Any job, any career or any relationship grows stagnant if it isn’t fed with fuel to keep it interesting. Unfortunately, many store owners and managers are drowning in a sea of spreadsheets and bank statements and, often, they find themselves so wiped out at the end of each day that they feel drained of all energy and imagination. When you pile on staff issues, stocking requirements, trying to predict which manufacturer is going to start selling direct to consumers next, and technology and global economics conspiring to shrink the industry to the size of a smartphone screen, it’s no wonder retailers start looking at the calendar and wondering when the next vacation day is going to be. Complacency, not competition, is what kills us, and its effect on us is observable in how we work every day.

Complacency in our industry isn’t necessarily caused by a lack of concern for the welfare of one’s business, although that, certainly, is the case in some stores. However, more often, it springs from being so concerned about choosing the best course of action that inaction becomes the de facto choice. We’ve all had moments or phases in our personal lives marked by inaction; we’ve all been afraid to upset the status quo. We’ve all stood at the bottom of a metaphorical mountain and decided that it’s just too big even to attempt to climb. After all, when all you can see are the individual steps you take, none of them appears to make a significant difference in the journey. How many times have we walked by a section of the store that needs rearranging and ignored it? How often have we ignored a recurring problem among staff, or ignored a malfunctioning computer or other piece of equipment? This complacency…this resistance to act…isn’t necessarily a sign of an uncaring owner or manager. It is, however, a sign of someone who’s not properly engaged.

Complacency, not


is what kills us.

Disengagement derails all of us at some point, in ways both large and small. We’ve all found ourselves checking out and catching up on Facebook or fantasy football when we could be tackling some work project that requires attention. The daily grind wears on everyone, and these distractions often creep in, especially when working longer hours or on slow sales days. Sometimes, we simply are pulled off task by arising circumstances that lead us away from our intended list of tasks for the day. I find myself falling down rabbit holes just as frequently as anyone does. Some of these incidents are of my own making, and some arise out of seemingly unavoidable daily circumstances. It seems like such a small thing, but I find that taking breaks and having brief, friendly conversations with other staff members or customers can really help to refocus my attention when I return to other tasks.

Brad Shreve, Owner of Larry’s Music Center, often shares with our staff his near-encyclopedic knowledge of rock history, which is both fun and informative. It’s a fast way to improve morale, and it often leads to great questions and curiosity about products; this serves to excite the staff and remind us what we love so much about what we do. He’ll often take one of us to lunch somewhere in town to talk about life, plans for the future and ways to improve how we approach business. It’s a fun way to get fired up for the rest of the day, and it’s much more pleasant than having a performance review.

The best way to avoid disengagement
throughout the day, however, is just
to get up off our proverbial
behinds and talk to customers.

I also keep my focus by means of checklists, and I try to make sure I’ve completed everything I’d hoped to accomplish each day. If this sounds old school, don’t worry: I do it with a modern twist. I use smartphone apps like Evernote and Slack to stay organized. Lately, I’ve been using a great desktop journal app called Day One to make little end-of-day summaries for myself. I chronicle things that have occurred in-store or online that might prove important in the future, such as customer interactions and questions, issues with staff and thoughts I had about various things throughout the day.

The best way to avoid disengagement throughout the day, however, is just to get up off our proverbial behinds and talk to customers. It’s easy to keep your head down and let other staff members handle it. It’s easy to stop at “Oh, I’m just looking” and go back to your workstation. But, instead, I like to try to see how engaged I can be with each customer, asking more and more questions that help spark conversation and, eventually, sales. Engaging with customers—asking about their lives, their bands and their equipment—results in the unexpected pleasure of reminding myself of the things that are fun about this business. And, as it turns out, talking tonewoods, effects pedals and recording techniques also helps to foster sales by giving me opportunities to introduce customers to new products.

Our industry, more so than many others, provides us opportunities to reignite our passion for what we do; take, for example, the two NAMM shows that are available to all NAMM members each year. Summer NAMM—though viewed by some as a lesser version of the NAMM Show—is my favorite of the two shows. The spectacle of Anaheim is great, but the smaller, more intimate setting of Summer NAMM affords the opportunity to spend quality time with vendors and reps. That really makes all the difference in the world to me. It also allows me to spend time with other retailers and industry peers. The two yearly NAMM shows help reinvigorate my desire to grow in my job, to take risks and to embrace changes as they come.

The relationships I’ve fostered with incredible people in the industry have given me opportunities to reach out to people who are smarter and more experienced than I am, and allowed me to seek their advice. I’m not implying that we should all call Gayle Beacock every day about every business question we might have, but we do have an industry full of experienced, outstanding retailers who are willing to share their thoughts and their time. We also forget that we live in towns and cities full of other business owners, managers and employees, who are often more than willing to sit down, compare ideas and find solutions to common problems. Taking advantage of the resources we have around us can fuel our desire to improve, and can help us be at our best each day. This, in turn, can improve morale, productivity and sales.

How do you fight complacency and disengagement? What drives you to come back every day? How do you fuel that kind of passion in your staff? Write to me at

No more articles