If you are an MI retailer today during the COVID-19 health crisis, what should you do? To answer this question, NAMM on March 26 presented “Music Retail in the Time of COVID-19,” hosted by Bob Phibbs, known as “The Retail Doctor.”

Phibbs began by noting that consumers are still buying all sorts of things, including toys for children to play with and flowers to beautify a home. Stated simply, consumers are buying things to get them through the day. In fact, he noted that he spoke to an MI retailer who stated that customers are buying a lot of guitars.

“The time for wallowing is not now,” said Phibbs. “Turn off the notifications on your phone.”

Importantly, Phibbs added MI retailers should not feel guilty when selling products during a crisis. “You need to get your head around the fact you are helping the customer out,” he said. “You’re not taking advantage of a crisis.”

“It is a great time to meet the needs of customers a different way,” added Phibbs.

He proceeded to provide tips for MI retailers under the separate scenarios if they are currently open, closed temporarily or need to close permanently due to the COVID-19 crisis. For those MI stores still open, Phibbs offered the following advice:

  • You will have to sell your way out of this.
  • People are buying but for different reasons.
  • Traffic is down, but be sensitive. It is about their needs, not yours.
  • People like to shop because it gives them a sense of control.
  • Limit the number of people in the store; make hand washing a priority.

To provide an example of the sense-of-control comment, Phibbs noted how toilet paper has become a hot seller. “They are not buying it because they need it,” he said. “It is because it gives them a sense of control.”

Marketing is another big component, relayed “The Retail Doctor,” offering these tips:

  • Be of service.
  • Keep marketing.
  • Review your website.
  • Send a newsletter.
  • Carefully choose images.

Focusing on newsletters, Phibbs said the main goal is to get the point across that you are there to help. “The goal is bring hope,” he said. “Do not limit marketing to the illness. This is the time for creativity, which is what you are already good at.”

Phibbs recommended BombBomb, which offers free 14-day trials, as a way to reach your customers directly with a video email.

When selecting images for newsletter or a website, make sure to convey that your store is clean, Phibbs continued. It is difficult to show your hands are clean, but photos with gloves is a great start.


Now is the time to improve your store, Phibbs stressed. “When shoppers do return — trust me, they will — you want it too look like a new store. You need it more than the [customer does].”

“Ultimately, you have to be prepared for when the switch goes off and the customer says, ‘I’m ready [to shop],’” added Phibbs.

To succeed in having a better business in the future, training is a must, said Phibbs. He offered these tips:

  • Get rid of the “no time” excuse.
  • If you’re paying them, they should be learning for when things get better.
  • Role-play interactions.

He asserted that training of employees should be completed even if employees are not at your store.

Once training is complete, retailers need to plan and prepare. Here are Phibb’s suggestions:

  • How will you make up for lost ground? Be of service now.
  • Go over your financials.
  • Make a list.
  • Look at options like credit cards, rent reductions, borrow from bank, SBA (Small Business Administration).

“Talk to your bank about bridge loans and lines of credit,” said Phibbs. “Make sure you are getting the best prices from your vendors, such as internet and janitorial services. And talk to landlords about rent reductions.”

If you must close your store temporarily, as is mandated in some states, keep your employees informed of what is going on during the closure, but do not go too far, Phibbs stressed. “Try to keep employees informed, but don’t promise anything you can’t deliver,” he said.

If you need to close your MI store permanently, look at these three factors:

  • Is your business viable?
  • Borrow from friends, life insurance, 401K.
  • Bankruptcy is used by some of the biggest. Talk to a lawyer or accountant for their advice.

No matter what you do, having the right mindset is key, Phibbs asserted. He quoted a TD Jakes saying: “Don’t give all your energy to where you are right now. Give most of your energy to where you’re going.”

Phibbs urged MI retailers to consider meditation if their stress levels are too high, but he stressed “there is hope.”

He also recommended the “5-5-5” principle, which entails naming five things you are grateful for that day, five things you are looking forward to tomorrow, and the next morning, when you wake up, five things you are looking forward to that day.

“In hope, I am fearless,” concluded Phibbs.

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