Every year, right before the NAMM Show, I get calls from dozens of reps to schedule appointments; this is, of course, an expected part of the process. Whenever new companies call me, I always ask if they’re going to the NAMM Show. That way, I might have an opportunity to see their products in person. Commonly, I’ll get an answer like, “Oh, no…we think nothing really happens at the NAMM Show and it’s just a bunch of celebrities.” I often wonder if the reality isn’t closer to being unable to afford a booth, along with all the time and travel it takes to get out there. If they told me that, I’d understand. It is a big expense and, for startup businesses, it’s a huge gamble to spend funds on a NAMM Show booth that, otherwise, would be spent on other areas of the business. Retailers have much more readily told me that attending is too expensive or time consuming for them; to an extent, I can understand that, as well. However, I almost always suggest that smaller dealers who can’t make it to Anaheim try going to Summer NAMM…especially those of us in the eastern half of the country. Similarly, I prod and poke manufacturers that don’t have booths at Summer NAMM, encouraging them to start attending.

As I said, I understand why some manufacturers, particularly startups, avoid industry shows. Apart from the cost factor, along with travel and logistical issues, there’s the time away from your business, the time away from your family…and no guarantee that attending the show will help your business. If you’re a small company with a small booth at the NAMM Show, you could end up anywhere: next to the bathrooms, in a back corner or downstairs in Hall E, where foot traffic is diminished. (Side note: Everyone should take some time out and explore Hall E. There’s some pretty cool stuff down there: George Lowden, McPherson, Breedlove, and a host of cool and unusual products from around the world.) So, attending is certainly a gamble, but life’s full of gambles. And, sometimes, for those willing to put themselves out there, a gamble pays off. Sometimes, it pays off big.

In a previous column, I wrote that the “Best in Show” panel is one of my favorite parts of NAMM. It’s a fun panel, as part of which I’ve met all kinds of great people. This year, I was particularly excited that Sammy Ash was going to be on it. I’m part of several Facebook guitar groups that Sammy has joined and, as it turns out, he’s a gear junkie like the rest of us. Admittedly, my previous experience with Sammy had been watching him accept awards at the NAMM Top 100 Dealer Awards every year. So, interacting with him in the user groups has been a lot of fun, not to mention informative. I was impressed that the COO of a huge company takes time out to speak directly to consumers in user groups, and that he does so in a really helpful and thoughtful way.

That, however, is nothing compared to what he did with his pick for “Best in Show.” If you were there, or if you’ve watched the video, you already know that Sammy picked a brand new product—the Virtual Jeff—that was stuck in a back corner somewhere. It’s a digital whammy bar by Australian guitar tech company FOMOfx. The company impressed him with its moxie and ideas. And, even though the company isn’t even fully launched and didn’t have any distribution, the guys behind it took a huge chance on the business and showed off the product at NAMM. In giving the product a nod, Sammy showed it to the world. Now, people are writing about it on the Internet and in magazines; guitar players are talking about it; and, if I had to guess, distribution won’t be far behind.

That kind of stuff knocks me out. It makes me think about how the opportunities I’ve had in MI have directly resulted from the generosity of others. When I was first invited to speak at Summer NAMM, the association’s Zach Phillips thought I would be a good fit for Joe Lamond’s breakfast session. He took a chance by putting me up there, and he’s been taking chances on me ever since. Brad Shreve, my boss and Larry’s Music Center’s Owner, gave me the opportunity to go, and he’s now footing the bill for two trips a year to NAMM. Dan Ferrisi, Editor of The Retailer, sat at a table with Brad and me at the NAMM Top 100 Dealer Awards, discussing topics that, later, led him to offer me the opportunity to write an op-ed and, eventually, this column.

Our industry is built on partnerships…on relationships formed to provide mutual benefit. That applies to manufacturers, certainly, but it also holds true among dealers. Through this column and the NAMM Show, I’ve gotten to know dealers from around the globe: people like Gayle Beacock and Donovan Bankhead, for instance. And, every year, the list grows a little larger. This year, I met Leslie Faltin from Instrumental Music Center and Ben Werlin from Music Store Live. And, I was able to spend time talking to tons of other dealers and manufacturers, with whom I anticipate continuing the conversation in the coming months. I look forward to the opportunities for growth and learning that, by virtue of knowing great people in our industry, will be presented to me. And I know I’ll learn just as much from the great people in the store that I call home.

One more tip, in case I’ve convinced you to take a gamble and attend the next NAMM Show: The smartest people I know can usually be found congregating around the Idea Center. Two out of every three times I walked by, I saw Donovan going to, or coming from, a session. Donovan, Leslie and I got into a nice conversation about mentorship at the Springfield Music after-party. Conversations such as that remind me that this industry is full of smart people, all of whom can be great resources for each other. After all, we’re all in this together.

Who are some of your mentors? What are some of the opportunities you’ve been given by knowing those people? Do you need a mentor, or do you want to be one?

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