What Advice Do You Wish You Had When Starting

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

At the recent NAMM Show in Anaheim, thousands of MI retailers took the opportunity to further educate themselves through the wide array of NAMM U sessions. As every top-end professional in any industry knows, you can never stop learning because the world never stops changing.

But while the designated experts on stage at NAMM U are a fantastic source of knowledge and advice, sometimes the best lessons are learned through experience. It can be practical lessons about customer service, broad philosophical ideas about running a business, or simply learning how to maximize your strengths.
With that in mind, Canadian Music Trade spoke with some experienced MI store owners and managers in Canada and asked them one simple question: What bit of advice would have made your work life easier when starting in the MI industry?

Here are some of their responses…

Name: Mark Stutman
Job Title: Founder & Owner
Store Name: Folkway Music
Store Location: Waterloo, ON
How many years have you been working in the industry?
Over 15 years
What bit of advice would have made your work life easier when starting in the MI industry?

One area of knowledge or awareness that I have gained over the last 15 years is about margins; learning about margins from a retailer’s point of view and, in particular, in reference to selling vintage guitars that need to get repaired prior to sale. Finding a $2,000 guitar that’s going to cost you $1,000 is all well and good, but if it takes a week of your life to fix it, well, you’ve made no money.

At every turn one needs to think about how any decision affects margin. It is a very easy thing to not think about if you’re not schooled in business administration. Most of us who end up in this industry are not trained in business; we don’t have an MBA. We’re musicians who ended up in a guitar store or piano shop and we don’t know anything about margins and don’t really know much about running a business. If I would’ve known more about that end of business management at the onset, I’d imagine my shop would be a number of steps further along by now. But that was a lesson that’s taken a long time to learn. Thankfully, I have this understanding now, and am running a much more profit table operation.

If you’re setting up a business, have a plan, understand your margins, and do your business homework. If you don’t have an MBA or similar training, make it your business to get that kind of an education so you don’t end up wasting money. This industry has changed a lot in the last 15 years and gross margins on musical instruments have dropped significantly. You need to operate very leanly if you are to succeed.


Name: Davin Kemshead
Job Title: Owner & President
Store Name: The Soundhouse
Store Location: Red Deer, AB
How many years have you been working in the MI industry?
6 years
What bit of advice would have made your work life easier when starting in the MI industry?

Don’t just sell musical instruments; have something else. Offer lessons or provide services – something that keeps the customers coming in on a weekly basis. We sell vinyl records and have a huge selection and that keeps people on our Facebook page daily, in our store weekly, and always results in more MI sales.

Everyone that plays an instrument listens to music, so why not sell what they listen to and sell what they are into? Sell band t-shirts, merchandise, and event tickets. Get into the local music scene and hire staff who are in the local music scene that can tell you what the locals in your area want.

If you are relying on making it work on guitar sales and then strings and picks, you are doomed. People don’t buy a guitar every year, they don’t buy an amp every year, and you won’t make it selling strings. It’s the same reason why computer stores sell games, stereo stores sell CDs, and TV stores sell movies. Whenever you are low on cash flow, do consignment on good used gear.
Consult Kijiji and Craigslist. If your walls are starting to look thin but you haven’t been able to budget stock replacement because of a really bad month or surprise expenses, call people that are advertising their stuff for sale and make a consignment deal to get it in your store. The biggest hassle with selling used gear on Kijiji and Craigslist is dealing with tire kickers, low ballers, and test drivers. This will motivate the online seller to get the guitar or amp in your store so they don’t need to bother with the headaches. If you can get gear in your store at no cost and make a percentage of the sale (or offer in-store credit to the consignee), it is all win-win!


Name: Ryan Hamilton
Job Title: General Manager
Store Name: Just Drums
Store Location: Toronto, ON
How many years have you been working in the MI industry?
9 years
What bit of advice would have made your work life easier when starting in the MI industry?

One bit of advice I wish I had been given earlier on is to appreciate, grow, and nurture the relation-ships with students. Their value is huge for our business and our industry as a whole. Whether they are young first-timers or adult hobbyists, they are the life blood for the growth of future music and crucially valuable to MI stores everywhere. Their importance can never be undervalued as they propel sales, store traffic, and the long-term relationships, which are vital to MI stores. Do it for the kids!


Name: Dragan Petrovic
Job Title: Jazz Pianist & Store Owner
Store Name: B.G. Music Academy and Guitar Shop
Store Location: Toronto, ON
How many years in the MI industry?
23 years
What bit of advice do you now follow that would have made your work life easier when starting in the MI industry?

Be real and honest, love what you do, and educate your costumers. Ask questions to find out what they need and try to understand them even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Teach your students; don’t babysit them.


Name: David Mingo
Job Title: Owner
Store Name: Mingo Music Sales
Store Location: Truro, NS
How many years in the MI industry?
My father started the business in 1967. I’ve worked here for 30 years, owning it for the last 12.
What bit of advice would have made your work life easier when starting in the MI industry?

Learn skills from outside the industry and have friends or mentors with outside experience. We do sound system installs as well as run a retail shop, so I’ve had to learn carpentry skills and have friends who are experi-enced in carpentry and electrical work. Car pentry skills also help me do a lot of guitar and instru-ment repairs. I understand a bit about graphic arts, so I can convey our design ideas to a friend of mine who is a graphic artist. I retained just enough accounting concepts from university to be a dan-ger to myself, but it’s more efficient (and less stressful) to farm a lot of our bookkeeping to an outside source. Com-puter skills help maintain our POS and inventory manage-ment system. Because we’re a full-line, full-service store, it takes a lot of different abilities to run the business properly. While it’s certainly import-ant for staff to have product knowledge, there’s so much more than that, and as an owner/manager, it’s import-ant to have some of those other abilities to put out any fires, or to hire or train staff with those additional skills.


Name: Karen Hibovski
Job Title: Administrator & Owner
Store Name: Bloor West Music Studios
Store Location: Toronto, ON
How many years in the MI industry?
24 years
What bit of advice would have made your work life easier when starting in the MI industry?

We found that after about 15 years in business, we were not growing. We decided to seek out a consultant specializing in our business – in this case, the music school businesses. The consultant was very helpful and made my job easier with specific suggestions about how to improve cash flow and streamline the administrative part of the music school. He was also help-ful with marketing techniques. We wish we would have hired a consultant at the beginning instead of trying to figure it out for ourselves through trial and error.


Name: Jimmi Daoud
Job Title: President
Store Name: Rogers Music Centre
Store Location: Toronto, ON
How many years in the MI industry?
Over 45 years, including 15 years at RMC.
What bit of advice would have made your work life easier when starting in the MI industry?

Since its inception, Rogers Music Centre’s slogan of “For musicians by musicians” has been a reflection of how everyone here conducts business with customers. In other words: in all aspects of the vast services that we of-fer, we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes.