By Rebecca Apodaca

I’m supposed to be taking this month off for my summer vacation. But, I am so excited about this column that I thought I would review what I have experienced in the past six months, since starting with Shine A Light.

I thought, in the beginning, that I would hear the same details from every store owner. “Yes, we give lessons. Yes, we have name brands. Yes, we place ads, and loan or donate equipment to local events to support our community. Yes, we all hate the Internet discounts and big-box stores that are pulling us down.” And on and on. I am now enlightened, though.

What I found was that the owners of these successful stores are so busy keeping their stores going that they barely have time for the interview. Each store is receiving what, in a sense, amounts to a full-page “advertisement” about its business. So, why do I practically have to tie a phone cord around them to get an hour of time? Because they are out there working hard to make it happen.

Either they are speaking so quickly that I see smoke coming out of the edges of my tape recorder, or I have to reschedule to get the interview. Just to get time that is uninterrupted, I have spoken to them from their homes. Now, this has put a damper on some of my own work at times, but what they have had to say has always been a goldmine of information.

Gene Fresco and Dan Vedda give great “tutorials” and insights each month. MI Spy tells us who is doing right, and who is doing wrong. This, however, is a bit different. Some of those ideas of Gene and Dan’s, I get to see in action! I hope you are taking action on the secrets to their success.

A & D Music told us that, “when times get tough,” get educated in appraisal and think outside the box. Become the “go-to store” and have a strong repair shop. Try to partner with the local big-box store to have it recommend your store for services and products it doesn’t have.

Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center “came out of the ashes,” building on family involvement. They say, have a super-strong repair shop and cultivate outstanding customer service. “Start a conversation” to sell your customers exactly what they need. Maintain your lines, so that you can build that same customer relationship with your vendors.

Corner Music told us that it has become “the tool store for musicians.” If you want to have repeat business from the pros, make sure everything works well and inspect it using your repair shop. Always have something new. Larry Garris took accountability for earning business while competing with big-boxes stores when he said, “I am not sure I have any more right to it than they do.” He doesn’t whine about competition; he makes his store work for him.

Elderly Instruments, known for its knowledge of vintage fretted instruments, is “definitely wiser” about the new instruments it sells. According to them, “It’s no damn good if it doesn’t play,” and the first line of defense is receiving. Its top-notch repair shop is the answer to preventing problems. Plus, the store’s categorized e-mails send customers only the information they signed up for.

Gordy Wilcher at Owensboro Music may not “eat a bug,” but he runs an incredible store. By participating in events that are not music-related, he is recruiting new business. Longevity in the community is also strength, as is keeping things fresh at the store. He participates in NAMM U as a presenter.

Finally, Music Center, Inc., tells us to “get dressed and go to work,” while also reminding us that “you can never go wrong with quality.” It only sells instruments and gear it can service; its repair shop is key. The store keeps its pros happy, and the pros give back in time and knowledge.

All of them attend the NAMM show yearly, and they all attend the seminars and learn. Ron Catano, former East Los Angeles College Business Communications and Marketing Professor, told me, “Everyone is your customer.” The co-worker standing next to you is your customer. Your own vendors are your customers. If you are reading this article, then you’re my customer.

If we treat the people whom we are working with in providing products, a service or in helping to make that sale as if they were the customer, everything runs more smoothly. We have a tendency to overlook the people around us, but they make it possible to do our jobs. If we make the same effort toward our employees, co-workers and vendors, we will succeed. If an employee looks at the owner as his or her customer, then the attitude changes. Negative things you would never say in front of a customer, or a good thing you do to keep a retail customer, should apply to your “internal customer service.” And remember, the USPS, UPS, FedEx and your DHL carriers are also your customers!

“Collecting aces” is another suggestion from Catano. Cut out an article in which a customer or a co-worker might be interested. Or, pass on a freebie from a rep that you might not have a use for, but the other person might. In doing this, it gives you the opportunity to connect with that other person and keep a small favor close at hand in the future.

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