff. Everyone took a breath of fresh air and got a little more confidence to do these things. “

Like other stores, J&J has seen a drastic drop in in-store navigation, but Hill said it is using social media to deliver new and popular items. And Hill is hoping the coming holiday season means those looking for musicians’ gifts will help the business survive through the winter.

“With the Christmas holidays approaching, we are generally able to increase our sales during this time,” Hill said. “For Christmas, the accessories sell like hot cakes, because that’s what people buy for musicians – strings, cables, straps, effects pedals.

“Bullshit” won’t pay the bills

When the pandemic began, Guitar Emporium put all of its employees on leave except for Eric Whorton, who continued to do business through e-commerce for the store. Finding buyers has not been a problem, since the Guitar Emporium has long done business all over the world, but Whorton said it was difficult to get new inventory.

“We ship products all over the world every day, and we’ve been doing so since the late 1970s,” said Whorton. “The tough things were getting products from the manufacturers, because the manufacturers shut down, and a lot of the products, the things that we’re a reseller for, the little accessories and things, that aren’t made in America, they come from. from China or elsewhere, a lot of this stuff is stuck in customs and ports. So it’s hard to replace things once you’ve sold them.

Currently, the Guitar Emporium only allows five people at a time, which is vastly different from how the store operated before the pandemic. Instrument shops, like many other small specialty businesses, were often used as a gathering place for like-minded people and as a cultural hub for some musicians. Whorton said the social aspect of the store is lacking, but it has become more important to give the most time in the store to people who are planning to buy something.

“It’s a social hangout, which we love and understand, and it’s just that kind of store,” Wharton said. “There are other businesses that are like that too – comic book stores, hair salons, places like that. However, you can’t pay the bills with bullshit.

While the Guitar Emporium has had enough activity to keep it going, Wharton said, the store was only able to bring back one of four people it put on leave last spring. This is something that worries him, not just for Guitar Emporium, but for other struggling small businesses as well.

“I wonder, in general, will all of these small businesses be able to re-employ all of their old employees – restaurants, small merchandise stores like this,” Whorton said.


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