Clark’s Music Center, of Jacksonville FL, is first and foremost a family business. Owner Clark Kirkwood, his wife Lisa, their son Joseph and Clark’s parents work in the store every day. And Chris Basile, a partner who works remotely from New Jersey, is considered a member of the extended Kirkwood family, as well. That sense of camaraderie goes beyond the staff at Clark’s Music Center and extends to each and every customer who walks into the store.
“Everyone who comes through the door is a potential customer for life, so we treat them as a friend or family member, and we give them the respect they expect,” Clark said. “We are family owned, and we impress upon our teachers and repair techs that this isn’t just our store…it’s our family image. It’s important to treat every customer with an open mind, a friendly attitude and respect. Listen more, talk less and smile.”
Being a drummer himself, Clark knows what it’s like to shop in a local music store and what experience his customers need to have in order to leave satisfied and come back again. Its friendly service and welcoming atmosphere has helped to make Clark’s Music Center the go-to music business in Jacksonville. But the store’s success wasn’t exactly a given from the start. Clark was a paint contractor by trade, so the ins and outs of running a business were a foreign concept to him when he purchased a local vintage drum store, Discount Music, seven years ago.
“The store had been open for over 49 years, but the former owner passed away and the store sat closed for over a year,” Clark said. “It was old, dank and smelly—a lot like a hoarder’s dream come true.”
For the next three years, Clark went through the process of cleaning, organizing and trashing, all while learning the music retail business.
“Learning who the vendors were, how to cut the cost of shipping, learning our customer base…everything was new to us,” Clark admitted. “Through trial and error, attending NAMM Shows and becoming a member of the Independent Music Store Owners (iMSO) group, we were able to progress and increase our experience in the music retail business. The friendships we’ve made through iMSO have been our biggest asset in learning this industry.”
The Kirkwoods made the decision to change the store’s name and logo, as well as to move the store to a new location that “has better visibility, better parking and larger teaching studios.” And, Clark added, it’s now in a much better neighborhood. He continued, “The new store allowed Lisa to use her education in interior design and create a space that we feel represents ‘us.’ The customers have really responded to our new look.”
Lisa Kirkwood designed an entire floor plan weeks ahead of the move, capitalizing on the layout of the store and the natural light that comes in from the wall-to-wall windows in the front of the store.
“Our store has been described as the Starbucks of music stores: relaxed, artsy and a great place to hang out,” said Lisa, who makes a point of moving around merchandise whenever possible.
“If you’ve not changed things around in your store in the past few months, do yourself a favor and get moving,” she continued. “Moving things around will keep displays fresh, force you to dust and give you a reason to put things on clearance.”
However, Lisa added, some of the charm of Clark’s Music Center comes from things you don’t necessarily see. “One thing that sets us apart is our smell,” she explained. “We keep commercial air fresheners throughout the store. Daily, people comment on how great the store smells. When you welcome your customers with a clean, fresh-smelling store that is well lit, it speaks to your standards and tells your guests that you have prepared for their arrival.”
With its welcoming look, smell and attitude, Clark’s Music Center has unsurprisingly become one of the area’s most successful musical instrument retailers. The store offers lessons, rentals and repairs, as well as both new and used instruments for sale.
According to Clark, accessories are the store’s bread and butter, but it’s known for its drum department. “It’s fun for drummers to sit on a bar stool at the drum counter and share stories of the gear they once owned,” he said. “They share photos from their phones like proud daddies showing off babies…only these babies are vintage drums.”
The store has also become a go-to place for older musicians: those who have decided to follow their passion later in life, and who might have faced ridicule from less-open-minded music store staff in the past. According to Clark, the store currently has five ladies over the age of 60 taking lessons in everything from voice to drums. “Grandmas don’t just bake cookies,” he said. “They rock the house!”
One such lady is an 80-year-old woman named Ann who is learning to play the drums. “According to her, the other stores treated her with an ‘Aw, that’s so cute’ attitude,” Clark said. “She said we were the first to take her seriously. We walked her through the lesson studios, talked about her goals and signed her up for lessons. Ann is early every week; she never misses a lesson; and now she owns a nice new drum set, complete with cymbals.”
“We saw Ann as a customer,” he continued, “not an age.”
Looking ahead, Clark is excited to further grow his business and expand on the knowledge he has gained since entering the music products market. “Whereas the goal in the past was learning how to be music store owner, our focus now is on how to be better music store owners,” he said. “We enjoy being here every day, and we want to find ways of sharing our enjoyment with everyone who walks in the door.”