Drum Shops, Full-Liners Chart Sales Gains in ‘07
“I’m very thankful — we’re up a bit from last year,” says Dana Bentley. “For the past 15 years we’ve been in business, we’ve been up every year.”
Then the Fresno, Calif.-based owner of Bentley’s Drum Shop adds: “But you have to work hard every year.”
This sums up the state of percussion. While all dealers interviewed for this article report increasing sales, they also agree it’s no easy chore. The tough triumvirate of more competition, tighter margins, and free-falling price points rule the day. But old-fashioned hard work, paired with some creative new approaches and careful tailoring of inventory, is paying off.
Talking with independent drum specialty stores and full-line stores with sizable drum departments, it’s clear that what is selling well varies wildly from store to store, though they do have one thing in common: everyone seems pleased with the middle price point. Manufacturers are continually raising the quality of step-up kits, so much so some dealers are deemphasizing the lower range and, in some cases, all but abandoning the high end as well.
“What we sell are mostly the nicer, less expensive kits — those in the $600 to $1,500 range,” says Clark Bennett of Colorado Drum & Percussion, the Fort Collins, Colo. dealership. “What you get for your money is pretty amazing.”
General Trends & the Low End
“We do real well with Mapex all the time as a general rule,” says Paul Musilli of Buffalo Drum Outlet, Buffalo, N.Y. “We’re also doing well with Gretsch. We carry about all the brands, and there are many now! It’s not like 15 years ago when it was Tama or Pearl.” Buffalo Drum moved new digs this year — from the city to the tony suburbs, which is making it less necessary to carry low-end products. Musilli says they now are seeing first-time drummers spending $1,300, $1,400 on a “beginner” kit. But they do keep Rockwood and Peace sets in stock for those seeking a less pricey alternative.
Vince Gorby of Gorby’s Music in Charleston, W. Va., a store that has seen a pleasing 20% increase in percussion sales overall, reports Taye Drums doing especially well. They’ve carried them for five years, and they move best from the $750 price point all the way through the top-end kits. Because of that, they’ve stuck with Taye almost exclusively.
“Orbitone on the low end does pretty well for us, especially at Christmas time,” Gorby says. “We’re a bit more focused on that level at that time of the year.”
At Good ‘n Loud of Madison, Wis., another full-line store, they are focusing on entry-level and mid-level kits, not so much upper-end kits as “it’s hit or miss depending on what people are looking for,” says Chris Liethen. “We’ve done Pork Pie and Trick, and not that they aren’t great lines, but we’ve just not been successful with them.” Bennett doesn’t sell a lot of starter sets and tries to up-sell from the start. “Those absolute beginner kits need things replaced on them right away, and what you can get in the $500 to $600 range is much better.”
|Five-Star Update: Q&A with Rob Birenbaum
“We’re a Five-Star dealer,” says Paul Musilli of Buffalo Drum Outlet. “Anything manufacturers do especially for Five-Star, we get an extra mark-up. It’s an exclusive type thing. So any products the companies are making just for us are working very well.”
Since 2001, a collection of percussion-only independent music retailers has banded together to share information and pool buying power. The 36 current members have been able to grow, garner appreciation and attention from many manufacturers, and raise their profile both within the industry and to the consumer.
Rob Birenbaum is one of the founding members of Five-Star Drum Shops, and while he sold his dealership, St. Louis-based Drum Headquarters, to longtime employee Jim Uding in 2005, he has stayed on as part of the Five-Star management team. He recently sat down for a quick Q&A with MMR.
MMR: Overall, how is this year for Five-Star Drum Shops?
MMR: How are things for Five-Star as an organization?
There are times when the group has to think like a group to take advantage of certain offers. It’s one of the keys to continuing the manufacturers’ commitment and support.
MMR: Has there been a recent example of that?
MMR: What’s the focus on the ads?
MMR: Working with manufacturers — do you go to them or do they come to you?
As it is, we’ve had 36 vendors participate in our specials program this year, and there are 33 vendors represented in the group’s Buyer’s Guide.
MMR: What’s the overall goal for the group these days?
We’re getting anecdotal evidence that it’s working. For the touring mid-level pro — the ones one notch down from guys with “gofers” on the payroll — they seek out the Five-Star drum store in whatever city they are in for their needs. These guys are going on our Web site, printing out the list of our dealers, and going to our stores.
We want to expand on that further.
“We sell the Grestch Blackhawk for entry level, though it’s more of a step-up kit, as we price it at $599 and it includes everything,” says Adam York. Then again, beginners are finding OSP and Percussion Plus kits for $299 at his dealership, The Music Store in Tulsa, Okla. “We do a big anniversary sale every on the weekend before Thanksgiving, and we usually get the Percussion Plus kits out the door at $199 … but we try to get customers to upgrade on the hardware and cymbals because what comes with them at that price isn’t that great. We find once they set it up at home, they come back for a nicer set of cymbals.” The quality of the Percussion Plus drums, however stand the test of time — York adds that it was his first kit, which he still has today.
For Bentley’s Drum in Fresno, Rockwood is a great starter kit, and the next step up for him are the Ludwig Accents. From there, it’s the Pacific X7: “At $949, including hardware, it is a fantastic seven-piece kit for a wonderful price point.” Bentley has a measured strategy, and likes to go up in $150 increments, and fill in all the holes. “We don’t want to say, ‘Here’s this one for $300 and then the next is $700,’” he explains. “Many don’t want the least expensive kit, but they do want the next step up. It’s like when you’re looking at lawn mowers … you don’t get the cheapest one, you get the second-cheapest!”
Speaking of the cheapest, Bentley espouses a minority view and welcomes the Costcos and Wal-Marts selling drums. “These are people who wouldn’t walk into your store anyway, and it’s an impulse buy for them,” he argues. “The beauty is if even one-third of those continue playing, they will probably end up in your store. It’s growing the market. When you think about it, the wise shopper, the one that spots a drum kit in a box in one of those stores, will think about it, and wonder if there aren’t other places to buy the instrument. Otherwise, those that do buy from the boxes usually find out about us within the first three months — usually because they have questions about set-up!”
High End Drums & Cymbals
For the high end, DW still dominates for many of the dealers interviewed, including Bentley. He adds that in general, though, you have to have a good selection of high-end brands to sell high end. “But that market is still there, and we love it.”
For pure profit? “Mapex,” he says. “They are really conscious of the independent store, and their entire line is very profitable. And they have come a long way from being the bottom feeder they were 15 years ago.”At Buffalo Drum Outlet, Ludwig’s Classic series and Yamaha in the maple or Recording Custom sets are good movers.
Others, especially those in smaller markets, aren’t stocking as much of the pricier kits, and for a variety of reasons.
“Tulsa is not a huge market for the top-line kits,” Adam York relates. “We have a good market for entry-level, but as far as the higher end, we do stock Gretsch Signature Series and their USA Custom. The Customs are great to look at but priced a little too steep for most of the cats around here … though we do get some Internet business on the higher-end snares.”
“I’ve definitely changed the focus from the high end,” says Clark Bennett in Colorado. “You always want one or two high-end kits around just to have, but I’m not really stocking them any more. You end up just moving them around, and dusting them off, and then blowing them out at a loss. People just aren’t buying them when what you get at $1,500 is great.”
And talk about the power of cymbals: Chris Lieten of Good n’ Loud Music, mostly known as a guitar shop, made an interesting decision this past July, increasing their offering of cymbals considerably.
“We decided we couldn’t carry every drum line, but we could carry a lot of cymbals,” she tells. “So we brought in over 400 cymbals thinking that if drummers could go to one shop where they knew they’d find the most cymbals, they wouldn’t go anywhere else. We make sure we’re never out of stock on anything and I think the word is getting out. No one ever goes and sees 400 cymbals, all in one place, so that’s cool.” Specifically, it’s Paiste, Zildjian, and Meinl, and they make sure the selection includes models drummers can’t find in every other store.
That worked so well those drummers starting buying kits too, which is “something we didn’t expect to happen,” Lieten notes. Now they are doing well with Yamaha and Peace, and have added Ludwig and Rogers — “that’s a lot drums for a guitar store!” When they looked around and saw there was an opening, they took on the drum community head on, running ads that boasted: “We’re not just guitar players trying to sell to drummers anymore.” And they backed it up with personnel, adding additional drummers to the sales staff.
Others are having success with a variety of products.
“Zildjian cymbals do well for us,” Gorby says. “Especially the A Custom and ZBT Series because of the price point.”
At Buffalo Drum Outlet, Meinl cymbals are popular, especially the jazz-flavored models. “We always do well with the Sabian HHX, too,” adds Paul Musilli. “We show customers the cheap cymbal, and they realize that they want to upgrade on cymbals and stands, and the pre-packs make it easy.”
“There is definitely a trend toward the rock guys playing more jazz-oriented cymbals,” Clark Bennett reports. “This includes the Zildjian K series, and HH and HHX series from Sabian, both of which are generally darker-sounding.” He too is seeing a trend toward the higher end in cymbals. He agrees that while drummers are fine with middle-of-the-road kit, they are willing and able to go to the top of the line for cymbals. “We sell very few cymbals in the middle price point,” he observes. “We don’t stock a lot of them, but stock plenty in the high end. Most people don’t have a problem making that jump.”
At The Music Store in Tulsa, Adam York says, “Zildjian is always good, but the Sabian O-Zone crashes, which have this real kind of Chinese gong sound, almost trashy-sounding, have been pretty popular too.”
In Fresno, Sabian and Zildjian dominate. “They are very close,” Bentley says. “And the new Armand series [from Zildjian] is very hot.” He’s also done well with Istanbul and Dream Cymbals’ Bliss Series, the latter of which he’s especially enthused about. “They are the ones that sound close to the old Zildjian K’s from the 1950s and 1960s — great-sounding, and at a modest price point. There is a trend of advanced high school players who want to sound like Elvin [Jones] and Max [Roach], but don’t have the funds to purchase the higher-priced cymbals. These Dreambliss cymbals are half the cost.”
Hand Percussion & Accessories
Gon Bops percussion is a hot line for Bentley’s. “They made the first snare drum shell for DW,” he says. “Within their strong line, the pedal cajon is extraordinary. It has a pedal, and you can play it with your hands and add a bass pattern inside. It’s the choice of the week!”
“We’ve sold a lot of congas last year, and this year it’s been mostly LP’s Matador and Aspire,” York says. “Surprisingly, we’ve been going through quite a lot of cajons in Tulsa, if you can believe that! We carry some Meinl, but we also have a local cabinet maker building them for us — he makes these 19” ones and have this huge, fat tone.”
|The Making of a 21st Century Drum Shop
New York Guitarist Mark Stancaton sat in front of his computer one night last year looking online for some hand percussion to use for a recording session. Less then a year later, he finds himself proprietor of an online store and is now launching his own line of percussion instruments.
It’s business at the speed of sound.
“I couldn’t find anything decent, and didn’t like the look out of those sites — there were so many haphazard ones,” he explains. “I just had this idea and said to my wife, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do something?’” (His wife, Kristin, happens to be a marketing specialist who is savvy in the ways of e-commerce.)
Launched in February, X8 Drums offers a site that is impressive and due to the couple’s diligent effort consistently googles in the top five when “hand drums” is searched. Working out of a warehouse in New Jersey, the company has grown considerably already. “People can come by our warehouse and check out our drums, but 95% of our business is e-commerce. We’ve shipped to about every state, and done a little international business, too,” Stancanton notes. The site features articles and blogs about the gear that not only inform the buyer and build a community, but also contribute significantly to the higher search-engine ranking.
Quickly, X8 got big-name manufacturers on board, including Remo, LP, and Toca. “Kaman owns both LP and Toca, and that was a good relationship to start,” Stancaton remarks. “Initially there was a little hesitation, but then they realized it’s the 21st century and businesses develop online. They also know people usually can’t go down to the local store and get a wide variety of their products, especially hand drums. Now we have a good relationship.”
He is also selling a lot of Tycoon Percussion.
“Somehow I stumbled on them. They typically do a lot of OEM work, and have their own factory in Bangkok,” he says. “About 90% of all hand drums are made in Thailand because of the country’s access to raw materials and inexpensive labor, so Tycoon had an OEM factory for around 20 years. Then a few years ago they started their own line, hitting the low and medium end. Everyone has been very happy with them. There’s never been a return of one of their drums, and we have always had a good working relationship with them. I believe in what they are doing.”
Initially X8 concentrated on congas, but their size, expense in shipping, and the fact that they can easily get dented, has fueled their switch in emphasis toward djembes.
And now, they have partnered with a company in Bali and will be importing their own brand of hand drums. “As we speak, there’s a 20-foot container filled with very high-end drums headed here. We’ve already pre-sold 10% of the stock. We’re pretty excited.”
Also a full-blown retail operation is likely in X8’s future. “But we want to settle in for a while first — right now we’ll keep it online,” Stancaton concludes.
“We haven’t done a lot of hand percussion,” says Good n’ Loud’s Leithen. “In our town, that market is not easy to gauge, and as the market settles down [with other stores closing] we’ll be able to see what people want, and see where the market share is going.”
Overall though, many like Bentley, are experience a downturn in hand percussion. He observes: “It’s [up] when Santana is touring — I’m serious! My biggest year ever for hand percussion was when he was touring off the Supernatural album!”
Manufacturers continue to turn out a wealth of accessories, and retailers know that quantity matters.
At Good n’ Loud drummers find Evans, Aquarian, and Remo heads stocked in many versions. Liethen says that’s so drummers don’t have to settle for a 14” from one maker, and a 16” of another, but can get all the heads they need from the manufacturer of their choice.
“Vic Firth is our biggest seller on sticks — though there are a lot of sticks out there!” Gorby laughs. “It’s amazing. We stock core sizes most of the time and then carry a smattering of other models, but there are so many it’s hard to stock them all. One thing that has done especially well for us is the Zildjian Dipstick.”
In Fort Collins, the standout stick is the Vic Firth Thomas Lang, of which Clark Bennett says: “We can’t keep them in stock – in fact, I’m looking at the empty stand right now.” But he also acknowledges the number of new stick models coming out constantly is overwhelming. “We laugh about the sheer volume of new sticks,” he says. “Our drum heroes of the past made do with maybe 10 … now we’re carrying 200 different ones, and still a guy will come up and complain we don’t have the one he uses.”
In Tulsa, the Pearl S2000 Snare Stand is the one to have on hand. “It’s a little pricey, but it’s a beautiful thing.”
At Bentley’s, practice pads are bigger than ever. “They are like punching bags, and every drummer goes through a couple of practice pads.” Overall, HQ is the dominant line for him.
Bentley also captures easy add-on sales with plenty of shirts and hats. “Swag is an untouched market,” he comments. “If you look at what Fender does, what Harley-Davidson does … selling hats and shirts can be very profitable. I’m looking at eight to ten different hats [in my shop] and shirts from four cymbal and drum companies. Plus we sell our own shop’s shirts. The drawback is you have to dedicate a whole area to it, and space is one of our biggest challenges.”
Electronic Drums, Sleepers, and New Lines
“Electronics are making a come back,” says Musilli. “They slowed down but now everyone wants them again. We carry Yamaha, and they are doing well.”
Bennett sells primarily Yamaha, but also Roland, and does well with both. He too mentioned that Yamaha just lowered the price on its DTXplorer sets, and they sold a lot of those before they lowered the price.
“Roland, Roland, Roland — and they continue to get better,” Bentley says. “It’s an incredible product to deal with and next to zero problems. For us, there’s no reason to carry anything else, especially now that they’ve expanded the line and offer a complete kit for under $800. Now there’s one at every price point.”
The Music Store features Alesis DM5 and DM5 Pro, which York says are great kits for the money and are moving because parents don’t want to hear the volume acoustic drums produce. At Gorby’s, they too are moving the Alesis DM5 kit. “For $550, the customers are happy,” says Vince Gorby. “We just got in the tunable heads for them and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do.”
Sleepers and surprises, and innovative practices, are always good sources for unexpected profits.
The sleeper in Fort Collins has been DW practice pads, which earlier this year were leaving the store by the barrel. In Tulsa, York says his big surprise has been Fender Squire kits. Though at first a bit skeptical, he got them out and set them up and “for $499, which is complete with everything, it’s not bad for the money.”
At Good n’ Loud, they are faring nicely taking in used kits and fixing them up with quality hardware, then putting it out on the floor at a good price. “Customers appreciate it because they don’t have to think it through,” says Liethen.
Tracking trends also includes what new products are being brought onto the floor…
“We brought on Odery, made in Brazil, two years ago,” Bentley says. “They are high-end drums with extraordinary exotic woods. The entire hardwood is plated and it’s stunning. It is a great company to work with.”
One of the new lines Musilli has taken on at Buffalo Drum Outlet is ddrums. “They have a unique finish people like. The black chrome hardware found on their higher-end kits is sharp and sets them apart from everybody else.”
Tulsa’s The Music Store just brought on Pearl. “I just got their Vision set and it’s killer.”
In Colorado, Clark Bennett isn’t taking on much new product — in fact, space is so limited he’s dropped a few things to free up room. “Rather than adding lines, we’re focusing more on those manufacturers willing and eager to do business with us,” he explains.