The brick-and-mortar musical instrument stores that are thriving in spite of Internet-based competition, mega-chain music stores and some vendors’ apparent do-it-yourself approach to product sales have one thing in common: owners and operators who take the time—and who make the investment—to broaden their knowledge and strategize with their peers. The NAMM show, scheduled this year for January 22 through January 25 at its perennial Anaheim Convention Center home, is not only the world’s leading music products exposition, but, in fact, the single most valuable resource available to dealers like you. Nowhere else can you find not only the sheer volume of products, MI executives and music lovers, but also the wisdom and tried-and-true techniques to achieve success amid new and challenging obstacles.

Speaking personally, I cannot wait to touch down in Anaheim and plunge headlong into NAMM: a show that simultaneously marks my busiest—and my most fun—week of the year. My excitement grew when I spoke to NAMM President/CEO Joe Lamond in mid-October about the incredible offering the organization is planning…and the auspicious signs for a hugely successful event. Lamond stated that, relative to exhibitors, NAMM’s goal is to attain five-percent growth over last year; as of this writing, the association is on track to meet that goal. Lamond emphasized that, although NAMM is comfortable with total attendance of about 96,000 and isn’t looking to grow its bottom-line number of registrants, it is focused on maximizing the purchasing power on hand. “There will be over $10 billion of global purchasing power on that show floor,” Lamond declared. Wow!

Naturally, stats like that make the show unmissable for exhibitors. For retailers, though, the value proposition, although slightly different, is no less compelling. Anyone who’s been reading The Retailer in recent months is all too familiar with the uncertainty that reigns in the distribution channel. “With the possible changes that are coming down the pike,” Lamond began, “any dealer who wants to be prepared for what’s coming—and who wants to try to find the opportunity in it—is going to find the NAMM show really important. That’s where everything will be released, discussed, debated and possibly enacted. That’s one of the main reasons dealers should be at the show, in particular this year.” And even if you feel like you have a good grasp of the machinations on the vendor side of the equation, the benefits of participating in the NAMM show are numerous.

With solid growth projected over last year’s more than 1,530 exhibitors and over 5,000 unique brands, it seems certain that virtually every vendor partner you have will be in Anaheim showcasing their hottest products and unveiling exciting new additions for 2015. Surely, you don’t want your customers, or your competitors, to know more about these in-demand products than you do. And, apart from the industry giants whose names we all know, a slew of newer companies—entrepreneurial operations that are small in size but large in innovation—will be on hand. “Some of the big exhibitors are getting a little smaller this year,” Lamond revealed, “and that’s leaving space and creating opportunity for the newer entrepreneurs. I think that’s what we’ll see on the show floor: newer companies, exciting technology and innovative small companies that are more nimble.”

Anyone who’s been to the NAMM show in the past decade knows about the breadth of product offerings on display: fretted instruments, percussion products, band and orchestral instruments, pro audio gear, DJ equipment, lighting technology, software and print publications. This year will be no exception, of course, but Lamond did mention that certain categories are showing particular robustness for 2015. “Dealers are going to want to see the new technology for audio, especially with regard to improving the quality of audio,” he explained, citing comments from Neil Young, who’s made it a mission to deliver to listeners’ ears all the sound from original studio recording sessions. “Our industry’s going to play a big role in trying to ‘fill in the missing audio’ that’s compressed out of an MP3,” he added.

Lamond also hastened to mention a real opportunity for retailers in the LED lighting category, citing its viability not only for the stage but also for clubs, churches and schools. “I think the improvement in lighting—and the experience that it provides to concert-goers, theater-goers and high school play-goers—will be a big story on the show floor,” he affirmed. “Just like with improved audio, we’re going to get spoiled and want to see improved lighting at every event. I think retailers have an opportunity to carry more of those products. You’re going to see a lot of that technology at NAMM.” He also added that accessory products and consumables—from strings and sticks to bags and cases—would have a show floor presence commensurate with their strength at retail.

As entrancing as the show floor is, though, NAMM offers something that is perhaps even more valuable for dealers like you: education, training and networking opportunities. Relative to education, the association has taken a three-pronged approach: NAMM U, which incorporates everything from the daily Breakfast Sessions to the programming in the Idea Center; the H.O.T. (Hands-On Training) Zone, which delivers live sessions targeted to the pro audio, entertainment technology, live sound, and stage and lighting industries; and Retail Boot Camp, an intensive, one-day training program for music retailers. Lamond often talks about the different “tribes” within the music products industry (e.g., the full-line combo tribe, the piano and organ tribe, the school band and orchestra tribe). In this array of education opportunities, we find sessions that perfectly suit virtually every tribe.

Let’s zoom in on the NAMM U component, since it’s pitched directly at dealers like you. The Breakfast Sessions—always hugely popular—will be even more of a magnet this time, as show organizers have attracted some genuinely huge names. Foremost among them is Steve Wozniak, Apple’s Co-Founder, who will talk music and technology with Lamond on Saturday, January 24. According to Lamond, “The Breakfast Sessions are where you can get those really inspirational, big-picture ideas that will have you leaving Anaheim feeling like you can take on the world. It’s the inspirational part that feeds your soul.”

Lamond delved into NAMM Director of Professional Development Zach Phillips’ strategy for the Idea Center component. “Zach’s plan is to have a very tactical Idea Center,” he affirmed, remarking that the sessions will focus on specific issues that dealers are facing, such as how to get better ratings on Yelp or how to respond to bad ratings already received. “Dealers often go to the Idea Center to fix a problem they’re having,” he continued. “It’s a great track if you’re really looking to understand something and then, when you get back on Monday, implement that strategy.” As was the case at Summer NAMM, the programming will be highly progressive and future-minded.

As if all that wasn’t enough to persuade even the most reticent retailer to book a ticket to Anaheim, there’s yet more value to be found in the show. We’re all in this business because we have a deep passion and abiding love for music, right? Well, with five different stages, attendees can expect nearly every type of act imaginable—from acoustic to electronic—over four music-filled days. Front and center, the NAMM GoPro Stage at the Grand Plaza will light up days and nights with music. Around the corner, The Venue Stage presented by Pioneer DJ will feature EDM and iconic DJs. And then, in the evenings, live music will be the soundtrack to networking in the Hilton and Marriott lobbies. Plus, new this year, Backstage @ NAMM Presented by Nissan Commercial Vehicles will feature food, drink and live streaming entertainment throughout the day. And finally, to top everything off, the 30th annual NAMM TEC Awards will be held Saturday, January 24.

Lamond emphasized the stability of the NAMM show and argued that that’s among its greatest strengths. “More than anything else,” he began, “it’s NAMM’s role to be reliable, predictable and steady, and then to let the members just launch off of that with unpredictable breakthroughs, amazing innovation, and really creative products, events and parties.” There will be a change this year in at least one respect, though: volume on the show floor. “One of the bigger things I want to focus on this year is noise level,” he explained. “I believe the ability to conduct business on the floor has been impacted by the sound levels. We’re going to be much more mindful of keeping the levels of sound a little bit lower.” It’s really a natural move, following last year’s widely praised initiative to reduce by 50 percent the amount of music in the hotel lobbies.
In my eyes, the value proposition of attending the NAMM show—this year, in particular—is beyond dispute. “Here we sit in October, and there’s enough uncertainty in the world that neither you nor I could even predict where we’ll be in January,” Lamond stated. “That’s not a comfortable place. The uncertainty has been ratcheted up. That may be the primary reason to go.” He emphasized that, over the past couple of years, our industry has really come to understand the value of education. “More and more,” he said, “I hear NAMM members—especially your readers—say that the education alone is worth the price of coming. Everything else is a great value and it’s important, they say, but they would come for the education alone. We’ve taken that to heart and made major investments.”

Book your tickets now…and we’ll see you in Anaheim!


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