The Music & Sound Retailer offers coverage of several educational sessions from NAMM’s Believe in Music Week in order to help MI retailers boost sales and productivity.

By Amanda Mullen, Anthony Vargas and Brian Berk

Just because The NAMM Show was virtual this year did not mean there was any lack of actionable advice for MI retailers. Last month, we covered some Believe in Music Week educational sessions. This month, we offer many more insights from Believe in Music Week that might help to improve your business.

Defining Company Culture

Let’s start with AMRO Music President CJ Averwater, who presented “How to Systematically Improve Your Customer Experience” at Believe in Music Week. This session was dedicated to the importance of establishing a strong company culture in order to improve the customer experience at your retail business. According to Averwater, Amro Music saw a noticeable improvement in its customer reviews after he and his leadership team undertook deliberate efforts to codify and enforce their business culture.

Averwater began this session by discussing what we mean when we discuss the “culture” of a business. “There’s a business leader here in town that defines culture as ‘the boss when the boss is not around,’” Averwater said. “Culture is the compass that guides our decisions. It’s the metric that we use to hire people. It guides our daily interactions with our team and our customers. It’s really who we are as a company.”

Averwater first decided to really focus on his company’s culture and its impact on the customer experience after he read “The Amazement Revolution” by Shep Hyken. “The Amazement Revolution” features several case studies about what real companies are doing to create amazing customer experiences.

Averwater considered Hyken’s book so insightful that he instituted a company-wide book club for employees to read the book and discuss how they could apply some of the ideas it contained to Amro’s business practices.

Later on, Averwater attended a presentation by David Friedman, author of “Culture by Design,” in which Friedman offered a framework for defining culture through behaviors, rather than values. This inspired Averwater to think of his company culture less in terms of lofty ideals he and his employees aspire to and more in terms of concrete behaviors that embody those ideals.

Averwater explained that “Values are conceptual, and they can mean different things to different people,” whereas when it comes to a behavior, either you do it or you don’t.Averwater offered the example of a value like “do good” vs. a behavior like “solve problems with urgency.” In the former case, what it means to “do good” can mean different things to different people, and if someone asked a supervisor to observe an employee and say whether they “did good,” that is clearly open to interpretation. However, the latter concept, “solve problems with urgency” is much less open to interpretation. “If you get an angry customer on the phone, you either call them back with a solution in an hour, or you call them back in three or four days,” Averwater said. In that sense, either you solved the problem with urgency, or you didn’t.

Inspired by the work of Hyken and Friedman, Averwater decided that Amro Music needed to codify its company culture into a list of behaviors that, if followed, would ensure that the company’s ideals are upheld in all customer interactions. “Our culture has always been good. But I felt like it was important that we define it in specific, measurable terms,” Averwater said. “We can’t expect our team to live up to our culture if we haven’t defined it.”

Averwater pulled his management team together and asked them to come up with some “behaviors we aspire to as a company.” They went to their individual store teams and came back with 50 or 60 ideas. Those ideas were then refined down to “23 core behaviors that make us who we are today,” Averwater said. Averwater had these 23 behaviors printed on an oversized poster, and at the next all-team meeting, all of his employees signed the poster; he said there were two reasons for this: “One, to symbolize that they were the group that created these fundamentals that would guide us for years to come. The second reason was that it was a pledge, it was a commitment to each other that we were going to live these fundamentals each day.”

Averwater then offered the following lessons for establishing a company culture that he learned from this process:

  1. Be intentional. Don’t just leave your company’s culture up to chance; be intentional with how you establish and uphold your principles.
  2. Create buy-in from your entire team. “One of the easiest ways to do this is to involve them in the process early on,” Averwater said. ”They have to be a part of the process. […] Otherwise they’re just going to see it as another initiative that management is pushing on [them].”
  3. Provide absolute clarity. “Don’t leave any room for interpretation. […] It’s a yes or no, pass or fail type of thing,” Averwater said.
  4. Accountability. “Once you’ve come up with something, it’s important that everyone holds themselves accountable to it, and to each other. We have to commit to having the tough conversations when people fall short of these expectations,” Averwater said.
  5. Incorporate it into your regular routine. Averwater offered some examples from his own business: At each weekly meeting, an Amro Music team member will recite the “Fundamental of the Week” (selected from the company’s list of 23), and the team will spend some time discussing it. In addition, each internal company email sent during the week automatically has the “Fundamental of the Week” included below the signature. Averwater also mentioned the importance of finding ways to recognize employees who go above and beyond in embodying your fundamentals.

The Good and Bad of How the Pandemic Has Changed MI Retail

Less people in the store, increased dollar size of transactions and a huge explosion of online sales are the major changes Melissa Ceo, business development manager for C.A. House Music, has seen since the COVID-19 pandemic began, she stated during “NAMM YP: Lessons Learned and Moving Forward From the Pandemic” at Believe in Music Week. C.A. House Music, which has four locations in Ohio and West Virginia, has been forced to make several changes, she added during the NAMM Believe in Music Week session. “When we were shut down, we went to curbside sales and delivery,” she said.

“We were able to reopen in six weeks, but we still have curbside and delivery.” Regarding online sales, Ceo said Reverb sales have increased tremendously to the point where before, she could ship all online orders herself. Now, the retailer needs a plan to make those shipments. “The pandemic is so difficult, but it has shrunk the country,” stated Ceo. “We have seen sales come from places we have never seen before, like the west coast. Customer acquisition used to be expensive, but that has changed.”

Another boon to C.A. House Music’s sales is that old inventory is now selling quickly, unlike ever before, because new products are simply not available to customers, said Ceo.

However, C.A. House Music’s business development manager acknowledged these positive trends all pertain to combo sales. Band and orchestra (B&O) sales are a different story. Jeremy McQueary, president of Indianapolis-based Paige’s Music, said B&O business has not been as stellar. “There is no shortage of instruments. There are not as many kids starting out [in music],” he said. “And B&O sales are different online, so we have had to double down on customer service. 2020 was not stellar, but could have been much worse.”

Jeremy Payne, brand director and national accounts manager at The Music People, added he has been “really proud of retail. It has rebounded so well.” But with live music nonexistent, production professionals are hurting badly, so only some segments of MI are doing well.

In the future, the pandemic will change some things for good, relayed McQueary. This will likely include fewer large-scale in-person events, as people will not immediately be comfortable around a large group of people. Virtual instrument rental nights are another thing that are likely here to stay. This may not be a positive for sales, McQueary said, as retailers are used to having contracts signed on these rental nights, which often take place in January. Now, he expects these monies to come in several months later in the year.

Ceo noted that addressing safety in schools is going to be another thing MI retailers must prepare for in the future. For example, she pointed out that the state of West Virginia is mandating bell covers. This will change C.A. House Music’s inventory, but could also allow for additional sales, she said.

Lastly, the three panelists were asked what they would tell themselves 12 months ago if they knew the pandemic was coming. “I would go to a desert island and drink margaritas,” responded Ceo, to which Payne responded he would buy every hard-to-find pro-audio product, resell them, buy a desert island with the proceeds and drink any libation of his choice. On a more serious note, Ceo answered that she would have utilized C.A. House Music’s staff more to advance long-term projects.

“Much like Melissa said, people are our greatest resource,” Payne agreed. “I would utilize all people inside and outside the organization.”

“I would have taken action sooner,” concluded McQueary.

Highlights From “Tech Tips for Virtual Music Lessons”

In “Tech Tips for Virtual Music Lessons,” presenter Fernando Jones offered practical tips for beginners who are looking to start a virtual music lessons program. This session took place on Jan. 21, the second-to-last day of Believe in Music Week.

Jones is the founder of Blues Kids of America and Blues Camp, Blues Ensemble director at Columbia College Chicago, and an international recording artist with a wealth of experience teaching virtual music lessons. During this session, Jones broke his virtual lesson tips into three categories: Technology, Presentation Prep and Production.

Here are some key points from his presentation:

1. Technology. When it comes to choosing a device for creating video content, a desktop equipped with a dedicated webcam should be your first choice, followed by a laptop or tablet. Avoid relying on a cell phone for video if you can. Make sure your internet connection is as stable as possible, particularly when it comes to live video. If possible, use a hardwired Ethernet connection instead of relying on Wi-Fi. A hardwired connection will be more stable than a wireless connection, which will prevent your video from appearing jittery, and it will be much less likely that the connection will drop.

2. Presentation Prep. You may want to choose a signature look or outfit for when you record your videos. (Jones gave the example of one of his favorite television personalities, Rachel Maddow, who almost always wears simple black blazers, which conveys consistency and a businesslike approach to being on camera. Similarly, when Mr. Rogers put on a sweater, you knew it was time for him to start the show.) Although you may be tempted to dress flashy in order to stand out, avoid wearing outfits that will distract the viewer and take away from your subject matter.

According to Jones, “Your backdrop setting is equally as important as your face. It is a partner to your face and the information that you are delivering. So you don’t want to have a backdrop that will upstage what you are talking about.” Jones added, “You don’t want to be talking about major chords and minor chords, and your student is too busy reading the 12 posters that you have in the back. And when you ask them if they understand, they say ‘Oh, I see The Doors played the Fillmore East. What year was that?’”

Jones weighed the pros and cons of three common video background choices. A plain white background makes the subject of the video “pop,” allowing for clearer, more detailed shots (for example, a white background would be a good choice for a teacher who is playing an instrument on camera). A green screen allows for more effective use of virtual backgrounds. And a plain black background creates what Jones calls “the Charlie Rose effect,” which adds a feel of seriousness and professionalism.

Lighting is extremely important for capturing video. A common ring light positioned behind the camera is an easy lighting solution for most video applications, including virtual music lessons. If you don’t have a ring light, a typical table lamp placed behind the camera will suffice.

3. Production. You can build your own virtual lessons studio using your desktop or laptop computer, a webcam with a built-in mic (or a separate, dedicated mic), a set of speakers or monitors, and a pair of headphones or earbuds (which are important to use for music lessons and other video chat applications where the participants need to really focus in on the audio and avoid any feedback). Remember to make sure your camera is at eye level and that you focus on it when recording.

For virtual music lessons or songwriting classes, you may want to use a DAW (digital audio workstation), teaching app or other software. If possible, all participants should use the same software. GarageBand is a common solution for Mac users, and there are other programs like Pro Tools that can be used for other platforms.

Five Ways to Improve Your Social Media Strategy

If you’re operating a business in the year 2021, one thing is certain: You need to be on social media. Gone are the days of doing the bare minimum when maintaining an online presence; with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting companies’ means of connecting with their customers, leveraging social media to reach your audience is more critical than ever.

That’s something Reverb social media strategist, Mallory Nees, emphasized during her “Social Media in 2021: 5 Ways Your Strategy Must Evolve” education session at NAMM’s Believe in Music Week. Nees also underscored the need to evolve alongside the internet’s popular platforms. Read on to learn her five tips for boosting your social strategy in the coming year, even as the way consumers use the internet continues to shift.

Assess Which Channels You’re Using. One of the first tips Nees offered during her Believe in Music Week session was for companies to give some thought to the social media platforms they’re expending time and money on. There’s no shortage of social media sites these days, but according to Nees, attempting to juggle all of them “might not be sustainable or fruitful.” Instead, she suggested evaluating the pros and cons of the platforms your company uses, and reviewing that information to determine where your efforts will be most effective.

Leave Your Comfort Zone. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are the four social media sites most companies have been using for years, but Nees advised retailers and manufacturers to “explore new horizons” online. There are several platforms gaining in popularity, and businesses shouldn’t let fear of the unknown prevent them from signing up and reaching new audiences. Nees outlined the four up-and-coming social networks businesses should have on their radars (and maybe even
experiment with before they really blow up): Pinterest, TikTok, LinkedIn and Twitch.

Don’t Fight the Algorithm. When it comes to everchanging social algorithms, business owners and marketing managers may be tempted to push against the current. Nees, however, urged them to go along with it, advising,
“Don’t fight the algorithm.”

“Each platform has their own specific algorithms, but there are a few universalities that really do apply everywhere,” she explained. “And once you figure out how to work within that box, you might find that the algorithms actually work for you.”

Nees offered some overall tips for keeping up with the algorithms on most social media platforms, including using live video, avoiding clickbait and interacting more.

Be Authentic With Your Followers. As Nees pointed out during her session, the past year has been particularly difficult given the increased stress and isolation created by COVID-19.

“Companies that were able to adjust and find ways to speak to their audiences authentically on social media were in a unique position to find success,” she explained, adding that this “will remain true in 2021.”

A big part of maintaining authenticity with your audience involves being relatable, and unfortunately, there is sometimes a gap between “what consumers want and what marketers think consumers want,” Nees said.

Oftentimes, going overboard with memes and pop-culture references isn’t as effective as simply offering basic interaction.

Diversify Your Profiles. Companies hoping to reach new audiences must put effort into diversifying their social media profiles, making them more accessible to consumers from all backgrounds.

“Representation matters, and especially in our industry, it’s important to remind ourselves that music-makers are as diverse as music itself,” Nees explained.

Of course, this means showing social media users content that they can see themselves in. “People are much more likely to engage with you on social media if they see themselves and their interests represented on your page,” Nees said. “So, if you want to keep growing your brand, it’s your responsibility to set the table and make sure new faces feel comfortable when they arrive.”

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