I’ve attended NAMM trade shows for the past four years. I know…that’s much less than many people. But, they’ve had a definite impact on my store, my career in MI and me. So, why did I miss the NAMM Show? Well, technically, I’ve missed the last two shows, because I also didn’t attend Summer NAMM in 2016. I didn’t plan to attend that one due to some vacation-time conflicts. As for the NAMM Show this past January…well, it was just too close to my wife’s due date to travel to Anaheim. So, a whole year having passed with me not attending any NAMM trade shows, I had to ask myself: Do I miss being there and, if so, why? I spent most of my career in MI retail not attending the NAMM Show. So, does it really matter that I missed it?

Yes, I think it does. I think it matters a lot. As much as I talk about new media and technology, which next month’s column is going to be about, the analog realm of experiencing the NAMM Show is still a valuable resource for growing your business and finding ways to be better at what you do.

1. Networking

A gathering of your industry peers is always an opportunity to meet and talk to people who are fighting the same battles, in the same trenches, as you are. It’s an opportunity to talk to people who are facing the same daily struggles that you face, and to hear their ideas, their view of the current retail climate and their outlook for the future. NAMM has great events for that, such as those sponsored by the NAMM Young Professionals (NAMM YP). At those events, industry leaders like Taylor Guitars’ Bob Taylor speak to the group and share their wisdom. There are also plenty of “mixer” events to go to, where you can just meet people, have a drink and learn about other people in the industry. I never seem to make as much time as I want to for those events, but that’s going to be a goal of mine going forward. Ours is a relationship-driven business. The more people you know, the more resources you have.

2. NAMM U Idea Center Sessions

Speaking of resources, the NAMM U Idea Center is maybe the best part of the whole show. It also has a special significance for me, because it’s played a big part in my NAMM Show experiences from day one. I’ve given solo sessions and participated in panels with some of the best people in MI retail, including NAMM Board members like Brian Reardon and Gayle Beacock. Another person I’ve had the good fortune of sharing panels with—my friend, Donovan Bankhead—is a huge advocate for the Idea Center, and he wrote about it in his recent column. He walks the walk, too. If you ever want to find Donovan at the NAMM Show, just go to the Idea Center; he’ll either be there or be there shortly. If you pay attention, many of the NAMM Top 100 Dealers spend a lot of their time attending the sessions. Maybe that’s how they were able to become NAMM Top 100 Dealers….

3. Product Demos

I’m still a gearhead at heart, and I get as excited about new products as anyone does. And, despite YouTube and my many sales reps, all of whom are very competent, the NAMM Show is still the best place in the world to learn about new products. It can be difficult to find time to explore the show floor; however, I highly recommend everyone take at least an hour every day and just look at some of the items that you’d otherwise never get to see in person.

Products lie at the center of our industry, and I’m a product guy. Often, I like to spend NAMM meetings talking less about sales numbers and special buying offers and, instead, just chatting with the product guys and letting them walk me through demos. My friend Jerry Lambert, of U.S. Music/KMC fame, taught me this. He’s a product guy, too, and he always makes sure I get time with the demo guys in the booth. Great product demos are an art form, and you can pick up a lot by watching the pros do it. Then, take those techniques and recreate them in your store. It’s like Cliff’s Notes for showing off something new, and it makes selling those items so much easier.

4. Community

I know this one kind of falls under “Networking,” but there’s another element to the NAMM Show that’s very valuable. For me, some of the best things to come out of NAMM are the people I get to meet and talk to, whom I’d never otherwise have an opportunity to be in a room with, and the relationships that form from those meetings. Sometimes, they’re in the green room before a “Best In Show” panel, like last year, when I met Sammy Ash, who’s been a helpful resource and friend ever since. Sometimes, it’s having dinner with Eric Garland and the staff from Fazio’s Music. I’ve made some fantastic friends because of the NAMM Show.

Many times, it’s people with whom I’ve shared a panel, or whose panel I’ve attended. Other times, it’s NAMM staff members, such as Zach Phillips, Jessica Duarte or Jessica Cortez, who have been great friends and resources, and who work incredibly hard to put together these massive events. The people I’ve met in this industry, such as those I’ve mentioned here and in other columns, inspire me to be better at what I do. When I’m questioning myself, trying to find a solution to a problem or just looking for something new to try, having people I know and trust, to whom I can reach out, is a tremendous asset.

As you look at your calendar for the next year, I urge you to make time in your busy schedule to attend the NAMM Show or Summer NAMM. If you haven’t been in a while, or if you’ve never been at all, reach out to one of The Retailer’s columnists who talks about the shows all the time—it should really be Donovan, though—and you’ll get an earful of helpful advice on how to get the most out of it. Get out of your store for a little bit and spend some time with other people in the industry, especially people you don’t get to see very often. You’ll find great and generous individuals who are willing to share their time with you, and you’ll find yourself full of new ideas to implement when you return home. Oh, and I’ll be there, too. Swing by The Retailer’s booth, or find me in the Idea Center. I’ll buy you a beer.

Have tips for maximizing the NAMM Show experience? Have questions? Have topics you’d like to see me cover? Write to me at gabriel@larrysmusiccenter.com.

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