The MagazineMarketplaceEventsResourcesNewsContact

No Fear & Loathing in Louisville

Guitar Center's officially out of hibernation. Its latest coup? A new location in Sarasota, Fla., with a full-fledged music lessons program. It's the mega retailer's second store to feature an education department, and it won't be the last. Independent retailers steeped in music lessons are under siege. Right?

Not in Louisville, Ky.

You'll remember that's where GC rolled out its first retail-based lessons program in late January. The move drew a collective gasp from independent retailers across the industry. And yet, nearly three months in, it looks as if indies still have the upper hand.

Mom's Music is one of these Louisville indies. A full-line dealership with 500 students weekly, Mom's actually saw a rise in lesson enrollment since GC came to town, according to owner Max Maxwell. He added that GC's local advertising yielded a surge of new customers at his store. And that's not changing.

"We seem to be busier since they've moved in," Maxwell said. "From the first weekend until now, we've been busier."

Mind you, Mom's is working to drive that business. It launched a new website in March that features links to YouTube teacher videos. The site came at a considerable cost, and guess where Maxwell turned for funds?

"We ask the teachers to give back a few dollars of what they make per student for a month to help with that," he said. "And they've been amazing about it.

"Folks have been e-mailing us, saying, 'What's the availability of this guy? I really want to take from this person.' That's been a huge, huge push for us."

Maxwell said involving teachers in promoting lessons, even when it means charging them, has kept morale high. "They always feel like they're part of what we're doing here and they're not just the hired teacher."

Mom's isn't an isolated example. Willis Music, an independent MI retail chain, has two stores in Louisville, both of which offer lessons. Like Mom's, both are flourishing in the face of more aggressive chain competition, according to Kevin Cranley, president of the Florence, Ky.-based dealership.

"Both [of our Louisville stores] have grown since GC opened on the lessons side," he said. "It's about having the right teachers. We spend a lot of time getting really good, solid teachers."

This isn't to say that GC's model has nothing to teach the music retail industry. In his column, "Welcome to the Jungle," Pete Gamber looks at ways dealers can adapt some of GC's smart practices, such as boosting print music sales by creating lessons binders. (See "Ideas" in this edition of the e-newsletter.)

Ultimately, Gamber and Maxwell both agree GC's biggest impact will be on indies with their heads in the sand. If you're a small operation, start preparing now. As Maxwell explained, "If GC moves into a place that doesn't have strong education programs, then I think they could take over." MI