At MBT Lighting, the MI Retailer is in the Spotlight
Much of what you need to know about MBT Lighting is this: the founder and current vice president built the company from the floor up — the music instrument retail floor, that is.
“Eddie Toporek and Don Rhodes came from the music retail side of the business,” explains Roy White. “Both had owned or operated retail operations, and they knew early on that to market products to the retailer we’d need to make things easy, from the packaging on up.” Examples include their Weekender, which along with their award-winning Stage Color package, remain among the most popular products with MI dealers. “Both have everything they need to set up a light system for a band or weekend DJ. We’ve been very successful with them.”
White has great respect for the competition, but there are differences, he notes: “A lot of lighting companies out there beat the drum strongly about DJs, and we do too because they are a big user of our lighting products. But we’ve never turned our back on the customers going into stores every day buying drums, guitars, and PA. Our focus is on those customers.”
Today White’s title is product manager, though he assures all that everyone at Musicorp wears many hats (“After this call, I’m going outside and painting the lines in the parking lot!” he jokes). But typical of most, White was on the business side of a microphone in the 1970s and 1980s before he migrated over to the music products industry. When not performing, White found himself rigging lights for other bands, which led him to a meeting with Musicorp’s founder, Eddie Toporek, in 1991.
By then Musicorp had already grown to being one of the industry’s largest distributors, and Toporek saw a need for lighting packages for the MI dealer. He and Rhodes hired White to develop and maintain a lighting division.
“One thing that makes MBT unique even today is that it’s part of Musicorp, a very large wholesale music distributor company that sells to more MI retailers then any other distributor,” White points out.
There’s been a lot of growth on his watch.
“In the early days with MBT, I helped pull catalogs together, handled sales, and traveled to Asia to visit the factories … we’ve grown a lot since then. We have a full sales staff now, a complete marketing department, and, of course, a great team of operation people getting the orders shipped. We’re proud of the people behind the scenes.”
Even White is a little surprised that some of the earliest products are still popular: “Our original Par cans and the old disco mirror balls — they are huge sellers now. We sell containers full of some of the old staples.” Progress moves forward, however, and today they have a great deal more to offer.
“Things have changed — the influx of DMX control systems and the improvements in intelligent lighting. LED is big now, and we’re growing there too.” Yet the challenge remains: a large percentage of music retailers don’t stock lighting. This has White a bit puzzled.
“Some music stores shy away from expensive moving DJ lights, but when we can show them a lighting system a band can use, then that dealer is interested,” he says. “That’s why the number-two seller is our LED Par Pack. The retail price is $799, and it’s four LED fixtures with lighting stand and simple controller. It all comes in one point-of-purchase box. It’s able to produce 32 colors and is perfect for bands, DJs, churches, and schools.”
Yet skepticism abounds and White knows it.
“While Musicorp has the largest penetration into music retailer operations, one part that is curious to me is that roughly a third of our dealers buy lighting products. Now because our reach is so deep, that’s pretty good; but to someone like me, I have to wonder why the other two-thirds haven’t bought into it yet. The biggest challenge we have here is enlightening those dealers to understand what the other one-third has already figured out.”
Not surprisingly, he’s well versed in the obstacles. Retailers think it’s complicated, but easy set-up and configurations make these products as simple to operate as turning on a switch. He adds that there are many more products in the typical music store, from PA boards to recording equipment, that are much more complicated to operate than a basic lighting system.
“If you can plug in a toaster, you can pretty much get this,” he concludes.
While he has his finely-honed five points of why a store should carry lighting [see sidebar], the biggest head-scratcher is why wouldn’t a retailer at least experiment with lighting products if only to highlight the other merchandise on the floor?
“Our number-one selling product is the DJ416,” he tells. “It all comes in one box, has one stand, four lights, and a control box that makes those lights go all day long. I often tell dealers to do me a favor: Order two of these, and just set one over a drum set. Inevitably that retailer calls later and wants two more … and, oh yeah, it’s helped sell a couple of drum sets.”
The Five Points of MI Lighting
When Roy White of MBT Lighting talks to dealers not yet sold on the gospel of carrying lighting, this is his argument:
- The same customers who come into retail music stores are all prospective lighting customers. They are in bands playing weddings, play in church and school groups, and are mobile DJs — all of whom will eventually want lighting.
- Retailers who have lighting products also bring in customers they wouldn’t normally have — those who want lights first and foremost.
- Lighting adds colors, brightness, excitement, and motion to a showroom floor.
- Lighting sets a music store apart from the competitors. If most other stores in town aren’t carrying them, and you’re all carrying basically similar product at the same price points, then this is a way to differentiate yourself from the others.
- Lighting offers rental possibilities. Schools and people throwing Halloween parties want that fog machine; bands performing at an especially high-profile showcase gig want that extra set of lights for accent. Rentals quickly pay for the equipment, and they often lead to sales as well.