As I started making NAMM show appointments with various reps, many of whom have become friends over the years, my upcoming wedding often came up. Imagine the reps’ reactions when I told them I had to leave for the NAMM show four days after getting married! I know…it sounds a little crazy to go to NAMM when I should be at home with my new wife, but we aren’t honeymooning until summer. And, for me, the NAMM show is important…even though I haven’t always realized why.

When I first began working in the MI retail industry, no one from my store had attended either NAMM show in years. However, when our store was nominated as a Top 100 Dealer for the first time in 2013, I suddenly very much wanted to find out what it was all about.

Since then, I’ve attended four NAMM shows—two in the summer and two in the winter—and both have had their merits. Summer NAMM is more informal, and it’s a great time for in-depth rep meetings and cultivating relationships. It’s also a great time to explore smaller, relatively unknown brands that can’t afford the booth prices at the winter show. The NAMM show, on the other hand, is huge: everything you could possibly want to see is exhibited there, and it attracts its share of celebrities, as well.
There are some things to remember, I’ve found, in order to make the trips fruitful from a business perspective.

The number-one mistake most dealers make is trying to schedule so many appointments that all their time is taken up by meetings, leaving no time to explore the wide array of products they might otherwise never have an opportunity to see. We tell our customers it’s important to try new products in person at a local dealer instead of buying them online. We, too, must make the effort to evaluate new products in person when the opportunity is presented to us. Instead of buying the same products everyone else is stocking, you can use this opportunity to seek out and try new products…ones that, often, are available from companies that offer independent dealers more favorable terms than some of our industry’s giants do.

Over-scheduling also leaves scant opportunities to attend NAMM U Idea Center and H.O.T. Zone sessions, the value of which can be incalculable. To me, these sessions are the most valuable part of NAMM shows. I’ve been both an audience member and a participant in these sessions, and I’ve learned from others and been able to share things I’ve learned as a result. There are far too many empty seats at some of these sessions, where presenters are generously giving of their time to help other dealers navigate our ever-changing industry. Many of these presenters are Top 100 dealers, high-powered industry leaders and distinguished members of NAMM. I spoke to one dealer who, after letting his NAMM membership lapse years ago, decided to renew his membership this year and fly to NAMM solely to take advantage of NAMM U sessions. “I can’t believe dealers are sharing all this information with their potential competitors,” he told me, “and for free!”

The Idea Center sessions have been a huge help to my store. For example, at Summer NAMM 2014, I attended Gayle Beacock’s excellent session on how she transformed her lessons program, because I hoped to solve some issues with my own store’s lessons program.

Lessons have always been a valuable part of our store. The regular influx of potential customers who walk through our doors each week represent a wealth of opportunities to grow our sales. However, after 35 years in business, we began to notice an alarming trend: the amount of income we were receiving from lessons was gradually and consistently decreasing. Like many traditional stores, our lessons were billed as a per-lesson charge based on the occurrence of lessons per month. The total number of lessons could fluctuate, depending on how many days were in the month. So, in some months, people might pay for an extra lesson. Confusion arose in the months with school holidays; vacations and sick days wreaked havoc, as well.

Our policies on lessons had always been very lenient with regard to make-ups and credits toward missed lessons, leaving the final decisions in the hands of our instructors. Although we scheduled and billed all our lessons, we had been leaving enforcement of billing in the hands of our instructors. When we analyzed the effect this was having on our program, we found that approximately half of all lesson time slots were not being paid for. In effect, we were losing money on our lessons program.

Brad Shreve, the Owner of Larry’s Music, had already begun discussing changes to our program with me in the weeks prior to the show. We knew our program was suffering because of how we had been handling billing and scheduling, but we also understood that a drastic change might result in adverse effects. Beacock’s insights and suggestions during the session confirmed things I already believed, alleviating my fears about making big changes. She also made herself available after her session to answer questions and, despite a large crowd eager to hear further details, she patiently answered every question.

I’ve developed a similar relationship with Donovan Bankhead of Springfield Music, another NAMM presenter whose sessions I’ve attended. The first panel of which I was lucky enough to be part was Joe Lamond’s Breakfast Session, at Summer NAMM 2013, on fourth-quarter marketing strategies. Afterward, Bankhead reached out to me to discuss the idea I presented and, subsequently, he tried it out in his store. I attended his session at Summer NAMM on being a chain retailer, which contained a wealth of information I am utilizing as we look toward the future and expand our company’s locations. He’s unfailingly generous with his time and experience, and always makes time to take my calls and meet up with me at NAMM shows. Like Gayle Beacock, he’s a great sounding board, as well as a great friend and ally in our industry.

At the NAMM show, I was lucky enough to be included, among some great owners and managers from independent dealers around the country, on a panel regarding websites. I learned as much in our pre-panel discussion and from simply being included on the panel as many people in the audience did. I made notes after both, so I wouldn’t forget some of our key discussion points and so I could find ways to apply them when I returned home. You can bet I’ll be contacting some of my fellow panelists with future questions.

I’ve tried to emulate the generosity of my new friends when dealers contact me after attending one of my presentations. Independent stores like us must stick together and lift each other up. I honestly believe that, if we do so, we have among us enough expertise to weather the onslaught of Internet-only retailers and big-box stores. This is a huge advantage that can benefit “indies” like us, and all we have to do is show up and participate.

What are some of the NAMM U sessions from which you’ve most benefited? How have you put into practice the ideas you’ve learned there?
E-mail me at gabriel@larrys

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