D’Angelico Guitars’ Brenden Cohen has seen the coronavirus from its epicenter: New York City. Learn what he has seen during the health crisis and how the guitar manufacturer is forging ahead.
Of course, dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has been a tough time for all. For some perspective on how to do business during this crisis, we reached out to D’Angelico Guitars, whose headquarters is located in the heart of Manhattan in New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. We asked D’Angelico Guitars CEO Brenden Cohen to discuss these crazy times, how his business can be stronger once the crisis resolves and much more.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Please tell us about yourself, your family, your background and your love for music.
Brenden Cohen: I grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and Florida. I’ve always had a diverse set of interests. I’m an avid snowboarder and traveler, and music has always been an integral part of those passions. Though I don’t come from a musical family, we have a deep appreciation for it, culturally. When we re-launched the D’Angelico brand, I had the opportunity to become part of the world of live music and musical instruments, where my appreciation and passion for music really deepened.
The Retailer: Tell us how long you have been at D’Angelico and why you re-launched the company.
Cohen: John Ferolito Jr. and I re-launched the D’Angelico brand in 2011. At first, I was handling all marketing and branding, making sure we had an identity that was informed by our history, but also restated itself in the modern age. As soon as I started learning about John D’Angelico, I fell in love with the brand — the story, the legacy and the instruments. And as we started (very slowly at first) producing guitars and gauging the public’s reaction, we were extremely encouraged to continue. I realized that we were in the position to be a company with its own niche, and from that point forward I was solely dedicated to growing the brand.
The Retailer: We have been going through an awful health and economic crisis. Please tell us how you have weathered the storm personally and how D’Angelico has weathered the storm as a company.
Cohen: This is an unprecedented time, and my heart goes out to everyone affected by the crisis. Personally, I have tried to play my part every day, taking social distancing extremely seriously, keeping in touch with family and friends, and making sure I am doing absolutely everything I can to protect our company. And, as a business, we’ve prioritized protecting our staff and trying to remain connected to our audience online. We’ve launched a few challenges via social media that have harbored a lot of remote connections among musicians, which we really feel the world needs right now. It’s been very encouraging to see the response from players of every stripe. We are also fortunate to say that our online sales have remained strong throughout this time. Not only is it a testament to all of the businesses who work so hard to connect with their customers despite all circumstances, but it’s also great to see people bringing music into their homes during such a difficult time. It shows how much we need music and music-making in times like these.
The Retailer: New York City was of course hit extremely hard by the coronavirus. Can you tell us what the experience was like for you seeing empty streets near D’Angelico’s NYC offices?
Cohen: New York City was and is in a very difficult position. As with anything in NYC, when something happens there, it happens in a big way. That’s just the nature of having eight million people in arelatively small geographic area. But it has been eerie. In a city that really comes alive as the winter gives way to spring, seeing the streets and restaurants and parks empty is just surreal. But it’s an illustration of our communal decision to help stop the spread of this virus! So, in a way, it’s encouraging. Through all of the tribulations that history has thrown at New York, its strength and resolve have always been clear. We’ll get through this, too.
The Retailer: D’Angelico has been very active during the COVID-19 crisis, hosting plenty of virtual events and more. Please tell us about these efforts in detail and what your philosophy behind them is.
Cohen: We think it’s important to prioritize staying connected during this time. With the #DreamOfMeChallenge that we launched on our Instagram channel, we took the opportunity to issue a fun goal and important message: Though we are living in a lonely time, we are in it together. Watching our fans learn a piece of music they otherwise may never have learned, collaborating with one another remotely and using this time to get impressively creative has been heartwarming. We’ll be working with our artists and partners to continue facilitating this kind of creative output. D’Angelico has always been extremely grateful for and dedicated to our audience, and this is a time when we want to be more connected than ever. We plan on exiting this phase with an even stronger relationship with our audience than we had before.
The Retailer: Any advice you can provide for MI retailers trying to sell your products during these trying times?
Cohen: First, I’d like to say that we have reached out to all of our dealers with messages of support. We want to be as supportive as possible during this time. While we are in this naturally slow state, especially if you are a mostly brick-and-mortar retailer, we encourage retailers to take the opportunity to bolster their online efforts and engage with their audience on social media. Not only will it result in new business, but it will be extremely helpful in the long run. If your website could be stronger, it’s a good time to set goals for improvement there, as well. We hope to see nothing like this in our lifetimes again, but it does illustrate how important it is to be able to connect with your audience online at a time where in-person interaction isn’t possible.
The Retailer: Music is a really good activity during difficult times, especially this one. Consumers have had to spend a lot of time at home. Have you seen anecdotally that they have wanted to play music during this time?
Cohen: Absolutely! As I mentioned before, our social media challenges have been very successful, and we’ve seen steady online sales, despite the mountainous challenges we all face. But this is the exact type of hardship that art and music can help alleviate. We have seen an incredible amount of online engagement from players and artists, and we are doing everything we can think of to continue supporting their efforts. It should also be mentioned that the live music industry is in an extremely difficult position. We have been sharing tips on our social media channels about how to support artists whose tours have been canceled. Our friends at MusiCares are doing a great job educating people on how to help. The bottom line is, while we all have to make tremendous personal sacrifices right now, each of us should be doing everything we can to support our favorite artists and businesses so that the entire music industry can thrive once we reach the other side of this crisis.
The Retailer: Do you foresee any permanent changes after the COVID-19 crisis improves in terms of retailing and music?
Cohen: As I mentioned, these are unprecedented times. So, to make too many predictions is difficult. But we do believe everything is going to return to relative normalcy. The MI industry was having a great year, and we have been trending upward for several years. So long as we all use our savvy and remain focused on weathering the storm, we believe the industry is going to return to thriving soon.
The Retailer: As a company, what do you think you will take away from the crisis regarding improving as a business?
Cohen: This crisis is offering many lessons, some of which are still playing out. We know we are going to continue focusing on our digital presence and having even more tools to interact with our customers and dealers. That has proved invaluable. And internally, we are witnessing our employees work together and communicate effectively with remarkable adaptability. We are going to build more processes and tools to continue this inspiring level of remote communication.
The Retailer: Guitar sales were really strong prior to the crisis, growing by more than 5 percent in 2019 and 2018 compared to the prior years. Are you optimistic that once the crisis improves, we will resume having a strong MI industry?
Cohen: Yes! There’s nothing to suggest the MI industry won’t return to its previous strong state. Our online sales have been able to weather the storm with all things considered, and the stores will return. The MI industry is no stranger to hardships. We are also experiencing in real time how much people prioritize their ability to make music. Even under tremendously difficult circumstances, people are buying instruments because it is truly one of the things that makes us feel better. We’re also hopeful that all these hours spent indoors give way to a whole new group of guitar players who stick with it long after the crisis!
The Retailer: You had several product launches at The NAMM Show in January. Can you tell us about them and how they have been faring? And can you give us a sneak peek at what you may release, whether later this year or early next year?
Cohen: We are happy to report that this year’s product launches were our most successful to date. The majority of the limited-edition releases we debuted were in high demand and sold out in the first few months of the year. The thinline Deluxe Bedford SH stole the show, and we’ve received an overwhelming amount of requests for more. The throwback archtops and refreshed Premier Series acoustics have also done exceedingly well. We have a number of things in the works right now and are very excited about the second half of the year. We’ll be making announcements about new products in the coming months.
The Retailer: Anything you want to add?
Cohen: We would just like to take a moment to express our gratitude. This is a naturally reflective time, and we want to issue a heartfelt thank you to all first responders and essential workers, as well as all of our dealers and customers — all who continue to support us. And I would like to personally thank the incredible D’Angelico staff. Our brand runs on their passion and dedication, and they are the best team. Keep taking care of each other!
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