December 16, 2020 I Feature
Tilling The Soil
By Daniel Margolis
Retailers polled for this year’s Supplier Excellence Awards called Fender “a machine run by good people,” and praised the guitar giant for having the right gear at the right time.
Fender CEO Andy Mooney said this makes him “feel both humble and proud,” and he praised the Fender team for having “pivoted really quickly” as COVID-19 began rapidly spreading in March.
Tammy Van Donk, Fender’s executive vice president of sales for the Americas and EMEA, echoed this. “With such an incredible, unprecedented thing that we’re going through, we definitely had to learn how to be nimble,” she said. “The situation was changing almost daily.”
As was the case for many companies and people, Fender wasn’t initially sure how long the pandemic would last. “If you looked at what was happening in March, the bet we were making, it was like, ‘OK, let’s hunker down and see how we’re going to manage through maybe a month or two,” she said. “But it was pretty quick to see, ‘Hey, this is going to be a long haul here.’”
What came next was the online sales boom, which brought new supply chain challenges. “We’re seeing triple-digit demand growth in our entry-level product,” Van Donk said. “There’s no way we could have planned for that, when you’re talking in excess of 100 percent growth in Squier and our acoustic products.” So Fender poured direct effort into keeping its factories operational, well-supplied and safe.
Concurrently, Fender made sure to remain in contact with dealers, who were themselves reopening and contending with a sharp increase in demand for guitars. With The Summer NAMM Show canceled, suppliers needed new ways to connect with retailers, so Fender introduced an easy-to-navigate, online dealer portal, something retailers polled for this award pointed out. “I am just so impressed with what we’ve been able to do with the portal and support our dealers,” Van Donk said. “All the information that they would want about what’s happening with their orders, it’s right on the dealer portal.”
Justin Norvell, executive vice president of Fender products, underscored the importance of keeping lines of communication to dealers open by noting that “many of our dealer relationships are decades and decades old.”
This isn’t surprising considering Fender’s rich history, something that Norvell said guides its approach to product development. “We’re trying to keep a 70-year-old brand as relevant today as it was in the past,” he said, citing as an example the company’s new American Professional II series. “We’re always tilling the soil and just refreshing, tweaking and optimizing.”
The company is taking the same approach to its customer base. Van Donk described an overall strategy to retain new customers borne of the online sales boom during quarantine. “One of the biggest lessons we learned as new players are entering the field is we’re starting to shift some of our marketing toward a new player, your acquisition, and making sure that we can retain those guys,” she said. “We want to keep them engaged.”
In mid-March, as the coronavirus took hold, the company announced a three-month giveaway of Fender Play, its online learning app for guitar, bass and ukulele. On April 9, the company announced that it was opening up the giveaway to a million people, and as of October reports 930,000 users.
“Those people that came in are connected with us now and think about how we can step them up to a different price point of guitar,” she said.
Mooney agreed. “Sometimes,” he said, “things done from the heart end up being really good business initiatives.”
Beyond new ways of getting product to dealers and new players, Mooney pointed to another big change COVID-19 has inspired at Fender, and overall. “I think it will also permanently change the way that people work together,” he said. “I don’t see a hundred percent return to people going back to the office. We found that we can be really effective in ways that we never would have contemplated.” MI