By Rebecca Apodaca

In 2003, Don Tegeler embarked on a journey that took him and his family out of the state of Florida and landed them back in his home state of Iowa to become President of Tegeler Music Enterprises, Inc. Tegeler had spent 10 years managing another music shop in Florida before coming home to Clinton IA to run his own store. At a time when many music businesses were struggling to stay open, it seemed risky to be opening a new store. In a very competitive Florida market, Tegeler learned what to do (as well as what not to do) to survive in the music retail business. The education he received in Florida must have paid off because, even with a struggling economy, his profits are up!

Charitable efforts are one part of Don Tegeler’s successful formula.

Tegeler bought a 10,000-square-foot building that now has retail space, lesson rooms and a 3,000-square-foot performance theater with a stage for concerts, clinics and recitals, while the Tegeler family has 2,000 square feet of living space above their store. Isn’t that the way merchants used to live: right above their stores? In these difficult economic times, Tegeler might be showing us “the way.” You build your equity on your building, which is also building equity on your home. You have a stable and predictable overhead. You can eventually use some of that equity to support the growth of the business. You keep a separation between home and work to allow your mind to decompress when you cross that threshold to your home. Many of our “Shine A Light” interviewees have this in common, including in the case of this writer’s own store.

Tegeler Music is a full-line music store, carrying everything but acoustic pianos. It has a strong repair shop supporting all inventory items sold. Tegeler acquired much of his repair skill during his 10 years at the bench in Florida and admits to utilizing any good repair tips, even if they come from the Allied or Ferree’s parts catalog. Lines such as Peavey, Conn Selmer, Ampeg, Ibanez, QSC, Crafter, Samick, Audio-Technica, PreSonus, Grundorf and Mapex Drums are a few of the ones carried at Tegeler Music.

Tegeler Music
101 S. 2nd Street
Clinton, IA 52732
Phone: 877-877-3997
Don Tegeler, President/CEO
Hours: Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm (extended
hours Monday and
Wednesday to 8pm)
Saturday 9am to 4pm

The store is 45 minutes from the next music shop and any big-box store, but Tegeler admits his biggest competition is Internet sales from places like eBay, craigslist and Amazon. The number-one strategy for competing with online merchants at Tegeler Music is customer service that’s second to none. Give them what they can’t get on the Internet. The focus is on treating every customer as a VIP, no matter how small the purchase. Tegeler believes that, if you give the customer more than he or she expects, that person will be more than willing to come back time and time again. In an era of cutting customer service in order to offer the lowest price and struggling to remain profitable, it is a refreshing change when a customer receives special treatment.

Many of the issues the Internet creates present a challenge when you’re trying to best serve the customer. It is a sad day for Tegeler when he has to tell a customer the brand new $200 Gibson Custom Les Paul guitar he or she just bought off the Internet is a fake and isn’t playable. He realizes this represents our entire industry in a poor way. One of the saddest occasions was when he was asked to prep a $99 alto saxophone purchased off the Internet for band season that actually had plastic keys. One has to wonder what’s happened to any kind of quality standards. Creating disposable product and passing off toys as musical instruments does nothing but hurt the entire music industry.

Tegeler has developed a unique and in-depth knowledge of, and passion for, the instruments and equipment he sells, including their repair and maintenance. He now spends much of his time passing on that knowledge to the other members of the Tegeler Music team. Ongoing training to develop everyone’s skill and knowledge about the instruments and equipment is essential.

Understanding that the competition is the Internet and its many high-tech facets, the store has embraced the technology in many unique ways to offer better service to the customer. One idea, borrowed from fellow iMSO (Independent Music Store Owners) member Kevin Damm, was to have guitar picks made with a QR code. In the store, there’s a sign reading, “Have you scanned your pick today?” When the customer scans the pick with his or her smartphone, specials of the day for guitar players appear. High-tech marketing is a great way to grab the attention of the younger players. Marketing via Facebook and other social media outlets is also utilized, along with operating an informative Web site.

Tegeler’s Web site focuses on giving customers information, featuring things like direct links to new products, lesson and teacher info, and even product videos. An icon bar at the top of the page takes visitors to Events, Lessons, Repairs, Tips and Tricks, Downloads, Band & Orchestra and Shipping Information. E-commerce is not the focus of the Web site at this time. “Right now, we still have more work to do to reach out and support our local customers, and we’re not really interested in joining the race to the lowest price,” Tegeler explained.

Tegeler has combined the difficulties in economic times with his community involvement. “This community has supported me and my business, so what can I do for the community?” he asked rhetorically. Well, he starts by getting involved in school and church music activities by either being a sponsor or providing equipment or full audio production services to the event. He also participates in the iMSO national Restring For Food event, held just prior to Thanksgiving. The event entails customers’ guitars being restrung for free in exchange for donating non-perishable food items that are then delivered to a local food pantry.

In 2011, Tegeler started the Tegeler Music Benefit Concert with the goal of raising money for some of the many charitable organizations that are always in need of some help. This year, the concert was a two-day event featuring 21 bands, all of whom donated their time in order to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis. The plan is to select a different charitable organization to help each year of the event. This year, they raised $5,400 for MS sufferers. Besides coordinating all that was necessary to hold the event, the entire concert was recorded live and will be mixed down and mastered to create a two-CD set that will be sold to help support the following year’s concert.

Tegeler is an avid attendee of both the Winter and Summer NAMM shows. He stated, “There is no better place to find the next great idea that will help my business.”
Tegeler is also very heavily involved in iMSO. He has benefited from the shared knowledge of many of the group’s members, who are setting the bar at a new level in how to be successful as an independent music store in today’s challenging economy. Operating an independent music store is hard work, and iMSO is where to turn to find the hardest-working store owners in the business. What could be better than to have access to some of the smartest music store owners in the business who are willing to openly share with you what they have learned?

Tegeler Music is clearly charting the right course. The store shows us the way by emphasizing quality in service, in industry knowledge and in business from top to bottom. Sales are up 25 percent this year alone, and the store has had a steady growth of 10 to 15 percent per year since opening.
Count us impressed!

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