It was two years ago that The Music & Sound Retailer last spoke with Nick Marocco. At the time, Marocco was the Owner of Bluesairmen Guitars, where he and Sales Manager Joey Gaydos sold high-quality, used guitars, basses, amps and effects to Garden City MI music fans. Over time, Bluesairmen Guitars continued to grow. When it came time to make a decision about expanding the store, Gaydos’ music career had taken a big step forward and, as a result, Marocco and he decided to part ways. Flash forward to today and Marocco is the proud Owner of a new music store: Rock City Music Company in Livonia MI, approximately 15 minutes away from his old store. The Retailer decided to check in with Marocco once again to see how his new business is faring.
“We opened up the week of Thanksgiving in November, and it’s been really great so far,” Marocco said. “Rock City Music Company really stands out in our new location, because we’re the only thing like it in our community.”
After finding the new location with the help of a family member, Marocco promptly went about setting up his new store, including launching a brand new name. “I made a decision to re-brand and change our name for various reasons,” he explained. “The biggest was that Bluesairmen Guitars was not my name. It was the previous Owner’s, from whom I bought the store.”
He continued, “I felt that, if I was going to take this big step, it was time to do it with a name I could be behind. I didn’t want people to hear that this new music store was moving into their community, and then have them Google “Bluesairmen” and see negative reviews about stuff that happened in 2008 or something like that, which had nothing to do with me.” He added, “At the end of the day, I wanted this to be completely me. And if I end up with a negative review, then that’s my own fault this time.”
Marocco used social media, as well as the customer list from his old store’s POS system, to reach out to the majority of his customers to alert them to the change. When they come to the new store, which Marocco estimates is three-and-a-half times the size of his former business, they are greeted with some similar features and some that are brand new. For example, whereas Bluesairmen Guitars principally dealt in used gear, customers at Rock City Music Company are able to shop for new instruments. Among the stocked brands are ESP/LTD, Takamine, Peavey, Electro-Harmonix and Catalinbread. The store has recently expanded into ukuleles, and it offers a wide selection of strings, picks, cables and other accessories.
The new location is set up to accommodate six lesson rooms—that’s a big increase from the one lesson room available at the old store—along with a nice couch and set of chairs for parents whose kids are taking lessons. There’s also a vintage 1978 KISS pinball machine. “Some frequent customers stop in simply to play a few games,” Marocco mentioned.
Like Marocco’s former business, which he ran for four-and-a-half years, Rock City Music Company likes to be a resource for people of all levels of musical interest. “We try to cater to anyone and everyone,” he stated. “So, I try to have anything that encompasses music or the love of music, including instruments, vinyl records, CDs, posters, lessons and T-shirts.”
“Even if people don’t play, I want them to come into my store and find something that they want,” Marocco continued. “But that’s not just because I want to. Sometimes, that’s what you have to do to survive.” He elaborated, saying, “Oftentimes, stores focus too much on one thing. If I only focused on guitar sales, for instance, I would have been out of business long ago.”
To sell the wide variety of items available at Rock City Music Company, Marocco has assembled a top-notch team that, he said, “includes a superstar new Manager named Johnnie Johnson, who’s been killing it since we opened at the new location.” Also part of Rock City Music Company’s team is Guitar Tech Greg Gdaniec, who moved with Marocco from the previous store. Gdaniec now has his own office/workshop in the back of the store with a full-size window, so people can converse with him and watch him work.
“It’s definitely all about having the right team with you,” Marocco declared. “I thought I had a good one before, but now we really, truly have the right people here. I think that is the most important thing I’ve learned: You can’t do everything yourself, but whoever you have with you must be in your corner and not in their own.”
For Marocco, it’s especially important to have a strong team to represent the store, because the younger generation of musicians has grown up with the likes of Guitar Center and Sam Ash. Sometimes, he stated, they forget the benefits that a small music store can provide.
“Appreciation for the mom-and-pop shops has definitely been lost on the younger generation,” Marocco lamented. “They’re conditioned to go to the big-box stores, where they can choose from a variety of colors and styles, at discounted prices, and where they’re free to grab an instrument and start playing. It’s sort of a free-for-all in those places.”
He continued, “We take more care with our instruments, and we work with the customer to make sure they’re getting a quality product at a good price. If you’re a regular here, we know you by first name, and not just because we looked it up via your phone number.” He added, “That’s a personalized service that many young, aspiring musicians are not used to, and which they often don’t know how to handle.”
Looking ahead, Marocco would eventually like to expand to a second location. For the moment, though, he is focused on growing his current store and making it the best instrument retailer in the area.
For the opportunity to make a fresh start doing what he loves, Marocco is especially grateful. “I just want to thank all our customers—both in-store and online—for continuing to support us and check out what we’re doing,” he concluded.