We offer plenty of information and advice from several of the excellent webinars NAMM has hosted recently.

No matter if your store is open or not, today is anything but business as usual.

In an effort to provide all of the advice necessary for MI retailers to get through these difficult times, NAMM has hosted a series of webinars. Here, I provide some tips from several of the webinars, as well as a look at what some retailers and manufacturers have gone through during this pandemic.

This is just a taste of what was presented in four of NAMM’s webinars. Make sure to visit namm.org to view the complete series of webinars and to see what may have been added since press time.

‘COVID-19 Small Business Update: Key Issues to Consider as You Re-Open for Business’

Bob Phibbs, “The Retail Doctor,” also dubbed this session “Reopening with Hope: What You Need to Plan for, Rethink and Buy to Reopen Your Doors.” He presented a five-step plan for retailers when reopening a store:


“In the last eight weeks, trust has been broken,” said Phibbs. “Trust for the government to take care of us, trust for our public health, trust for our politicians, trust of our banking system, trust of the stock market and even trust our own family can keep us safe has all been broken. Suddenly, we are looking around and saying, ‘Wow, this is very different.’ This cosmic shellshock we’ve all [had] is affecting everything. It especially affects retail, because we are the signs of a new world.”

The solution to this problem is to do “everything in your power to regain that trust and make people feel safe and welcome again.”

“Anything touchable needs to be regularly sanitized,” said Phibbs. “Heavily touched surfaces should be cleaned every 30 minutes or more. … Doing due diligence means you are going to need to wear a mask, even if you personally think it is unnecessary or your governor doesn’t require it. It is not about you. It is about your customers.”

Phibbs pointed to a survey that said 86 percent of people would not go into a store where people were not wearing masks and gloves, with the latter part dependent on what they are selling. “What that means is, they are already afraid walking in and need to be reassured,” he said.

As for types of masks, Phibbs noted retailers should not look scary or “surgical.” Finding someone who can create a mask with your store logo can really work well. Etsy is one place to find people who can sell these products, he suggested.

Concerning customers wearing masks, Phibbs stated retailers must decide based upon state rules. However, he said a great way to get customers to wear masks in your store is to encourage them to take pictures of the mask, post them on your social media page with a hashtag and reward them with something. The goal is to make things seem normal, but retailers must manage the optics.


Trust is also broken for retail employees that were furloughed. “You have to rebuild your team,” said Phibbs. “They are shell shocked.”

Quickly, MI store employees must be trained in proper sanitizing practices and much more. “You have to have a meeting with everybody,” stressed Phibbs. “… Give your staff a script for the top four questions you think they will be asked, and then role play with [the employees] as much as you can so they feel confident with it.”

Phibbs took it one step further, recommending employees sign a sheet saying they understand everything they were told and are willing to perform those duties with new procedures. The store owner should keep a copy of these signed documents.


Customer demand is likely to be only 30 percent to 40 percent of what it would be during normal times, noted Phibbs. “Think of this like you are opening a new business,” he said. “It is actually going to be better than the last one.”

This involves rethinking a lot of things, including sales training, if employees know how to upsell and if they are suggesting addons. “You are going to have to get more out of people that are coming in,” said Phibbs. “More so than getting new customers.”

“Don’t expect employees to do it automatically,” he continued. “You have to train it, then practice it first. … It’s not just a matter of having someone know how to play the instrument. Can they get someone to nurture that little flame of desire, so they say, ‘I want to upgrade to the next big thing’?”


“We have to make shopping fun,” stated Phibbs. “We have to remember we are a music store. We are not a hospital. We are trying to have fun with this. Some people wonder if they need to sacrifice a goat to figure it out. No, we need to think about how we interact with customers in a new way and make sure you train your staff how to interact with people.”

Do not ever talk about the news with customers inside the store, Phibbs asserted. “If I had a sign on my door, it would say, ‘Escape the News With Our Music,’” he said.

Focus on human connection, Phibbs continued. “[Customers] are here for hope.They are here to  upgrade. They are here for a lesson. They are here for fun,” he said. “People are buying hope, and your employees have to deliver that. … People who feel they matter buy from you. Those that don’t, don’t [buy from you].”


“Why is hope important?” Phibbs asked. “When you have hope, you are looking forward. You gain energy in the feeling of potential.”

“But hope is not a strategy,” he cautioned. “You can’t say you hope [COVID-19] will get better. You need to take action.”

‘Sales & Marketing in the Time of COVID-19, With Marcus Sheridan — Part 3: Timeless Selling’

In this session, marketing expert Marcus Sheridan started off by noting, “Economic hardship is always followed by certain sales and marketing opportunities. Always.”

Opportunity could be found in the form of virtual sales appointments, for which he offered 11 best practices:

  1. Know and teach the technology
  2. Require cameras to be on
  3. Limit text on slides
  4. Limit screen sharing
  5. Write names down
  6. Ask questions using names
  7. Smile … a lot
  8. Face a light source
  9. Sit up straight or stand
  10. State purpose of call
  11. Take control of the call

“Virtual is going to be fundamental to every business in manufacturing and retail,” stressed Sheridan. He added that even if MI retailers feel that virtual sales calls will not appeal to an older audience, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed this thinking in a big way.

“All elderly that are not used to this technology are getting very used to it, especially video conferencing, because that is how they are communicating with their doctors right now,” said Sheridan. “And many of them are using platforms like Zoom to communicate with their children and families. Let’s get in the mindset that, although some may not know how to [use a virtual platform], many do.”

Sheridan added that retailer websites should be much different today than preCOVID-19. Dealers should make sure their home page offers the following:

  • Show empathy/awareness
  • Show the state of your business
  • Show how customers can engage you

Sheridan provided the example of DR Strings as a company who did it right. On its website, DR Strings stated the following: “We are all in this together. DR Strings is donating 10 percent of profits to community food banks of New Jersey, where $1 provides three meals. DR Strings is currently shipping and trying as best we can to meet the needs of our customers.”

When communicating with customers via email, Sheridan relayed there are three best practices when creating subject lines:

  1. Including the person’s name will increase open rates by an average of 10 percent.
  2. Including the word “video” will increase open rates by an average of 10 percent.
  3. Including a personalized, specific element will increase open rates by an average of 20 percent.

Video messages within the email can go a long way, he added. “Your ability to make human connections right now with your customer base has never been more important than it is right now,” said Sheridan.

Providing virtual visits to the store is another excellent approach to earn more sales, said Sheridan. He cited the example of an MI manufacturer, Deering Banjos, as a company doing virtual visits well. “Deering allows you to choose the colors and finish [of the banjo]. So, it will change its look as you change the color or style you want. It’s really great.”

A “learning center” on a website is another thing Sheridan recommended. It is a place to get answers to common questions in the style people want to learn. He stressed this section must have a search function for people to try to find what they want to know, whether they consume information by reading it or watching a video.

“In a time of chaos, like we have today, people are looking for steady voices,” Sheridan said. “The steady voices are teachers who can talk about something and do it in a way where the marketplace says, ‘Wow, steady voice. Thank you for that. Now, I understand.’”

Sheridan concluded with 10 thought-leadership best practices. These are:

  1. What’s wrong with your industry?
  2. Who is your product or service not a good fit for?
  3. What are the steps of a successful purchase?
  4. What are the steps of a failed purchase?
  5. What is the No. 1 question your sales team gets?
  6. Who are your biggest competitors? Compare yourself to them.
  7. What are the negatives with your product?
  8. Brainstorm and rank the categories in your space.
  9. Share your business’ secret sauce.
  10. Talk and teach more about cost/price/rates/value than anyone in your entire industry.

As for No. 8 on the list regarding ranking categories in your space, Sheridan noted in his industry, the swimming pool business, he has written stories comparing and contrasting his company with competitors, something people often search for on a website. He said it is important not to bash competitors. However, comparing your business with theirs factually can be very helpful.

Regarding sharing the ‘secret sauce,’ “Do not hide it like you are Colonel Sanders and Coca-Cola syrup,” Sheridan asserted. “You are not [them]. I am not [them]. Let’s not act like we have a secret sauce when we really don’t. Most companies that believe they have a secret sauce do not.”

Sheridan was asked during the question-and-answer session about if sharing the ‘secret sauce’ would allow a large competitor to swoop in and steal the ideas. He responded that independent retailers are much more nimble, and big competitors have to go through a lot of red tape, so it wasn’t likely to happen, adding he has rarely ever seen this happen.

And as for No. 10 on the aforementioned list about cost, Sheridan suggested that you should not just show the price, but you should explain the price. “Explain what makes a product expensive; what makes it cheap,” he said. “Explain what makes an instrument $50,000 vs. $3,000, yet it looks the same. How is that possible? Most people don’t know. Unless you explain it, people will make poor buying decisions. And we complain that people are so cheap these days. Well, people may or may not be cheap. But they get a lot more cheap when they are ignorant of the marketplace and the value proposition. It is our job to teach the value proposition.”

Sheridan concluded that, if you successfully implement the above 10 practices, you will become the “thought leadership leader of your space.”

COVID-19 Small Business Relief: Independent Contractors and Gig Workers

Hosted by Mary Luehrsen, NAMM’s director of public affairs and government relations, this session featured Andy Tompkins, NAMM’s director of marketing and communications, as well as an introduction by NAMM president and CEO Joe Lamond.

“We will get through this,” said Lamond of COVID-19. “That is the one thing I have seen going through 120 years of recorded history at NAMM. No matter what happened, our industry persevered and got through it. We have always pushed through and have generally come through it better than ever before to a new growth we have never anticipated. You have to have faith that will happen again. … You also have to have faith in music. In 5,000 years of recorded human history, people have made music. No matter what happens, that will not change. … I do believe we have a great future ahead.”

Regarding some information for retailers, Luehrsen pointed out the following:

  • The U.S. Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the U.S. Department of Labor announced two new refundable tax credits that offer relief to employees, small and midsize businesses, and the selfemployed under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • How will these credits help freelancers who can’t work due to their own illness or because they have to care for a family member who is ill or a child whose school is closed because of the coronavirus? In a nutshell, the IRS will take your tax profit (based on your 2020 income), prorate it for 10 days (the equivalent of two 40-hour sick pay periods), and make that amount exempt from both income tax and self-employment tax. This ensures that self-employed individuals will get the same benefits as those who are employed.

Regarding eviction, many states suspended all such proceedings, and the federal government instructed the Department of Housing and Urban Development to do the same. NAMM also encouraged retailers to apply for paycheck protection programs (PPP) and/or Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) pandemic relief loans, which are available to sole proprietors, contractors and gig workers.

“Contact your state or local unemployment office and apply for enhanced unemployment benefits,” said Luehrsen. “This is the bridge support that will get us to more robust participation in concerts, theater events and other things that knit us together and make us have an exciting life in our communities.”

NAMM COVID-19 Small Business Relief Part III

This session, moderated by Luehrsen, featured Tristann Rieck of Brass Bell Music Store, Chris Syllaba of Jordan Kitt’s Music, Scott Mandeville of Tim’s Music, Richard Schiemer of Brighton Music Center, and Crystal Morris and Paul Ferrier of Gator Co.

All panelists were asked about their reflections on how they had to change their businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have had to make decisions fast and not look in the rear-view mirror,” said Morris. “[We are] a family business; a family industry. Everyone we work with, we love as friends and family. … It was the most sleepless nights I have ever had. We did react quickly once we saw California and New York shut down.”

When it came to layoffs, Gator Co. first looked to see which employees qualified for the EFMLA (Emergency Family Medical Leave Act), because it is the highest payment — up to $200 per day — employees can receive. “We also looked at [who] our key players absolutely necessary to have an operation [were]. And I was personally highly involved in the legislation, and once I saw $600 per week was available, plus what the state offers in unemployment, I thought it was [at least] something people could live on. We also took a lot of employees from five-day weeks to four-day weeks and key leadership, including myself, took pay reductions.”

Morris reached out to every employee Gator Co. laid off. “The amount of understanding blew me away,” Morris said. “I had many tears in my eyes as I was reading text messages saying, ‘We can’t wait to get back.’ ‘We understand.’ ‘We know this is hard.’ I felt like people were more worried about my mental state. I felt lucky we have such an unbelievable group that makes up Gator and Levy’s, and believe we made the right decisions to be back as soon as possible.”

“I went through three stages quickly. The first was, ‘I hope this does not affect us too badly,’” said Syllaba. “Then, when things really starting hitting the fan, it was ‘Holy s—, this is really serious.’ But then, very quickly, the entire team changed to, ‘We are in this. It is serious, it is fast. Let’s roll up our shirt sleeves and get to work.’ It is very important to move quickly, make decisions and hope 80 percent of them are for the good, based on the limited information you have. It is much better than moving slowly and not making any decisions.”

Jordan Kitt’s Music also had to furlough some employees. “Luckily, the unemployment benefits right now are so good that we had a similar response [that Gator had]. [Our employees] understood we had to make the decision. … The most important thing is to make the hard decisions right now to protect the business and conserve cash so that there is still a business to rehire people.”

Jordan Kitt’s operates four stores in Maryland and Virginia. One of the first things the company did was contact its landlords to negotiate lower rent. “We tried to make deals with them. We have had some fairly good success with that,” said Syllaba. “The other thing was low-hanging fruit. There were expenses that were not that big but you can cut in five minutes. The next thing we did was apply for aid.”

Rieck noted that not only were sales good in early March at Milwaukee-based Brass Bell, they were above normal. But the retailer knew it would not last. Wisconsin’s governor later instituted a stay-at-home order, but deliveries were allowed.

“We took our school services team and transferred them to delivery services,” said Rieck. “… We have been doing everything our community needs. We have been doing a lot of rentals for folks who didn’t get their instruments out of schools, didn’t have access to them or just want to try a new instrument.”

Brass Bell also placed a specific emphasis on reconnecting with its laid-off staff. The retailer implemented Zoom parties where business was not discussed. Instead, recipes and hobbies were most talked about.

“That was a huge turn for me,” recalled Rieck. “It was when I really realized [the team] is in it and are ready to work. That motivated me and pushed me through those next steps we needed to do.”

Brighton Music Center got notice from the state of Pennsylvania it needed to close on March 12. It closed its doors then, but the staff was retained. Instead of doing inventory in June as is normally the case, the Pittsburghbased retailer commenced taking inventory right away.

Schiemer expected the COVID-19 closure to last two weeks, but then the stay-at-home order came later the first week. “That was really our ‘a-ha’ moment,” he said. “At that point, I locked the doors, and it was one of the saddest moments I experienced. [I wasn’t so much] worried for me. I was worried for our employees. This is the one job they have. This is their one form of income. They are family to me.

“We have get-togethers,” Schiemer added. “We use Google Meet to talk about what’s going and what people are doing and how everything is going. I check in with people every other day or so to make sure everyone is OK and if they need anything. … My business partner and I have been manning the two stores, answering phones and delivering stuff as we can. This  is going to sound very strange. This is terrible. This is awful. … [But] this has given me a chance to pause. Almost hit a reset . It is a chance to look at the business to see things we are doing really well, focus on that, and also see things we don’t do really well, try to figure out ways to do things better and help schools more. It is also helped me spend time with my children. I have a senior in high school and a couple of college children I get to spend time with. Now that we have a plan for payroll and I have that weight lifted, it has been refreshing in a way get back into my life and [rediscover] my love for this business.”

Mandeville of Californiabased Tim’s Music called the need for layoffs at the store “treacherous.” However, he explained to these employees that he was saving the future of the business so that he could hire them back once things improve.

Tim’s Music also hosts Zoom meetings it calls “Laughs and Giggles.” “We talk about our dogs, what we cook and what we plan to plant in the garden,” said Mandeville. “… We need to be that beacon of light for our employees and our community. The community really does count on us as a position of leadership in the music industry.”

To read more features from the Music & Sound Retailer, click here.

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