In talking with other small music store owners, someone will usually ask “Do you go to NAMM?” The answer frequently includes some variation of “No, it costs too much to go,” or “No, I don’t need any new lines,” or “It’s just too far to go.” If those answers sound like what you’d say if you were asked the same question, maybe you’ve overlooked some affordable options for making the show.

Before we go any further, let’s establish one precept: If you are a store owner, you (or your designee) should attend Summer NAMM. Between the Idea Center sessions, seeing new products, the tech sessions and the breakfast sessions, you’ll leave the show with the latest and greatest information in the MI world. And, if you’re not there, that same info will still be presented and it will be absorbed by everyone else you’re competing with for MI retail traffic. Basically, you can’t afford to not go.

So, how can a small store operator attend Summer NAMM without breaking the bank? The admission badge is free for NAMM members, so let’s look at the expenses, and see what can be done to lower the cost. I should probably mention that everything that follows assumes you’re going to NAMM to conduct business and find ways to make more money. As long as that’s your focus, and you understand the word “frugal,” you can probably get there and back for less than you think.

Two of us went to Summer NAMM this year, arrived Wednesday afternoon and left Saturday afternoon. We flew there and back. Total cost, including air fare and lodging, was $773. If the trip had been for only one person, the cost would have been more like $665. Generally speaking, the biggest expenses for attending the NAMM show are transportation there and back, lodging, meals and in-town transportation. Let’s talk about some cost-effective ways to address these four areas.

Transportation there and back: If you are within driving distance, calculate the cost of driving to the show. That’s going to be the transport baseline. Any way we can reduce that number is good, and may make a non-driving option a better choice. Going to Nashville for us is a six-hour drive, but this year we looked further, and found Contour Air. We flew Contour for $68 per person roundtrip. That’s not a misprint. That number includes taxes, fees, a checked bag, a carry-on bag and a small lap bag. The trade-off is the reservation fee is not refundable. If you want a refundable seat, the cost is much higher, but still less than regular commercial airlines. Another airline with really low rates is Boutique Air. If neither of these fly near your town, Google “airlines like Boutique” and see what you can find. Look for cities they service within an hour or so of where you live. You can drive, park and fly from there. If you have to take a regular commercial airline, book your flight as early as possible, and try alternate airports and cities for your route. A slight change of destination and/or departure may save a lot of airfare.

Lodging: Nashville hotel rooms were ranging from $125 per night (lower-end digs) to $400 per night (digs we can’t afford). We ended up staying a couple of miles from the Music City Center at an Airbnb home for $110 per night. Fabulous accommodations, a great host and lots of amenities. Our host was a pro songwriter, and the home was a showplace, so we think we did well. Airbnb listings change often, so check the site daily until you find what you want. The farther you are from downtown, the less the rooms tend to cost, but Uber rates (more on that later) may be higher. A similar operation is HomeAway. Some iMSO (Independent Music Store Owners) members rent an entire house for the show for big savings over multiple hotel rooms.

Meals: OK, this is where you can really trim costs if you’re OK with the frugality approach. Each morning at NAMM events, there’s a breakfast session. NAMM is known for laying out a fabulous breakfast each morning. Eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes, fresh fruit, pastries, lots of juice and coffee are the norm. It’s always good, and there’s always plenty. I eat a hearty meal at the breakfast session and then skip lunch. I keep Nutri-Grain bars in my shoulder bag if I get hungry during the day, but usually breakfast carries me through. I also put a plastic water bottle in my bag, and I refill it at the water fountain. (Remember the part about being frugal?) In the evenings, there are always parties, dinners and other gatherings where you can eat or snack, and, frequently, enjoy an adult beverage or three while there. Talk to your reps, get an invitation to the shindig, and go.

In-town transportation: In Nashville, we used Uber to get anywhere we wanted to go. Our Uber to Summer NAMM was $6 and change each way (that covers up to four people). Lyft also operates in Nashville, and while I haven’t used Lyft, I’m told they are very similar in concept and cost to Uber. Download the app for the service you want, put in your PayPal info, and you’re done. Now you have Uber fees, but no parking fees, no gas expense or wear and tear, and you don’t have to drive in city traffic. Uber drivers also have great tips on where to go if you want to eat out at night. If you enjoy adult beverages, you can enjoy those, and Uber is your on-call designated driver.

Frugality doesn’t mean skimping, it means making informed choices about where to spend your money. We ate very well in Nashville, had fantastic accommodations, enjoyed air-conditioned rides everywhere we went and our logistics stress level was way down versus previous years. There are ways to trim the expenses even further, such as staying with friends or family while in the area, but I imagine that would cut into time at the show, and missing time at the show is what you can’t afford.

To truly see everything Summer NAMM in Nashville has to offer would take 12 days, but since you only have three, spend every moment you can on the floor or at vendor night events. (I’m not making up the 12 days. I could spend three days just at the Idea Center, three days at the tech sessions, three days making appointments and three days walking around the show floor). So, the one other thing you’ll want to budget is your time. Look at the Idea Center schedule first, pick the sessions that will benefit you, put them on the schedule in your NAMM phone app. Then, schedule vendor appointments with the people you know you want to see or need to see. Schedule your special/night events. Check the tech sessions to see what new tricks you can learn. The rest of the time is for seeing industry friends, discovering new money-making ideas and products, and cruising the floor.

You can afford to go to NAMM. It just takes a little creativity and planning. So, go. Write the next show on your calendar, start checking odd little airlines for flights, browse the Airbnb pages and make a budget. Chances are, you really can afford to go to NAMM.

Happy trails.

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