In April 2010, the music industry, not to mention the country at large, was still reeling from the financial crisis of 2008. That happens to be the month that Guitar Sanctuary opened in a small space in Texas. At a time when many saw warning signs, Guitar Sanctuary’s Owner, George Fuller, saw opportunity.
“Many people questioned our timing, but George looked at the business landscape at that time as an opportunity, rather than as a roadblock,” Brian Meader, Sales Manager at Guitar Sanctuary, explained. “He wanted to help lead the revitalization of the local guitar market and ride the eventual wave of success. So, when most stores were asking, ‘How can we afford that?’ George’s philosophy was to ask, ‘How can we afford not to?’”
A lifelong guitar player, Fuller decided to open Guitar Sanctuary after he’d found the local market for boutique products drying up. “He saw a lot of the older, Dallas, Texas-area, mom-and-pop stores go under after the large chain-store retailers appeared,” Meader said. Assuming there must be others in the same predicament, Fuller decided to create a music store for players like him…those who saw music as a passionate hobby.
“George made the decision to create the store he’d always dreamed about: a destination store with the finest gear, in the finest setting, where people come to hang out, rather than a store focused on getting the box in your hand and getting you out the door so the salesman can move on to the next person in line,” Meader stated. “He wants great products handled in a professional environment, with people who are as passionate as he is. We try to reflect that in all aspects of our business: from the store’s layout, to the website, to how we interact with our customers.”
The store, which began with one full-time employee and which, today, boasts four full-time and five part-time staff members, is stocked with electric and acoustic guitars, amps, pedals and other accessories. The sale of those products is the driving force behind the store’s success and the core of what it does. In particular, Guitar Sanctuary focuses on custom instruments, giving customers a one-of-a-kind buying experience.
“Our focus is to get you the gear that is right for you,” Meader stressed. “And, as we focus on custom instruments, most of what we have is unique and, often, it’s built for us, to our own specifications, rather than being a mass-produced product that we stack up and sell in quantity.”
“We’re fortunate that we’re able to carefully choose the vendors we choose to represent,” Meader continued. “We focus on relationships where we’re partners working together toward increasing our mutual business.”
The unique product mix is matched by the store’s vibe and presentation, which is intended to emulate the customer’s living room—complete with couch and big-screen TV—for maximum comfort. The store is currently four times bigger than it was when Fuller opened the doors; that growth has allowed plenty of space for eye-catching luxury. In addition to the extra selling space, the store also boasts a Performance Academy with 15 teachers on staff.
“We realize that, in order to sustain ourselves, we’ll need to help grow the local music community,” Meader acknowledged. “Our Performance Academy started out small, but, now, we have more than 300 students a week who come through our doors. That helps to build our next generation of players and future customers.”
Guitar Sanctuary also helps the community by partnering with the city of McKinney Texas, as well as many local businesses, to facilitate opportunities for Guitar Sanctuary’s students and customers to perform at various events. “It offers them an outlet for their creativity,” Meader pointed out.
Another aspect of Guitar Sanctuary’s business model is its Sanctuary Music and Events Center, which seats 350 people. The multi-purpose venue hosts concerts, weddings, corporate events, church services, charity functions and store events, including customer-appreciation celebrations, student recitals, product demonstrations, summer instructional camps and more.
“There is great cross-pollination between the two locations,” Meader explained. “It exposes our store’s customers to several events, and vice versa. A customer might come in for a guitar and leave with a venue for his daughter’s wedding.”
Guitar Sanctuary’s first priorities are its customers and its community. The store puts a passion for music ahead of a passion for profit, and that’s apparent in everything Guitar Sanctuary does. “We’re not a store that really uses price as a selling tool, or emphasizes ‘Sale! Sale! Sale!’ in what we do,” Meader remarked. “We work with companies like Blispay to offer unique financing opportunities: not only in the store, but also online on our website and when we’re attending off-site events like guitar shows.”
He continued, “We want our customers to feel comfortable from the moment they pick up an instrument to when they’re ready to buy. We work hard to ensure that the worst instrument we have in the store is great, and then go from there.”
Looking to the future, Meader said that Guitar Sanctuary is focused on continuing to grow, expanding its customer base and adding new product lines. “Basically, we plan to do more of what we’ve been doing to this point,” Meader declared. “We’ve established great relationships with our customers, and we work hard to give them a place they want to support with their business.”
“The store will always be a work in progress,” Meader continued, “but we feel strongly that we’re on the right path toward fulfilling George’s vision for what he feels the ultimate guitar store would be.”