By Rebecca Apodaca

The modern Gottschalk Music Center’s history traces back to a business started in 1936, by John Gottschalk’s aviation pilot grandparents, out of their home. They lived in Adrian MI, about 85 miles southwest of Detroit. Without knowing it, they had filed the flight plan for their future grandson! The grandfather was a band director and his wife ran their store, renting and selling band instruments. In 1951, they moved to Modesto—just about in the middle of California—and set up their business within a piano store for about a year.

Their first location on their own was in a building that was about 1,500 square feet. They raised John’s father to help in the store. After his college education in math, he worked as a band director and at the family store, where he started John—who was still in elementary school at the time—working (for example, licking the stamps for the envelopes containing rental invoices, or sweeping the floors).

Gottschalk Music Center
328 Pollasky Ave.
Clovis, CA 93612
Phone: (559) 298-4400
Hours: Mon to Thurs: 10am to 7pm, Fri and Sat: 10am to 5pm
John Gottschalk, Owner

355 West Main St.
Merced, CA 95340
Phone (209) 723-3337
Hours: Mon to Thurs: 10am to 7pm
Fri: 10am to 6pm, Sat: 10am to 4pm

More Music, More Stores
Eventually, more stores and locations were added, along with an uncle as an owner and now “friendly competition.” After college as a music education major, Gottschalk became a band director, utilizing his French horn knowledge. But the lure of the store took the lead in his career. Now, Gottschalk owns and runs two locations: one 5,000-square-foot store in Merced and one 5,600-square-foot store in Clovis, about 60 miles away from each other.

As a full-line band and orchestra dealer carrying Yamaha, Jupiter and Conn-Selmer instruments, they expanded into guitars with Fender, Yamaha and ESP/LTD, as well as incorporating Fender and Line 6 amps and PA systems into their sales.

“Taking care of customers to the best of our abilities brings customers back to our store,” he said, articulating what has always been Gottschalk’s focus. As good as 2008 was, though, 2009 was the opposite. They made cuts in expenses and created microphone clinics, teaching people how to handle a mic; a slap bass clinic and a theory clinic were also taught. The microphone clinic would be helpful to other industries that are not composed of music-makers. A Guitar Hero contest was another promo.

Gottschalk added in a rewards card and created a point-per-dollar reward system to encourage sales; they are redeemable at the store. During sale promotions, Gottschalk offers double reward points. If bands or symphonies come in for donations or an event, Gottschalk will place ads or offer the use of a piano as a way of staying in touch with the community. They also set up a table at band competitions to help with repairs, and have items on display for the students to purchase (or so instruments and accessories can be viewed for later purchase).

They have proficient band and orchestra repair technicians, with seven to eight techs during summer repair season. They handle minor electronic repairs and, for any higher-end electronic repairs, send items out to a local tech.

The price for which items are sold is the biggest selling point for big-box stores or Internet sales. “There is always someone out there that will have a price cheaper than you” might be the mantra for Web-centric outfits. To combat that, Gottschalk hires knowledgeable people who offer expertise that will not be found on the Internet. “If someone trusts you, the price is not the main issue,” he stressed. Gottschalk’s prices are competitive, he said, adding, “MAP has been very helpful.”

Gottschalk attends the Winter NAMM show most years. He and his staff get motivated attending the seminars and looking at new products. His store is still recovering from the drop in 2009; so, it is important that the business continue to move forward and not fall behind. Gottschalk Music Center’s current success represents a good sign.

Who Could Ask For More?
In the Merced store, a long-term, 22-year-old customer bought an upgraded $2,500 Taylor guitar. About one week later, when an employee was checking the store’s Facebook account, he saw the young man had had his guitar stolen. The employee brought this up to the staff in a sales meeting. Later that day, they received a call from someone trying to sell the exact brand, model and finish. The sales clerk was authorized to offer $1,500 over the phone, luring the people in. Two women came into the store and, once he verified the serial number, Gottschalk contacted the police about someone trying to sell stolen merchandise.

It took the police about 20 minutes to get there. This meant the staff had to do their best in stalling for time, having the two women fill out a form with all their contact information, including providing their ID to be able to complete the store’s “purchase” of the guitar. After the police arrived, the 50-year-old woman left, stating she was “only the ride.” The 30-year-old woman was detained, refusing to provide any information to the police.

The Gottschalk team of “detectives” handed over the two forms with all the information to the police. The customer was called; he came down and told the staff that they made his year! That’s the best customer service anyone could ask for.

Gottschalk feels lucky to have been raised in the music products business. Now, whichever way you turn in that area of California, there is a Gottschalk Music Center. After 76 years in the industry, Gottschalk Music Center has gott plenty to be proud of.

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