How do you introduce new products to your clientele? Do you stock new items regularly and prominently pitch them to your customers, or do you hedge your bets and wait for someone to ask? Do you bring on a new item because the manufacturer offered you a deal, or do you wait until the competition carries it and follow suit?

Most stores would likely answer, “all of the above,” and that makes sense in the market we inhabit today. You can’t just front-load your inventory with unproven products. None of us can afford dead inventory. But we also can’t be left behind and have it seem as though everyone but us is hip to a new product.

It’s also harder than it used to be to predict a winner because there are fewer breakthrough, must-have items today. Gone are the halcyon days of the Yamaha DX-7, or artist-endorsed guitars snapped up by rabid fans. I don’t envision a return to mega-products in our industry. Our version of the “new iPhone” frenzy went away somewhere around the turn of the century.

Yet there are a lot of products introduced every year. Some, arguably, are the previous year’s product with a facelift, and some are silly enough that the product development team was either navel-gazing or working with a half keg and a dart board. But there are always a few that stand out, either as clever solutions, price breakthroughs, or both. I think it’s in our best interest to detect the ones that integrate well with our product offerings and “wave the flag” about them. Sure, it’s more work, but I don’t say this just for the profit of selling these products, although that’s never to be ignored. I believe the ancillary benefits add so much to the mix that I think we’d be crazy to ignore them.

New products are conversation starters.

It’s a perfect way to engage the people walking into your store. If you are excited, there’s a good chance they will be as well. Each conversation strengthens your profile with your customers and shows them your store is active and moving forward. It’s also a great goodwill opportunity, because an average (as in, non-pro) customer is really grateful for a free set of strings, a couple of reeds or a new book to try out. The cost of that inventory is some of the most effective and efficient advertising you can do.

New products, carefully selected, move faster.

Impulse buying — assisted by attractive display and the aforementioned conversation — is a hallmark of brick-and-mortar shopping. The algorithms that provide the “people also bought” blurbs on Amazon are nowhere near as engaging, in part because they’re so formulaic that we learn to ignore them. But the element of surprise, the serendipity of discovery and the power of suggestion from a human in the real world are far more powerful. Properly done, they offer more than a sale: They create a convert who will buy again, and gratefully.

Manufacturers crave dealers who will champion their products.

Online sellers inhale an inventory database and usually spew all products in an undifferentiated feed. A product may only be “featured” if the manufacturer offers substantial profit incentive to do so. A brick-and-mortar dealer is in the trenches talking to consumers, and given the difficulty of new item awareness, that support is golden for the reasons cited above. Many companies are willing to offer better deals or sample products to aid the cause.

However, many stores of all sizes don’t do the work needed to select and present these products. Call it inertia, or call it lack of motivation, but I see many businesses in our industry sitting back, shrugging and relying on the same products even when better solutions exist. In many cases, these seemingly tried-and-true products represent lower margins because they’re subject to highly competitive pricing, and customers have learned to be price sensitive.

I get it, though. Teachers and established musicians are notoriously set in their ways, and it’s much harder to introduce anything new. Yet if you have a good relationship with these customers, they may be open to at least trying a different product, particularly if you give them a safety net — a free sample, or the assurance they can revert to their original setup if they don’t see a benefit.

It’s a tribute to some of the innovators in our industry that the new product suggestions I make improve things much more often than not. If we convert the “tastemakers,” they will pass the news on to their students. However, we also see plenty of hobbyists and newbies who are far more open to a suggestion. Just one example: We’ve managed to convert the majority of our violin customers to the newest D’Addario orchestral strings across all price brackets. It’s a win-win, because the customer gets a better-sounding string at a lower price than imports, and we actually make more on each set. We also streamline our inventory investment and increase the turns across all models, because we also take the time to educate our customers on the benefits of changing strings regularly. It’s a lot harder to engage and convert customers online, making it one of our few advantages — and illustrating the fallacy of the “retail is dead” rant from some quarters.

No, we won’t convert everyone, and yes, you can introduce a new product that customers will then buy online. But I still believe that the rewards for researching and stocking new products — and of course, doing the work of engaging and educating your customers — are well worth the effort. Ultimately, you’re also building and grooming a customer base that will be far more loyal and receptive. I don’t think anyone would say no to that.

If you have a new product success story, feel free to share it on, and as always, post an inquiry (please post to the page rather than PM, so others can see the dialogue) if there’s another topic you’d like to see covered here.

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