For most stores involved in the school music market, October is the month when sanity begins to return. Marching bands are at least up and running, and the B&O fledglings have their instruments and they’re making sounds that will soon be music. Christmas is on the horizon, but we’re preparing for it—not yet worrying about get-it-under-the-tree deadlines. Although the combo side of our business doesn’t have a back-to-school rush, it has traditionally been a much bigger part of our holiday selling season. So, we prepare everywhere. Here are a few things we’re doing to make the Christmas season even better.

We’re remerchandising the store. We’re past the period of selling band books, recorders and wind care products every five minutes, so we’ve shifted that merchandise away from the prime display space near the front door, which we had essentially deemed “Back-To-School Headquarters.” Those who are still looking for the basics will penetrate further into the store and see our gift-oriented displays—or they’ll engage one of us in conversation. Now, the prime space is filled with self-serve items like starter packages, boxed (and gift-wrapped) gifts, special books, novelties, etc. Even if people aren’t ready to buy, we want them to see how easy it is to get a gift under the tree. No Prime membership required; no drones buzzing over your house.

For every person who grouses, “Now where did you move the valve oil to?”, there are five or more who gawk at the displays as something brand new or who make impulse purchases of the items we showcase, even if they’re not officially Christmas shopping.

We’re introducing Christmas trim. Yes, we decorate for Christmas. A LOT. I stop just short of inflatables. No, we don’t drop the full trim in one day. (Frankly, we don’t have the time to do it!) Rather, we start with the Christmas music displays and expand it to the features. Full trim won’t be complete until we put up the musical instrument tree Thanksgiving weekend.
Sure, some people complain we’re “rushing the holiday.” I point out that, 30 years ago, when I worked for Sears, the Christmas Trim Shoppe was up by Labor Day, and all stores were mandated full trim by Columbus Day. This ain’t nothin’ new, kids. But I want to engage the customer who is still a kid at Christmas. I tell the staff that one of our store’s goals each season, apart from making sales, is to make memories. From that first guitar to the perfect accessory to simply being surrounded by musical instrument-themed Christmas décor, the memories are strong, positive and connective across generations. Customers remember our decorations; in fact, some are already asking about our tree. They ask if we’ll have the gift-wrapped, ribbon-ready boxes (music stands, metronomes, etc.) again this year, and many have made our afternoon live music party on Christmas Eve a part of their family tradition. If our store is a “Christmas destination”—even to look at the trim—then a large percentage of that traffic will not only buy, but also talk about it, post pictures on Instagram and Facebook, and promote us better than any paid advertising could.

For this reason, we’re even more active on social media during the season, posting news, holiday pictures and gift ideas daily. We’re not posting sales or coupons; we’re posting ideas…our own batch of Pinterest fodder. And, for us, it works, generating social-media engagement that spills over into in-store conversations. We ask them to celebrate the holidays with us, and we genuinely love it when they do.

We’re turning the personality up to 11. We just met a lot of new customers with their 5th grade band newbies. If the instrument is going well, they’re ready to encourage with accessories, music, ornaments, etc. But many of these people have only been in a music store once or twice, if at all. They tend to expect the worst, because so many brick-and-mortar stores are understaffed, filled with texting students at the cashwrap or burdened with untrained Christmas help. An energetic, personable greeting followed by knowledgeable, helpful service and advice isn’t just a plus—it’s magical. We’ve even gotten parents and grandparents to play music, or to resume playing, because the vibe and passion were so contagious. There is no better window of opportunity, whether this year or any year, than the Christmas season.

I’m in retail because of Christmas. Long before I entered MI retail, I got hooked on the satisfaction of helping people select the perfect gift for someone they care about. It helps, of course, that my intro to retail was as a Christmas season “extra” at Sears when it was still a viable holiday destination store. The whole “making memories” part dates back to me as a toddler, when the Sterling-Lindner-Davis Department Store in Cleveland put up the largest indoor Christmas tree in America (68 to 73 feet—basically the Rockefeller Center tree, just indoors.) My mom would take us to see it, even though we couldn’t afford to shop there. Cleveland’s Higbee Co. was filled with Christmas memories, too. You can check it out for nostalgia: it was the filming location for the retail scenes in “A Christmas Story.” The Yuletide style was on point in the film (although the Higbee Santa was nicer).

So, I know the strength holiday memories can have; when you make them musical memories on top of that, it’s pretty powerful. A Community Music Store should be front and center in this scene. I don’t quibble about political correctness. I have customers from more than 22 countries living in our melting-pot community. Of course it isn’t a religious holiday for all of them. However, the “Peace on Earth—Goodwill toward Men” aspect resonates broadly, and most seem to enjoy the vibe of Christmas with at least an open-minded, touristy point of view.

So, invite your community in for the party. Make it your own, too. If you only concentrate on the numbers and the mechanics, you’ll forget the joy; people will notice that. Share the joy, and share the music. After all, unlike the official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle, nothing we sell will put your eye out.


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