Funky Munky and the Art of Guerilla Marketing
Young Partners “Tenacious” to the “T”
“I think any independent retailer can set themselves apart from the Guitar Centers, and now the Best Buys, through guerilla marketing,” Jon Kluiter says. And he and partner Pat Redd have certainly made their case with Funky Munky. The unusually named store, located in Shawnee, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, looks like your better-than-average store at first glance, but dig a little deeper, and innovative, fresh initiatives make this shop anything but traditional.
“These guys are always inquisitive, always looking for something new, and the perfect business model of what the modern music retailer should be,” says US Music’s inside sales rep Steve Gill. “Something new will happen here, and I’ll send them a picture, and they will immediately be like, ‘can we start selling it now?’ They are known for having cool, unique products not seen everywhere else, and their customer service is above and beyond what is typical. They are tenacious about everything.”
Jon and Pat’s ability to implement ideas that come out-of-the-box is thanks to the fact that… well, as they will admit, they were never in the box to begin with. They are the first to confess their vision is skewed, as they are the outsiders looking in, asking “why not?” rather than “why?”
But for the two 30-something guitarists with successful careers in very different industries prior to starting a music store, it’s been a bumpy road. For one, just trying to apply what they feel are basic business practices to the quirky world of MI leaves their jaws gaping to this day.
“I’m amazed at just how many non-business minded people hold high positions in big companies in this industry,” says Kluiter. “Some have absolutely no idea what really goes on – no business sense, no sales ability, very limited customer service ability, and no idea about how to help retailers grow.”
Kluiter and Redd chose not to wait around until “they” figured it out.
Parts and Glory
Kluiter grew up in Iowa and attended Northwestern Missouri State University, where he met Redd, with whom he formed a band – and a lasting friendship. Kluiter plays drums, guitar, bass, and is a guy who by the time he hit 30 had already figured out he didn’t want to work for someone else. “I was a white collar guy, and made good money as a regional sales rep for a car stereo company,” he explains. “But I was traveling a lot and missing my family.”
In 2002, he started a business in his basement: he would buy old guitars and sell the parts on eBay. “It’s like that old 1962 Chevy that doesn’t really run,” Kluiter says. “You might get $150 for it at a scrap metal yard, or you can sell the doors, parts of the engine, the wheels, and then wow – you’ve made $2,000 on it instead.” Quickly, he coerced Redd into helping out after Redd had moved back to Kansas City himself. The business was making $12,000 to $15,000 a month, but it was a lot of extra work for guys that had day jobs.
“At one point I told Pat we couldn’t do this any more. My basement was full of boxes where a home theater had been, and now it looked like a guitar factory.”
Redd would bite him back, and called later one day with a pretty off-the-wall idea: why not buy a music store?
Redd, a Kansas City native, had studied guitar at Berklee College of Music, but after a year, funds ran out. He ended up at North Western studying broadcasting and, after graduating, launched into a successful radio career. “I did that for 10 years, but then got burnt out from the transient life radio can be,” he says.
Back in his hometown, Redd had noticed a music store for sale in a strip mall on the Kansas side of the area and was intrigued. “It seemed like a cool thing to do,” he smiles. “And yes, jumping into something we knew nothing about was a brilliant move.”
Kluiter laughs: “Yes, we knew a lot more about this stuff five years ago! But honestly, we both have a sales and marketing background, and when you see a depressed market [like MI], there are two ways to look at it: either the market is dead, or there are many who are doing something wrong. There are many who must have a bad business model.” Citing their research, he said in the last 10 years many music stores have closed, yet more electric guitars were being sold than ever. “Someone was buying them. They just weren’t buying them from the people who were going out of business.”
The Internet had changed everything. “It made a small store in Kansas as approachable as one in the U.K., and we developed our business model around that reality.”
So after purchasing the store, one day it closed, and the next day, October 1, 2004, the Funky Munky opened. It was hardly a smashing success from day one. First of all, they admit they were largely absentee owners the first year or so, both keeping their other jobs. Second, getting brand lines was extremely hard. “We didn’t have $400,000 to buy into some of these lines,” Kluiter says.
What was left wasn’t much: “If Harris Teller didn’t sell it, the old store didn’t carry it,” Redd says. “We had no lines to speak of – and basically it was all hodgepodge.” Oh, and within six months of that, a MARS opened up in the area. But they rolled on.
“The good people at Washburn were kind enough to open a line with us, as were Charvel, which was great because Pat and I both idolized Eddie Van Halen,” and Charvel makes guitars in Van Halen’s style.
There were plenty of growing pains in the beginning, including challenges with the people who had worked for the old store. “We had to grow online and sustain locally, and it was difficult for employees to wrap their head around our non-traditional business model,” Redd says. “They didn’t understand why all this product was coming in, then going out without even being put out on the floor.”
“We bought products to sell, not to keep in the store like it was a museum,” Redd says of their heavy emphasis on online sales, an emphasis that paid off locally, too. “People would see an item online, and want to come into the store to see it in person.”
The Guerilla in Marketing
Perhaps the unofficial slogan for anything Funky Munky does is “why pay for it?”
Nothing too small falls into this category. For example, everyone else upon opening a store would have decided they needed to hire a graphic designer to create a logo. Redd, pulling from his bag of radio tricks, pitched having a contest for it.
“There’s no original idea, just twists on stolen ones,” Redd says. With “smoke and mirrors,” they put together a press release and called every local media person they could, and “by luck of the draw, it was a slow news day – I guess no buildings were burning down!” The local media took the bait.
In a clever idea that fit local media’s hunger for the wacky fun story, they held a press conference to announce a contest for people to submit their logo idea for their new store. The reward for the winner was a thousand bucks in gear. How could they afford that?
“We begged, borrowed, and stole from vendors to come up with that,” Kluiter says. Redd, imitating a stupefied supplier, mimicked: “You just took delivery, and now you want to give free stuff away already?!?”
For six weeks they ran the contest, hung all the contest’s work on the walls of their store with the name and age of the artist, and let people vote. The winner was picked, another press conference was called, the big fake cardboard check was made and… oh yeah. A guy in a monkey costume was summoned.
“We established ourselves as kind of the P.T. Barnum in town,” Kluiter says. “It’s something we live by – you know, ‘if you don’t toot your own horn, someone else will use it as a spitoon.’”
“We try to be where everyone else isn’t,” Redd says. “We studied a lot of Guitar Centers, and what other stores do, and we have tried to reach out to people that they don’t.” Contacts in radio have provided them advertising opportunities and allowed them to focus on promotions and events in unique ways.
“We do things that get people in the store, and this can include specific clinics but also autograph sessions. The radio stations and the suppliers have been helpful with this.” This means either getting a rock star that is playing a concert to come sign autographs, or more likely, a key endorser of a product that they carry. Either way it’s a throwback to what record stores used to do. Most recently, Disturbed’s Dan Donegan, a Randall and Washburn endorser, recently held a session.
“When you ask for these sessions, the [manufacturers] look at you cross-eyed, because nobody asks for things like that.” Kluiter laughs. “I’m like, ‘I want Dan [Donegan] here for an hour.’ Jackson, too knows we put on a good show, so in another instance we were able to get [their endorsers] Lamb of God here. We had 550 show up for autographs. It was insane!”
Then it is pointed out that those people are fans, not necessarily players. Redd responds: “But it’s working big time. Everybody knows someone who wants to play guitar or wants to get one. It’s come to the point that people will never forget us. It puts a seed in someone’s brain, and the next time they think they should take some bass lessons, we’re the top choice.”
Funky Munky’s biggest coup to date, which has been repeated by others so often at this point it seems like old news, was achieving Guinness World Record status with the most guitarist playing one song in one place ever. On June 3, 2007, 1,721 guitarist of all ages and skill gathered at the Community American Ballpark in Kansas City for the largest performance of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” up to that point.
“I’d love to take credit for that, but I knew radio folks at the local rock station, and they came to us saying they needed guitarists,” Redd says. Funky Munky was asked how far they were willing to go and they answered “all the way.” “We’ll do whatever it takes – and we had rehearsals here, worked out logistics, worked out how it was going to be promoted, everything.” It was wildly successful and they got major local, regional, and even national exposure for their efforts.
Monkeys & Merchandising
The store floor is 3,000 square feet, and it is well merchandised. One can’t help notice the stuffed monkey dolls big and small that are hung throughout it. Kluiter tells that many are actually left by customers themselves. “At the end of the day, sometimes I’ll see one that wasn’t there before. It’s gotten to the point where people just bring them in and leave them!” Shirts and hats with the store’s logo and funny sayings (“more cowbell”) are prominent. Picks, strings, and other accessories are not in “glass coffins” but are accessible to everyone to touch and look at it. While many dealers don’t do this because of concerns of shrinkage, Funky Munky believes it leads to selling more product.
They recently rebranded their lesson program making it a “school,” and it gets a lot of their attention. Today they have about 300 students coming in for lessons a week, but they are “still finding ways to try and grow it.” The lesson rooms account for another 2,000 square feet of the operation.
They are selective of the brands they carry, not only in terms of quality, but also in terms of deals and margins. “Overall, we’re a massive dealer for US Music products and do well with Washburn, Parker, Randall amps, et cetera, “Kluiter says. “And also we do a lot of Gretsch, B.C. Rich, and Luna guitars.” Other guitar lines include Guild, Jackson (custom and import), Schecter, Breedlove, Guild, Peavey, and Dean. Amps include ISP Technologies, Krank, Peavey, Engle, and Line 6. Their pro audio department is heavy in Peavey gear.
Recently, they outgrew their space. Since they could not coax immediate neighbors in the strip mall from moving, they did take the empty space two doors down. Typically, they made the disadvantage an advantage and made the new place home to their high-end instruments and amps. “It’s basically a boutique shop for guitars in the $1,000 to $5,000 range,” Redd says. The advantages include keeping the high-end guitars from being dinged by kids, while allowing the deep-pocket shopper plenty of time to try out different guitars in a home-like environment. In the room are the custom models and high-end models of the brands mentioned, plus Buddy Blaze, Campbell American, and Bernie Rico Jr.
“We do well with Ludwig – we’ve become a destination for the brand,” Kluiter says. Mapex is also part of the drum mix. The store boasts great displays for cymbals and sticks, too. For the former, it’s Zildjian and Sabian. “We’ve been down the road with others, but we keep coming back to those two because they sell. It’s a matter of profits-per-square-inch for everything we stock. We don’t keep something just because it’s cool.”
They had inherited from the previous store’s owner some B&O products and accessory, something they are now shedding. Kluiter shrugs and admits that they just never were able to do that segment justice, and “I’d rather send someone to another store that can really take care of their needs then just ‘kind of’ take care of them here, and just ‘kind of’ have the selection.”
Given their backgrounds, naturally their advertising plans leans on radio plus a little bit of newspaper. Otherwise, there is a lot of direct to consumer emphasis. They gather as much information on everybody who calls, comes in, asks a question, or buys something. The clerks are trained to quickly back off if a customer doesn’t want to provide it.
They are always tweaking, changing, and trying new things. But Funky Munky is assured of continuing it’s unusual path. The team was mum on expansion ambitious, other than to say they are always expanding their Internet presence. “We will continue to be your local neighborhood store no matter where you are in the world,” says Kluiter.
As for getting rich …
“I’m making less money now than I have in the last 14 years, but I’m having more fun than ever,” says Kluiter.
“I agree,” Redd adds. “best job ever is being a small business owner living in the hometown with your friends and family around.”
All in a Name
Not that one would advocate a contest as to who has the most unusual names, but if there was such a challenge, it’s hard to image Funky Munky not making it into the top three, if not grabbing the proverbial “gold” in such a contest.
Both owners, Jon Kluiter and Pat Redd, crack up when the inevitable question comes up as to how “Funky Munky” came to be, well, the moniker …
“We brainstormed ideas on the name for months, and we never came up with something we liked,” Redd explains. Typical band references, guitar references, name combinations, et cetera, all fell flat. “Then one night, my wife and I had a few drinks, and we started a long list of words that were completely unrelated to the business. It was a huge list.” In the morning, one in particular jumped up at the then presumably clear-eyed clear-headed Redd.
“I called Jon and said, ‘okay I got it, but don’t react right away … how about ‘Funky Munky Music’? It’s fun to say, catchy, easy!”
Kluiter laughs, recreating his part of the story: “I said, ‘Um, what else do you got?’”
Redd insisted he think about it for a day, take it out for a spin, say it to his wife and kids, and call him tomorrow.
“I called back 10 minutes later, and said, ‘you’re right, that’s it!’” Kluiter says.