Over the last several years, technology has begun to play an increasingly critical role in MI retail. At every NAMM show, there are Idea Center sessions on social media, search engine optimization and other technology-forward topics designed to help entrenched independent retailers gradually join the new era and compete in a marketplace that has rapidly been passing them by. Print catalogs have disappeared. Many vendors are replacing paper billing with online bill pay options. “B to B” ordering is becoming the norm. As the world grows more digitally connected, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the things we’ve grown so much to rely on have also become things that we can’t live without…in ways that are both good and bad.

I’ve written about becoming more engaged and not being overwhelmed by daily tasks, about how important it is to put customers first and about how we can avoid becoming disengaged from our staff and our customers. I’ve talked peripherally about ways in which I use technology to stay on top of things, and how that frees me up to interact more with fellow staff members and customers alike. I bring my laptop to work, and I regularly use both it and my iPhone throughout the day. It’s fair to say that technology is integral to my ability to perform many of my tasks. My fellow staff members and I have been experimenting with new technologies to replace outdated practices in our store, and we’re even investigating cloud POS systems for our store locations. Many ways in which we utilize technology are immensely beneficial. However, there is a fine line between utilizing technology to build our brand or to streamline our workflow, and letting it overtake our lives. Yes, technology has been integral to our store’s growth and our ability to operate more efficiently, with less time wasted and fewer mistakes made. But, with these advances and the positive results they bring, many store owners and managers—and I myself—sometimes find themselves no longer able to identify the end of the workday.

Most of us are guilty of taking our work home with us. It’s a common tale, and one we watched play out when, in childhood, we saw our fathers bringing their work home. For many years, store owners and managers have struggled to leave our workday behind us. Brad Shreve, Owner of Larry’s Music Center, and I frequently talk, text and e-mail long before our store opens and long after it closes. We talk about the day, make plans and bounce ideas off each other during our “off hours.” I find those talks extremely productive and energizing. Technology also allows me to stay connected in a multitude of other ways. I check my phone for store e-mails, staff messages and Facebook posts written by customers almost constantly. I have alerts set for Google, Yelp and all our Reverb listings. I even checked in wherever there was Wi-Fi during my recent honeymoon!

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Although my fellow staff members help manage these things, I feel a strong personal responsibility to make sure they’re handled and, often, I simply find myself unable not to check those things. In fact, we’ve instituted a no-phones-at-dinner policy in my house, just to create a window during which I’m not constantly looking at my iPhone. It’s important to unplug from work and allow breaks just to spend time with our friends and family. We should be mentally present in those situations, rather than constantly concerning ourselves with whether the store is burning down without us.

Social-media platforms and other technological advancements have vastly improved our lives in terms of workflow and productivity, and they have improved our connection to each other personally, as well. Although benefits such as those are immense, it’s also worth noting that it is important to unplug from our personal lives when we’re at work, as well. Our customers are equally deserving of our attention. And, just as it’s easy to bring our work home, it’s also easy to allow our personal lives, our relationships, our bands and our outside-work stress to bleed into the workday. It’s much easier now to keep up with our friends and relatives, favorite celebrities or bands, political figures and the news of the day than it ever has been. However, it also creates a store culture in which it’s become acceptable at times to have bad manners. It’s become acceptable to see employees everywhere texting friends or checking their Facebook news feed, even at the expense of our relationship with our customers.

Last week, I was speaking to a customer in our acoustic guitar room. My iPhone, which was in my back pocket, began to ring. Embarrassed, I reached in my pocket to silence it. The customer to whom I was speaking said, “Oh, it’s OK. Do you need to get that? I can wait.” I felt terrible. I asked myself how we’d gotten to a place where it has become acceptable to a customer that I answer a personal phone call in the middle of a conversation with him. My guess? It happened roughly around the same time that it became normal for me to answer e-mails during my honeymoon.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no Luddite. No one is a bigger “tech nerd” than I am. Smartphones can come in handy for quick research, price matching and other tasks that might help to close a sale; the constant distraction they provide must be kept in check, though. All too often, I see servers, bartenders and retail employees checking their smartphones when they should be tending to the people in front of them. Staff members should leave their phones behind the counter while waiting on customers. It’s never too great a distance to walk back to the counter to retrieve your smartphone if you need to look something up. Your Facebook news feed and your Instagram posts can wait.

This goes for store owners and managers, as well. Often, such individuals believe lower-level employees are the biggest offenders as regards cell phones. Remember that your employees learn what they should do—and what they can get away with—by example. So, you’d better put your customers ahead of your iPhone.

How do you address the benefits and the pitfalls of technology in your store? Write to me at

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