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Getting in Position

At the recent RPMDA in Columbus, Ohio, Richard and Steven Gore, father and son team from Texas-based print titan Pender’s Music Co., gave a two-part presentation entitled “Your Digital Future.” Along with providing a rapid-fire overview of the changes the music business in general has experienced over the past several decades, the two also presented several cutting-edge products and initiatives. (Steven’s presentation appears in the July issue of Music Inc., and at

At the outset of his talk, Richard Gore noted that he had been in the business for 30 years, a tenure that allowed him some real perspective on the past few difficult years.

He then presented six principles for strategic positioning, adapted from noted business author Michael Porter.

1. Start with the right goal: Superior longterm return on investment.
“It’s the most important thing. If you’re showing up for work and selling at cost or below cost — where is that going?” Richard said. “What’s your motive in doing that? I’m looking at the Tonara people [a new app company]; they have had $750,000 just this year put in their bank account by outside investors who think this may be the next great thing. Where is the long term on that? Though you can’t fault the program, I have to think it’s just people throwing money at it.”

2. Be unique from your competitors.
“One of my favorite companies in the world is Southwest Airlines. I took a lot of criticism for bringing them in [at a previous convention] but it helped me to see how they set themselves apart — it was service-based and personable. That’s an example of how you can be unique. Even though you may be small and you may not have the technological know-how, you can change. And that’s the whole hope we bring right now: You have time. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

3. Remain, or become, innovative.
“If things are static in your company, if things are operating as they always have, you really need to get some advisors on board, such as a young person like [my son] Steven. There are people in your community, even those who work in your store, that know this [emerging technology]. You just have to ask them. You might consider an outside advisory board of customers and say, ‘What do you want? How can we be a better supplier for your needs?’ If you are not willing to do that then I can tell you truthfully you probably need to figure out your end game.”

4. You can’t be all things to all people.
“You can’t be both innovative and operate as a discount firm. You can’t have wonderful people and pay them fairly and also offer a huge discount. Consider what’s valuable to your customer; you’re not going to be able to beat Amazon at a price game — but you can beat Amazon in a service environment, in a knowledge environment, and in providing things that people want that they cannot get on Amazon.”

5. All activity should be mutually reinforcing.
“Service, efficiency and value. You can’t have service without efficiency, and you can’t have value without all three of those things. If you don’t feel comfortable, bring in somebody.”

6. All departments and personnel need to be on the same page.
“You need to get a huddle together of everybody and say, ‘We are in for the fight of our lives — and here’s what’s going on.’ And pull up Tonara and show them and say this is an outside industry force that is going to dominate our market if we don’t get our stuff together. And get buy-in from all your people. Make them understand that we can make it happen, and compete against the biggest company in the retail universe, and we can win.”

Gore concluded with some observations about the unique nature of music retailing.

“What we do is special,” he said. “What we do really is an art form; it’s not anything that can be replicated digitally in the same way that you deliver it. Uplift your people and let them know that what they do is very important to your customers. It may be that if you bring your customer advisory board in, they will share that with them, which is powerful.

“And take care of your people. Because I guarantee you Amazon doesn’t take care of the people in that sweatshop warehouse. They can have all the systems in the world to help them pull the right piece of music, but they will never beat somebody who has a heart and passion and soul for music like you do.”