Tommy Colletti

December 03, 2020 I Feature

At a Crossroads

By Daniel Margolis

While Tommy Colletti is honored that his business, The Music Zoo in Farmingdale, New York, has been included as part of Music Inc.’s Retail Excellence Awards, he is quick to add that winning awards hasn’t been a priority this year.

“It’s honestly the last thing on my mind,” he said. “All of 2020 has been survival mode.”

When COVID-19 first hit U.S. shores, Colletti was worried. “Our cash flow was very challenged in the last two weeks of March,” he said. “It was really head-scratching to the point of like, ‘Well, it was a good run while it lasted. I guess we all better look for a new gig.’ And then, by the first week of April, it turned around so drastically.” March was one of The Music Zoo’s worst months ever, then April was its best.

The Music Zoo has moved three times in 26 years, and the last one was well-timed. In 2019, it moved into a 22,000 square-foot facility, boasting what Colletti calls a “beautiful store.”

“It’s all glass, and it’s got separate rooms for Fender and for Taylor and for Martin, for Yamaha, Gibson,” he said. “I [am] a product of 48th Street in New York City, and going from store to store and having a different experience when you went from store to store. I wanted to create that here on Long Island, where a consumer would be in the store, but they could physically walk from one glass enclosure to another and have a completely different experience with different product and a different vibe.”

Beyond these rooms, The Music Zoo also made changes including a new VoIP phone system, new management software and more. All of this wasn’t easy for Colletti. “My guys would talk me off the ledge, like, ‘I just want a landline. Why is it so difficult?’” he said. “Quite honestly, I wish I enjoyed building the new store and facility more than I did.” Colletti described a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which an announcer at a baseball game refers to a “screaming line drive” and it then shows a baseball with a cartoon face screaming while flying through the air. “That’s kinda how I felt through the whole thing.”

Nevertheless, the move put The Music Zoo in a good position when quarantine arrived, as the new location boasts plenty of warehouse space. The store’s showroom, beautiful as it is, remains closed. Pre-pandemic, 85% of the company’s business was online-based, and now it’s even more, so that new VoIP phone system is coming in handy. “My salespeople, at the moment, are working from their living rooms.”

Another April All Over Again

The world has lost a lot of lives this year, and one hit Colletti particularly hard. “It wasn’t too long after playing the guitar [for the first time] that I heard Edward Van Halen,” he said. “And that was the moment in my life where I was at a crossroads where I thought maybe I should quit, because I’m never going to get as good as this guy or continue pursuing it because I’m so intrigued by what a genius he is. And that led me down this road of playing and performing and teaching, and then inevitably opening up the retail store.”

In initially opening the store, Colletti was excited to stock guitars associated with the legendary guitarist, and noted that it’s bittersweet that his death has led to a resurgence in demand for guitars. “Certainly since his passing October 6, business shot up again — interest for not only anything EVH or that has his name on it or the stripes, but overall,” Colletti said. “It’s acoustic guitars, electric guitars, Gibson, Fender, just all across the board. The guitar business has changed again. It’s almost like another April all over again.” MI

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