January 28, 2021 I MI Editor I by Daniel Margolis

On Optimism

It’s clear, and also understandable, in looking around MI today that there’s a fair amount of trepidation out there about what 2021 has in store for our industry, and this issue certainly reflects that. As you’ll see on page 46, for Ask The Retailer, Music Inc. asked retailers if they see a return to foot traffic this year, and just that simple question produced an outpouring of emotion.

I reached out to Marcia Stearns, owner of Bookmark Music, a small shop in a tourist town in California. Last year was rough for Bookmark Music. Stearns was down to one part-time employee when we spoke and was initially reluctant to speak to me because she was in the store by herself. But once she heard the question, she immediately started sharing her story, and we discussed it for 10 minutes straight. No customers came into the store during our interview but, adorably, a dog entered and left.

She says, quite frankly, “I can see lasting until March, but I don’t know if I’m going to make it until the pandemic’s over.”

Far across the globe, Hans Thomann, CEO of German company Thomann, one of the largest MI retailers in the world, is also worried. We profiled Thomann for our January cover story and Hans was kind enough to write in to Music Inc. on page 10 of this issue to update our readers on where the company is today. His letter is unflinching. He says, “I wish I could give a more optimistic outlook, but I honestly believe that 2021 will be more difficult for us than 2020.” Hans’ primary assertion is that the online sales boom brought about by people learning or returning to musical instruments in quarantine is going to end. With no sales driver to replace that, MI may face a real challenge.

To level set on these individual perspectives on MI and its short term future, I spoke with Jim Hirschberg, president of MI SalesTrak, a retail sales tracking program for the musical products industry. He was quick to tell me that he doesn’t forecast, adding, “Anybody who did forecast for 2020 would have been wrong.” Yeah, no kidding.

But Hirschberg does concede the uncertainty we’re hearing is justified. “We have some concerns about sales that appear to be a bubble and how long that can be maintained,” he said. “The newcomers to the industry, newcomers to musical products, beginning players, may be a temporary phenomenon.”

There are notes of hope out there. When COVID-19 first took hold of the U.S. in March, Music Inc. spoke to Rand Cook, owner of The Candyman Strings & Things in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who emotionally shared his story of having to shut down his store and lay off his entire staff. Happily, Candyman is now back up and running, and Cook is more than optimistic for 2021, particularly for the overall effect of the coming vaccine. “I think once we get to April and May, what we’re going to see is an artistic and economic renaissance the likes of which we’ve not seen in many, many years.”

That’s great to hear, and makes one optimistic for Q2 and beyond. MI

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