A suggestion for guitar shop owners who want to make more money! Whoa!

Khromo

Silver Supporting Member
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1,453
I used to do the repair work for three of the local guitar shops. I would visit each one on Monday and Thursday or Friday to pick up and drop off repairs. Two of the shops might have a few customers, but the third one was really active, all the time. Lots of customers, lots of spirited convo and laughter. Lots of heavy hitters passed through there, as well as a few legit rock stars, as much for the entertainment value as anything else.

There were a lot of reasons for that popularity, but there was one that was unique, fairly inexpensive, and helped build relationships that were beneficial for the customers and profitable for the owners. They used to run blind tests all the time, setting up rigs to sample different pots and caps in wiring harnesses, preamp and power tubes, drivers, saddle materials, etc. They would set the test up and everybody who walked through the door was invited to give it a try. There were prizes for top performers, pictures were tacked to the wall, and it was good natured and in some instances educational fun for everybody.

Most of the customers would go cross-eyed and say "Pass!" when asked if they'd like to hear the difference between tone control capacitors, but the gearheads and tone-chasers would stop by regularly to take the tests, and sometimes they would buy something. Folks used to come in to see if any rock stars showed up that day or check out the Wall of Fame. It was a great business strategy, and it helped keep the shop jumping and fun!

Some of the tests were really interesting. They had me cut nuts for a Tele and a Les Paul so you could put different brands of the same gauge string on the same guitar, and compare brands or construction. After the String Test I put six different bridge saddles on that guitar so you could compare brass, steel, titanium, sintered GraphTech on the same guitar with the same string, a true apples-to-apples test. They set up a reversed-polarity-speaker test once, they actually had two different amps set up for that one. They had me cut a bone nut for three strings and some synthetic for the other three. I put six different brands of tuners on a guitar once, so you could compare them, using six G strings.

Power tubes, preamp tubes, speakers, you name it. We made a big control board so you could compare different pot values and tapers, tone control caps, bridge saddles, whatever seemed interesting. Take the Blind Test, win a gift certificate, strings, cables, and maybe get your picture on the wall next to J.J. Cale's. Or maybe just watch one of the local guitar heroes take the test.

A lot of the guys who spent the most money would swing by just to take the newest test, and bask in the ambience. It created a less stressful atmosphere for newbies as well, because they didn't feel like the employees were constantly watching them, and the raucus interactions kept the atmosphere light and comfortable. It was kind of like the get-togethers where gearheads go and revel in each other's company and try new things and maybe learn something.

Amusing and attractive for the customers, profitable for the owners. Might work for you!

I'll bet you all have some interesting suggestions for blind tests that could dazzle the ear and fascinate the mind.
 
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tonedover

This Is Fine.
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7,744
Kinda cool, kind of annoying to some though i bet.

my local used to do a good job of setting up little rigs here and there in the store, like a new model guitar, two used pedals and a smaller size combo. That was really cool both for nerds and casuals
 

Khromo

Silver Supporting Member
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1,453
It was kind of like an amusement park for guitar players. They used to bring in some of their vintage gear occasionally so customers could test out a tweed Bassman or an old Vox. They did a lot of seminars and they even did group lessons for all ages, free.

"Mom and Pop, done right!!!"
 
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522
Man, that sounds really fun! Can you say what city that shop was in? I wish a shop local to me did that. I would be stopping by all the time. I can see how it would increase sales also. Half the battle when going into a guitar store and checking out gear is getting things set up. When the guitar store simplifies that process to make comparisons, it's much easier to decide to spend some money. The blind test competition makes it even better because it's fun. Sign me up!
 

Khromo

Silver Supporting Member
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1,453
The shop was in San Diego, California. A big city that has remained a small town (in the bad ways) for many years!

There were a lot of good shops in San Diego around the turn of the century. There were two Guitar Centers, several fine amp techs, plenty of live music venues, and some high-brow and low-brow Mom and Pops spread all over. A bass specific shop, lots of retired rock stars trading in their old gear.

The environment is not business friendly, though, with taxes and onerous regulations making for a steep climb, and leasing space is brutally expensive. The city is spread out, and there are not many "walking sidewalk" neighborhoods. All three of the shops I serviced in those (2001-2014) years are gone now.
 
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San Diego, love it down there! The traffic sure hasn't been small town for a long time in San Diego. I'm born and raised in Northern California (Concord, Oakland, San Jose). I'm sure you must have run into Jerry Raney or Joey Harris from the Beat Farmers down there in the San Diego area back then. Two amazing guitarists along with Country Dick Montana and Rolle Love, who rocked the cow punk (think Americana hard rock/rockabilly/old time country western mix) college bar band scene based out of the San Diego area. Jerry and Joey still front their own bands (The Farmers and The Mentals), but not to the same coastal touring extent they used to do. I was lucky in '93-'95 to get to see the Beat Farmers in central coast San Luis Obispo 2-3 times each year when they came through. They put on the best live show I've ever seen with lots of crowd involvement and mayhem.

I'm sorry to hear that those guitar shops are now closed and that it's not business friendly. Sounds similar on the business end of things to San Jose - a HUGE city, but very small walkable downtown and the few places that are here the city not only taxes things expensively, but the permits required often seem to take advantage of things. I recall one friend who knew the owner of a taco bar/pool hall lounge who had acquired it after 3 other owners sold. After the fire department came in and did their inspection, they told them they needed to complete a long list of upgrades to get to current code that totaled out to $100k. This satisfied the "Occupancy" permit. After they spent that money and did so, they came back and said, OK, now that that's done, you now need to complete this other list of items to satisfy the "Congregational" permit requirements. "Occupancy" and "Congregational" sound pretty similar don't they?? The owners told the City and Fire dept to go screw themselves and shut the doors. What a shame. I've heard similar stories from many San Jose business owners.
 

cram

Member
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14,210
OP - Easily relatable to people who succeed when they increase a community around their brand as anyone in music or media production does ; positive attitude and an aim toward building a community can pay dividends, imo.
 

Khromo

Silver Supporting Member
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1,453
...San Diego, love it down there! The traffic sure hasn't been small town for a long time in San Diego...

I moved here in about 1982-1983, and I used to gush to the folks I used to work with in Los Angeles about how you couldn't even find traffic here. You could drive in and out of downtown, in what would be rush hour in most cities, with no problem. By about 2000, after years of healthy growth and no new road construction, there are now a lot of areas that you have to avoid for large periods of the day.

I don't really know if taxes and regulation are all that much worse than in many other cities. Leasing/renting space is probably the most painful element of trying to do business around here.

A good buddy used to work at the local Guitar Center. One day he told me he was transferring to San Jose. He explained that down here in the hinterlands, selling a MIM Fender was a chore, with a brutal grind for every freaking nickel, until he wanted to get a job in Sanitation instead! He said in San Jose, guys walked in the door, said "I'll take that PRS over there! I'll need the case, too! And ring up that amp over there as well! Thank you!" Not a single word about price, no drama over nickels and dimes. I think there was a lot of truth in that!
 

Khromo

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,453
OP - Easily relatable to people who succeed when they increase a community around their brand as anyone in music or media production does ; positive attitude and an aim toward building a community can pay dividends, imo.

That's an excellent description of what was going on there! A community, rather than just a place to go buy things. They started by building stronger personal relationships between employees and customers, sitting down and playing and listening and talking about what might work best for the customer. Then the community took shape on the foundation of those relationships. I think guys who encountered problems with gear, playing, or bands, they would often come to that shop looking for a solution

The bulletin board in that place was very well-used and a great resource for local musicians. They had a few great teachers for the new guys. They wanted to make it a place where musicians would come for all their needs, including a little camaraderie and networking. They saw beyond the "Sell" function and got into "Inform", "Entertain", and "Embrace". Guys who came in were very much inclined to come back!

Your mention of "community" is perfectly apt! Thanks!
 




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