As electronic music continues to dance its way to the top of the charts, so too does it remain a strong element of MI sales in stores across the country. The Music & Sound Retailer caught up with three retailers who are leaders in the DJ products industry to find out what trends they see in the market, where they see room for improvement, and how store owners who currently don’t have a DJ department can take advantage of this growing market segment without missing a beat.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

As the DJ industry becomes more and more computer-based, DJ customers are moving away from cumbersome physical media and moving more toward controllers and software that make mobile DJing easier.

“Today’s DJ products are light-years away from where they were when you needed a lot more gear to achieve the same level of performance,” said Bob Savarese, owner of Music Trends in Levittown, N.Y., which he proudly calls The DJ’s Toystore. “Before you would need two turntables, two amps and all this other gear, and now you can do so much more with a sophisticated digital media controller and a high-powered laptop computer.”

The laptop of choice among Savarese’s customers is the Apple MacBook Pro, which, of course, MI stores don’t sell. However, Savarese isn’t afraid of losing business to the electronics stores where you can pick up your laptop, as well as your speakers, and maybe even some software, because stores like his are where you go to pick up your digital controller, and “without the digital controller, the laptop is useless.”

Mid- to high-end controllers also make up some of the best sellers at Canal Sound & Light in New York City, where owner Jeffrey Kwan is “seeing a continued decline in sales of tabletop CD players and traditional DJ mixers. DJs are constantly evaluating and looking for products that either make their lives easier or takes their game to the next level.”

Randy White, senior buyer at Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, who built one of the first DJ departments within an MI store back in 1990, has also noticed a decline in the sales of DJ mixers and CD players. “Many DJs are using a computer with Serato and they don’t really feel the need to upgrade their CD players. They’ll keep them until they die,” said White, who specifically has seen interest drop in those products that cater to the club market, as less of those types of venues open across the country.

Where White has seen growth is in customers who utilize controllers and other setups using external sub mixers. “That means you take a mixer like a PreSonus StudioLive AR8 and you bring your DJ output and all your wireless mics into a single source,” he explained. “The main reason for this is good microphone inputs and clean, balanced outputs.”

Powered speakers remain big sellers, particularly those that are battery-powered and Bluetooth-enabled, Kwan said, “to handle gigs and situations where power is an issue. It also makes setup very convenient.”

Another category that continues to grow is lighting, especially as products, such as moving heads, continue to trend toward compactness, noted Savarese. Lighting sales are also brisk for White, who sees a lot of activity with standard and battery-powered uplights, LED moving heads and LED blacklights.

“For Mobile DJs, lighting and video are highly important categories that make or break a gig,” said Kwan, “and DJ lighting is now easier than ever to get into. There are many all-in-one lighting fixtures that can handle smaller parties and even cooler motorized fixtures that can take DJs to the next level. With wireless app control products by ADJ and lighting software by CHAUVET DJ that analyzes the DJ music library, lighting is more accessible than ever.”

That CHAUVET DJ software, called SoundSwitch, was noted by both Kwan and Savarese as one of the most innovative products currently on the market. But according to White, innovation isn’t particularly easy to come by in the DJ industry these days.

“Right now, the industry is very status quo,” White said. “Controllers always have their limitations, where things can be made to sound better but you are still using the same core software. Speakers can come with more processing and in different sizes. Innovation has been happening more in the lighting area, as you see more battery-powered lights, an increase in colors and higher output levels. But even they have a wall that they run into. I’m not seeing a revolution, and there is nothing on the horizon that I know of.”

While Savarese agrees that innovation in the DJ industry has slowed, he does see the potential for exciting new products on the horizon. “We are in the middle to third quarter of a product cycle right now, which is typically three to five years,” he said. “It’s like a car. The first rearview camera was a big innovation and now it’s something common that every car has. Manufacturers know that they have to keep refreshing and rejuvenating their products. Today there is a lot of good product on the market, but in the future, we’ll have even more.”

Finding Your Customers

Given that so much of the DJ business has gone digital, it is easy for customers to remain on their laptops, downloading software and ordering gear from the Internet, rather than making their way to the local MI store. This creates unique challenges for store owners to both reach those customers in the digital realm and pull them back out to translate their interest into brick-and-mortar sales.

White uses DJs’ digital presence to help figure out what products he should stock in his store, scouring social media and message boards for particular trends and gear that are generating a lot of buzz. He also recently utilized Washington Music’s mailing list, as well as Roland’s, to live stream a demo of one of Roland’s controllers. “Our demo room holds 50 people, but then we live streamed the event and reached 1,300 more people,” White said.

Despite these advancements, White continued, “The web isn’t a store’s friend. Everything is digital and there is instant gratification. So, you have DJs buying speakers they’ve never heard from a company with no showroom or staff, selling things at cost.”

Savarese expressed a similar sentiment. “I’d like to see the manufacturers selling more products through the MI stores that care about their products and less through stores like Amazon, which sell DJ controllers and Scuba gear on the same site.

He continued, “I want to see manufacturers get away from that and not let the brand become so watered down. A product has more value to someone coming into my store than someone who just buys online for price. It’s a niche business that caters to such a small segment of the population that manufacturers could do a better job of keeping it away from these large companies.”

One way White suggests to combat this trend is by building “enticing packages on your website so even if the customer doesn’t come into the store, you can make it easy for them to make a purchase. Google keywords are also important because every day, there is a new DJ and they are going to go where they know and gravitate toward what they can search for.”

According to Kwan, the changes in consumer behavior that led them away from traditional brick-and-mortar stores have actually led customers to more tradeshows, seminars and store events as a way to “bridge the gap between what they read and see online versus the actual feel and use of the products. As a business, we have had to reach out further into the market by exhibiting at various tradeshows and hosting seminars and manufacturer-sponsored events at our store. It serves multiple purposes for us. Through promotion, it puts our name in front of new customers. In hosting free seminars, our sales team gets firsthand training and we also get to give back to our community.”

Making Your Store DJ-Ready

When you are able to reach your potential DJ customers far and wide, it’s important to make sure your store is a resource for them in terms of product variety and knowledge.

“The benefit of coming to a store like ours is to see how the speakers sound, how the light effects look, how the controller features work and how they are all connected to the rig,” said Savarese. “Every time we get a new piece of equipment, it’s put on display. We set them up as good, better, best and maybe unbelievable. We like to show the features and benefits at each price point and see where our customers feel comfortable. We can walk them through the products and show them why they would want to spend more money.”

Not only is it important to stock all of the major DJ brands, but stores also need to “carry enough accessories that different types of DJs are looking for,” Kwan said. “If you don’t have product in stock, you won’t get the sale.”

White agreed, estimating that 40 percent of MI stores don’t take full advantage of the DJ market, causing them to lose business elsewhere. “When you don’t sell controllers or lighting, you probably won’t see that customer for accessories, wireless mics, speakers or other DJ types of products,” he noted.

All three of the retailers interviewed have staffed their DJ departments with people who are either current or former DJs themselves, something they all agree is key to having a fully functioning, worthwhile department. Otherwise, Savarese said, “They don’t know where the products are used or how they’re used or what they do when they’re used. We want to be very knowledgeable salespeople. We treat our customers with great respect because they go out there and provide the entertainment for what might be the biggest day in someone’s life.”

Savarese concluded, “Whether it’s a wedding or a sweet 16, these are big celebrations so we want them to be well equipped. You have to have people actually doing the work to know how the equipment integrates with a computer … how to play songs through this equipment. It’s important to know how these things work together. It’s not something you can just buy online and be an instant DJ.”

Originally published in the Retailer’s August DJ & Lighting Issue.

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