Flex Your Creative Muscles!

I’m a guy who loves projects. There’s nothing on earth that I hate more than to be bored. I’m never more excited than I am when I’m learning or tackling something new.

Few people in MI know this, but I originally started out wanting to be a painter. After giving up art school, I found myself hanging around a weekly hippie party every Friday night in Akron OH. I made some posters and album covers for local jam bands, and I tried my best to bang along during drum circles. I played in a few bands. Eventually, I picked up a guitar and tried my hand at writing songs. I did the singer-songwriter thing. I made an album.

After years of having bad sound guys and substandard PA equipment, I went to my local music store to ask questions; that’s where I met Brad Shreve. I began to work at that store, for Brad, and I still do to this day. Over the years, I’ve spent many of my days off at schools and churches, helping with sound system issues and teaching rudimentary live-sound concepts to students and church volunteers. I also became interested in home recording and, now, I have a pretty nice home recording studio. Somewhere in there, I also became interested in video production, which I do commercially for various businesses; it’s something I also get to use for our store.

A few years ago, while Brad and I were having one of our many tequila talks, we decided to buy Photoshop for me to learn, so I could make better signs and graphics. I also got to work behind the scenes to build our Web site in its first few iterations. In all of this, I was flexing the same set of creative muscles.


After Brad became the Owner of Larry’s Music Center, we began to redecorate our store in Wooster. This is one of my favorite creative processes. We’re pretty fearless, and we aren’t hesitant to make bold decisions. We chose eccentric patterns for the walls, such as paisley and hibiscus prints, as well as bright colors of paint. We brought in leather couches for a new lounge area, and we centralized our high-end tube amps in an area up front, ensuring maximum impact. We also opened a smaller satellite store in Millersburg, in the heart of Amish country. I wish I could say I had more to do with the look of that store, but I did little beyond choosing the paint colors for the lesson studios. Brad chose reclaimed barn siding to clad the guitar wall and counter in, and he added farm-centric touches to reflect the store’s location. And, it made a real impact on the vibe of the store. I admired this and saw the impact that it had. So, when we decided to open a third store location last October, Brad let me get in on some of the fun.

Brad talked about wanting the new store location to have an open-air “loft” feel, to be high end and to use some repurposed industrial furnishings. Knowing how much I enjoy being part of the creative process, he included me in the design discussions. We bounced lots of ideas off one another. He came up with an interesting idea for a centerpiece sitting area; it’s now my favorite part of the store. Although we initially considered using the existing walls, the brick walls underneath intrigued Brad. I reinforced that idea every chance I got. We committed to an idea and, even when the brick turned out to need a lot of costly work, Brad stuck to it. That was really important to me—both at the time and in retrospect—because he was committing to the intangible “vibe” of the space. That’s something that can’t readily be measured at the cash register, but it’s an important aspect in drawing new customers. I tucked that lesson away for the future.


We initially considered wood slat wall pieces to hold guitars, but we were swayed by the look of some of the samples String Swing sent us. Brad and his wife, Toni, picked out some cool and funky furniture and an Oriental rug for the seating area. If you don’t know Brad and Toni, they’re no strangers to funky design choices, and it really works to the advantage of our stores. While on a shopping trip to IKEA, I found two glass displays that looked a lot like ones I’d seen in antique stores. Toni smartly thought to match the paint color to those displays, which really tied the whole thing together. Brad’s parents brought in an old ice chest, which we’re using as a pick display, and we repurposed some old oak bar stools for customers to sit on while trying guitars and amps.

One of the great parts—maybe the best part—of being in a band, running live sound, recording music and working in MI retail is having the opportunity to work and collaborate with other creative people. Building ideas, brainstorming, finding new ways to do things…these are all ways to flex our creative muscles and find new ways to make things interesting. Having so many creative people around is a huge benefit. And, it doesn’t stop there. That’s the thing that I have to keep re-learning, as it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day operations, amid the stresses caused by the ups and downs of a business. Sure, there are numbers to crunch, and most of our time is spent trying to constantly improve our customer service and grow our sales numbers. But, if we look for them, there are opportunities to be creative every day. There are ways to integrate the things we like to do outside the store and make those things part of what we do for the store.

What are some of the ways you’ve found to be creative in your store? What outside hobbies have you found ways to bring into your store, thus benefiting the business?

Write to me at gabriel@larrys

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