Illustration-chart-100As I write this, Black Friday (including myriad Black Friday previews, Black-giving holiday openings, Web releases, preview extensions and the ironic “me-too” Cyber Monday previews) has come and gone, and the sloppy, cynical, somewhat desperate selling season has begun—if this distended, scrambling mess of a season can actually be said even to have a beginning.

It used to be such an exciting time: Macy’s rolled Santa down the street and the season began crisply, with a three-day flurry of shopping, decorating, holiday baking and kids proclaiming their goodness in letters to Santa. Now, it’s a Zombie Apocalypse with tinsel.

Despite this cranky rant, I actually do see some trends that might help us if we heed them and prepare—not just for Christmas next year but, in fact, for the everyday.

I was out early on Black Friday: not to shop but, rather, to take my wife to work. In other years, the gridlock at the mall caused her to park a five-minute walk away, so I offered to chauffer her. Despite doorbusters, deals and specials, the parking lot at 7am looked like any afternoon—half-empty, and with barely a bustle. Even Best Buy and Toys “R” Us had a lot of open spaces. On a whim, I went into one store for a special that I expected to be sold out. I parked right next to the handicapped spaces, walked in, found plenty of the item and was the only one in line at the checkout. What?!

A gloomy take would be that everyone bought all their stuff online, and I’m sure that accounted for some of the bleed. But I look at it this way: “Black Friday” as an event attracts, shall we say, a certain mindset. Extending the event to Thanksgiving evening isn’t going to attract additional legions to rise from their food comas and participate. All they did was spread out the madness. Seriously, if you’re not a diehard Black Friday shopper, there’s nothing attractive about the Bargain Games. Turn on football and wake me when they cut the pie.

The fact that so-called “Cyber Monday” has gone from an observed phenomenon to a scheduled promotion (with its own set of previews and leaked deals) goes to show how desperate even the online world has become. It’s not that they’re doing badly; it’s that no one anywhere can afford to miss any opportunity to grab market share and wring every dollar from it.

This is the way we’ve lived in our industry for decades, sans the holiday trappings. We scramble for market share: beat the competition’s price, take the consumer out of the market and lock down the channel before the other guy does. I know a number of retailers in our industry that see the job only in Machiavellian terms…as a strategic battle to be fought rather than as a quest to be undertaken. Although you might argue that the big retailers are all vying for the same dollars, I think that our industry has mistakenly assumed that we already see everyone who is interested in music and, therefore, we have to beat the other guys and grab market share.

Nonsense! We know from NAMM surveys, independent research and anecdotal evidence that many more people want to play than actually do play. We also know that schools and other sources for new music consumers do an inadequate job of recruitment, retention and inclusion. What are we going to do about it? Fight for the one piece of pie on the table, while the rest lies unclaimed on the counter? We are surrounded by the music-curious. They need help, and the quality of help we provide—not who offers the “cheapest” help—determines who gets the dollars. Capture market share? How about earn market share?

January, to me, is a growth month. We get a big wave of lesson inquiries, both from the kids with new guitars and the New Year’s Resolution Bucket List people. We see folks who need to accessorize their Christmas instrument, or who need help tuning the Internet violin. I don’t care where they come from, why they want to play or what they want to play. I’m just glad to welcome them into my store, and I try my best to make them happy they found us.

Keep in mind—particularly with the cheesy Internet instruments—that many of these people never came into a music store before. Many never even knew we existed. They found us because they realized their desire to play an instrument wasn’t as simple as buying a $99 item that comes “complete” with a (superbly produced, I’m sure) instructional DVD.

Yet, I have heard some industry peers talk about these customers in the most disparaging terms: too dumb to know any better, time-wasting n00bs, dead-end purchasers, etc. That’s as foolish as assuming the shabbily dressed customer has no money—we all have stories about the folly of profiling people that way. And I believe that the potential music consumers far outnumber the existing ones.

So, what will you do this week, this quarter, this year to earn your part of a growing market? I don’t think there’s a magic formula. We need to play to our strengths, whether they are social media, community outreach, in-store signage or other traditional marketing. But, most of all, everyone on staff should be on the lookout for new faces. If you have any kind of market presence, some will find you. If you do well with them, more will find you. It’s that simple…and that hard. No algorithm to apply, no pattern and everything depends upon getting that initial contact right. Most of us won’t get 100 percent. But, if we strive for 100 percent, we will move forward.

Imagine a scenario where we simply serve our customers…where we can concentrate on doing that well and creating excitement. If we create our market and earn our place in it, it can be that way. Dang…. That’s whipped cream on top of the pie.

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