(L-R): NAMM President/CEO Joe Lamond with NAMM Chairman Mark Goff.

(L-R): NAMM President/CEO Joe Lamond with NAMM Chairman Mark Goff.

Last month’s Summer NAMM show, emanating from Music City Center in Nashville TN from June 23 to June 25, was a strong showing for both the association and the music products industry that it represents. The exposition, which, this year, moved to Halls C and D, enjoyed growth with respect to both exhibitors and registrants. That’s significant because, as we all know, the combination of Summer NAMM having left Nashville several years back and the onset of the Great Recession caused several years of weakness for the summer show. For the past few years, though, each iteration of Summer NAMM has grown stronger. It gives one hope that the perpetual chicken-or-egg conundrum—whether more dealers need to attend to attract manufacturers, or whether more manufacturers need to attend to attract dealers—has been resolved.

But let’s get specific. This year’s show welcomed 517 exhibitors, of which 74 returned after a lapse and 226 were brand new; all together, they represented more than 1,650 brands. A five-percent increase in exhibitor numbers manifested itself with a show floor that was more diverse than ever, belying the misconception that Summer NAMM is “just a fretted-instrument show.” Indeed, although several top-tier guitar companies made their return to Summer NAMM—Fender, Ovation Guitar Company and Heritage Guitars, to name a few—the show also attracted companies that represent a wide range of product categories. Among the new or returning manufacturers were American Music & Sound, Ernie Ball, Davitt & Hanser, Pearl Drums, Blackstar, Dunlop and the newly revivified Vestax brand. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Summer NAMM drew 14,055 registrants, which, although a fraction of the haul the NAMM Show brings, marks growth against last year.

“We are proud of our NAMM members who came to Nashville eager to learn, to make new business connections and to build deeper connections with their current partners, all in an effort to proactively plan for a strong fall and holiday season,” Joe Lamond, NAMM’s President and CEO, said. “The industry continues to change rapidly. In my opinion, the clues to success were available to forward-thinking members on the show floor this year in Nashville.”

As I walked the show floor and talked to exhibitors, positive comments outweighed negative ones by a three-to-one margin. The most commonly heard concern was a perceived scarcity of mom-and-pop, community-type music stores. And, in fact, although NAMM reported that the number of buyers in attendance compared reasonably to last year, the association did note that 2016 saw a modest drop in small music stores. (Counterbalancing that decrease was strong buying power among mid-size and large dealers.) It’s unfortunate that fewer of the small stores attended because, setting aside the show floor, Summer NAMM is a fantastic opportunity to network, learn and forge meaningful connections.

NAMM U and TEC Tracks offered 54 sessions that covered a variety of business-enhancing topics, each of which helped to position attendees for success by offering an unmistakable competitive advantage. On June 23, the show opened with a NAMM U Breakfast Session called The Online Retail Summit, where retailers that have made a place in online retailing passed along the lessons they’ve learned, along with best practices and tips for success. The following morning, the show opened with a Breakfast Session that featured Jeffrey Hayzlett, NAMM U veteran speaker. He energized the crowd by offering a candid assessment of businesses that succeed and those that fail. At a time when beleaguered brick-and-mortar stores have to contend with big-box stores, Amazon.com, shrinking margins and rapid technological evolution, those who don’t take advantage of this business intelligence are doing themselves a disservice.

And make no mistake: The shining lights among brick-and-mortar music products retail were present at Summer NAMM. The last two years’ winners of the “Dealer of the Year” award at NAMM’s Top 100 Dealer Awards—The Candyman Strings & Things (Santa Fe NM) and Musical Innovations (Greenville SC)—participated in this year’s ceremony, at which 2016’s “Dealer of the Year,” Contemporary Music Center (Haymarket VA), earned a hearty ovation from the hundreds of retailers in attendance. The annual ceremony has become a Summer NAMM highlight that not only facilitates networking, but also reinforces best practices. The rest of this year’s winners are as follows: Best Customer Service: Amro Music (Memphis TN); Best Emerging Dealer: The Upper Bout (Champaign IL); Music Makes a Difference: Contemporary Music Center; Best Marketing & Sales Promotion: Contemporary Music Center; Best Online Engagement: Port Mac Guitars (Port Macquarie, Australia); Best Store Design: Steelwood Guitar Shop & Club (Mexico City, Mexico); and Best Store Turnaround: Music Land (Baltimore MD).

In addition to the winners in the individual categories, NAMM also celebrated the 100 best music stores operating today, the honorees’ list crossing oceans and bridging continents. “As unique as the customers and locations that they serve, the Top 100 honorees all have a bit in common: a commitment to excellence in music products retailing, in customer service and in acting as music champions within their community,” Lamond enthused. “We applaud their efforts, as well as those of all NAMM retail members that are creating positive and memorable shopping experiences that, in turn, help to foster the next generation of music makers.” The Retailer, too, applauds the honorees for their exemplary work.

Of course, no exposition with the NAMM name on it would be complete without a large helping of music; on that score, Summer NAMM definitely delivered! The NAMM Nissan Terrace Stage featured a variety of performers throughout the show, although the highlight might have been on June 23 when, at the first ever NAMM at Night opening party, the legendary Charlie Daniels Band turned in a high-spirited performance. On June 25, which the association dubbed Music Industry Day and during which members of the public gained access to the show floor, country rocker and “The Voice” season seven winner Craig Wayne Boyd performed for attendees. Later, in the Davidson Ballroom, the 33rd Annual American Eagle Awards honored Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and the Grand Ole Opry for having made significant contributions to music in America. It was a perfect cap to a robust show.

Next year’s Summer NAMM will once again emanate from Music City Center, but it’ll shift back to its normal timeframe (July 13 to July 15). At a consequential time for music products retail, you owe it to yourself—and to your business—to be there.

All photos courtesy Jason Davis/Getty Images for NAMM.
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