Jesse McNamara’s history with Ohio’s music retail scene spans most of his life. As a high school student, he interned at Coyle’s Music—the local music store from which he bought his first guitar—and, later, he became a Manager and guitar instructor for Sawmill Music.
When the opportunity came about to open his own music store, McNamara knew exactly what type of place he wanted to run. He explained, “The store I was working for closed in early 2002, leaving me unemployed and with limited options. So, I decided to try opening my own place. The idea was to open a community-based music store like what we had growing up.” McNamara fondly remembers the local music stores of his youth. “When I broke my first string, I remember one of the guys at the counter helping me pick out strings and showing me how to restring the guitar,” he recollected. “That really had an impact on me.”
Music Royale officially opened July 15, 2002, in a 1,400-square-foot store that was divided into a small retail area in the front and eight lesson rooms in the back. Apart from his experience working at music stores, McNamara didn’t have any formal business training when he opened that store. He jokingly recalled the rookie mistake that plagued his store in those early days, saying, “When we were opening up, I liked the phone number from the store that had been there before. So, I decided to keep it.” He continued, “I didn’t realize at the time that that would lead to creditors who were looking for the previous owners calling us nearly every day. That went on for the first few years we were open, and it was really annoying. But 614.793.2222 is a really good phone number!”
Despite that early frustration, Music Royale was off to a great start. In a market that, at the time, was saturated with independent music stores and big-box stores—back when the Internet wasn’t nearly as big of a factor as it is today—Music Royale quickly began to grow. An expansion was soon in order. “We quickly realized that we needed more lesson space, and we expanded into the storefront next door, adding eight more lesson rooms,” McNamara explained. He was one of two people who worked the counter when Music Royale first opened.
At the time, there were approximately 12 teachers. Today, that number has grown to more than 40, who teach upwards of 800 students. Music Royale now claims the title of central Ohio’s largest music lessons facility. “I never would have thought we could potentially have 800 students a week coming through our doors,” McNamara enthused, “but we’ve hit that mark, and we’re continuing to grow.” He added, “I am really proud of what we have accomplished in 14 years.”
Since January 2009, the store has operated out of a much larger space: 4,200 square feet, to be exact. The store is composed of retail and performance space, as well as 25 lesson rooms in the back. Music Royale sells a wide variety of guitars, amps and accessories, in addition to offering repair services. There are four sales-floor employees, all of whom are musicians themselves. “We are passionate about playing music, teaching music and just talking about music,” McNamara emphasized. “It makes going to work a lot of fun!”
Having a knowledgeable staff also helps McNamara to make Music Royale the type of store that his friends and he would have visited in their youth. “You know,” he said, “just to hang out, see all the instruments and be around all the cool music.”
“We really strive to make Music Royale a place where people feel comfortable coming in and asking questions, kicking tires and just looking around,” McNamara continued. “We’re not really in it for the quick sale; we’re trying to cultivate loyal, long-term customers. We always try to help our customers make the right decision for them, even if that means they have to go somewhere else to buy that piece of gear. That sense of familiarity and trust can really give an independent store like ours an advantage.”
Beyond the exemplary customer service for which Music Royale is known, McNamara also hosts many events at the store, and he teams up with the local community to draw attention to his business. Throughout the year, McNamara pairs up with local restaurants to hold student performances and recitals. And, when it gets too cold for the city of Powell OH to hold its open mic nights at a nearby park, Music Royale holds the events in the store instead.
“Although all the events are great for business, those I enjoy the most tend to be more charity focused,” McNamara explained. His store is very involved with the local Ronald McDonald House, holding a food drive and putting on student concerts for their families. Also, students from Music Royale’s Rock School program perform at a Harvest Festival organized by one of its customers, with all proceeds from the festival going to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Some of the events are about building up your business,” he continued, “and some of them are just about helping people out.”
Over the past 14 years, McNamara has cultivated an environment in which local musicians of all levels and abilities can congregate, listen to great music, and learn about the latest instruments and accessories. And that is exactly what he hopes to continue to do in the years ahead.
“We have a really strong foothold in our neighborhood, but there are a lot of potential customers in the central Ohio area we haven’t reached yet,” McNamara said. “I would like to grow our customer base while keeping the sense of community that we currently have. I’ve been really lucky to have such great customers and employees.”