While musical instrument retailing in general is considered a �niche� market, these passionate professionals take the word to a whole new level. Most of them are zealous about their instrument, and enjoy dealing with the equally fanatical customers they attract.
“It is a growing trend, this ‘super niche,’” says Patricia Norins, publisher of two national trade magazines dedicated to the small independent retailer, and author of a blog (www.specialityretailexpert.com). “I think what is happening is as the market place gets increasingly competitive with purchasing happening around the world, retailers are trying to find their groove, their specialty, and it’s enabling them to have a competitive advantage.� Just recently she did a story on a retailer who opened up a shop that sells only 100% virgin olive oil. Similar to those interviewed here, this couple opened a small shop for the curious and the besotted, but they do the majority on the Internet and by phone.
“But there are a lot of challenges, because it’s so limited,” Norins cautions. “The other key thing is visual merchandising. If you are selling basically one type of item, you want to make it pop.”
She adds that the advantages that these types of retailers have over others are clear: you have an independent owner who is deeply knowledgeable about the product walking around the store’s floor saying things like, “I just got this in last week and I think you’ll be interested in it because …”
“And when the customer returns next year, they will likely remember his or her name, which is always good for relationship building.”
So is customer service that includes picking customers up at the airport, making sure they are at a good hotel, preparing special meals for them, and keeping bottles of wine in your store to share a glass as one compares, say, Burkart flutes to Powells.
�We have people flying in from all over the world, and we play host to them,� says Southpaw Guitars owner Jim Duncan of his Houston, Texas-based business. �We have some guys flying in this week from Germany, France, and Austria, and we�ll buy them lunch � bring good Texas barbeque into the store for them.�
Many of these retailers have been successful for years but few have even thought about expanding. Baile McKnight of Baile�s African Drum in the Washington D.C. is keeping an eye out for a bigger showroom than the 1,200 square feet he has now, and another is considering moving the entire store out west. But most like Bobbe Seymour of Nashville Steel Guitars are not looking to expand.
�Every time we do, something bad happens,� Seymour laughs. �I�ve been playing steel guitar since before they had pedals, but I know nothing about PAs for example except how much they weigh when I carry them. I have stuff hanging on the wall that was forced on me, but it just hangs there!�
Norins says many of these super niche retailers go against human nature in a way � while it�s natural to want to expand after certain amount of success, the vast majority of these retailers remain focused on small. �I think sometimes people get into a comfort zone and sometimes there can be missed opportunities when people get into a groove and aren�t thinking of other possibilities,� says the publisher. �On the other hand, any thoughts of moving into other areas needs to be weighed against what it is that is making them unique.�
�I�ve intentionally kept [my business] small because oboes are repair-intensive to put it mildly, and you can�t get too big because you have to continue to be able to offer the service required,� says Nora Post, who owns an oboe shop in New York.
Another common bond these retailers share is career satisfaction that borders on giddiness. �It�s very satisfying!� bursts Post. �I love what I�m doing. It�s fun. And I deal with wonderful people � a really great group who are educated, bright, and really nice.�
�We get calls and e-mails all the time about how happy customers are with their bass,� says Planet Bass�s Tony Cimperman. �And that will never get old. I love getting that every day.�
�My experience is that a lot of these people who own these types of independent stores, stores that combines their hobby or passion with their business, find it is ideal,� concludes Norins.
Here are the stories of 10 of them:
Steel Guitar Nashville
Longtime recording artist and pedal steel player Bobbe Seymour likes to joke that he has built a monument to himself with his store in Nashville, the world�s largest steel-only guitar store. �I�ve had people who know me come in and look around and say, �goodness, you sure love yourself,� and I say, �I have to � no one else will!��
People come far and wide to do business with the respected, well liked Seymour, who grew up in western New York where his father was a jazz pianist and college teacher. He joined the Air Force which promptly dumped him at their base in Gene Autry, Okla. in the mid-1950s where he says jazz players were starved into playing Western Swing. Inspired by �all these jazz guys who dressed liked cowboys,� he became good at playing pedal steel.
Seymour would hit the road with the likes of the legendary Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, Connie Smith, and Ray Price. He become a studio session man recording up to 20 master sessions a week for a long list of stars including Elvis, Hank Williams Jr., Kenny Rogers, Bobby Bare, Gary �US� Bonds, and scores of others.
Then he founded Nashville Steel Guitars in 1982 (though he still plays occasional and records � including several of his own albums, must recently Rhythmatic). His operation is actually in two parts of one large building. One is the retail shop where you�ll find 50 to 75 steel guitars, and the other is a restoration and repair operation that doubles as a warehouse for the showroom. He has five full-time employees.
The store specializes in GFI guitars, but carries about all other pedal steels including Sho-Bud, Emmons, Rittenberry, and Magnum. �We carry parts for all the good major brands, and then of course there are some builders who will sell to anybody � people who deal out of the trunk of their car. We don�t deal with those people, of course.�
Customers get his brutal honesty free of charge.
�If somebody calls and asks for a description, you need to give them one so exact that you can�t argue with them later about it. And I talk to all my customers as a fellow player, not as a salesperson. I will point to one of my instruments and tell them I don�t like it personally and tell them why. Being a studio musician of 40 years, I�ve got a reputation for being frank and people respect me for it. Of course, I rub people the wrong way at times!�
Brushes with Greatness
With super-niche stores carrying the top-of-the-line products and emphasizing personal service, the stars of the music business are going to gravitate to these establishments.
So it�s not surprising that flute super star James Galway can be found talking shop (and sometimes sipping wine) with Jim Unger of Flute Center of New York. Should you stop by Mark Rakita�s USA Horns in New Jersey, and you might bump into Dave Sanborn, James Carter, or Gato Barbieri.
Or it might not even be a music star.
A guy recently walked into Nashville Steel Pedals, and proprietor Bobbe Seymour was naturally a tad wary, noting the tattered jeans, flip flops, and grungy T-Shirt. The guy asked what Seymour thought was the best steel in the shop. Seymour obliged, and the customer said he�d take it. But he needs one for his office, too. What�s the second-best one? He�ll take that, too. And a couple of amps.
Seymour, curious if the guy could pay for them, asked how he�d be taking these homes. On the plane, he was told. Well, won�t the airlines have a problem with that? �I don�t see why, it�s not their plane,� the customer responded.
Seymour, a pilot himself, was impressed that this fellow had a large private plane, and asked how this all came to be.
�Cartoons have been very good to me.�
Turned out it was Mike Judge, creator of both Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill. In addition to creating the two popular shows, Judge is the voice of both Beavis and Butthead, and Hank Hill and Boomhauer. He�s also the writer of the film �Office Space.�
Judge was asked to prove himself to Seymour.
He smiled and said, �Heh heh.� — the famous Beavis & Butthead trademark saying.
Mark Rakita, Owner
Rakita was fixing saxophones long before he picked one up to play seriously. He started his career after attending the Eastern School of Instrument Repair when he was in his 20s. When he turned 40 he started playing and studying seriously, and today he performs in a popular local band, Undercover.
�Twenty years ago I started working for USA Horn for the founder of the business, Dennis Peter,� he tells. When Peter retired, Rakita took it over and has been running it himself for the last six years. He is aided only by an assistant who takes care of updating and maintaining his Web site (usahorn.com). It�s a good thing he loves what he�s doing � he works six days a week and plays out six nights a week.
�We have a very small shop, but hundreds of saxes,� he notes. �There are a couple of rooms to try out the horns, and a repair shop.� While specializing in vintage horns, he carries new products from Yamaha, Selmer, Yanagisawa, Keilwerth, and Buffet.
�Everyone from young students looking for their first horn to seasoned professionals come into the store.� And they come by mostly word of mouth. Additionally, he does some advertising in jazz magazines, but �our Internet presence is key to our survival.�
Rakita doubles on guitar in his band and has thought about expanding into selling that instrument as well, but �I know saxes. I know how they respond, and I know more about them then I even wanted to know. There are enough stores that sell guitars.�
Just having a lot of saxophones isn�t enough, and he maintains a spotless reputation. �I�m just a guy trying to make a living, and I have to look all my customers in the eye,� he says. �Our repair shop is world-class and second to none, and people all over the world send us their saxophones.�
His knowledge allows him to make dead-on recommendations, and his huge selection makes his shop a destination place. �Some people say it�s like saxophone heaven. Nobody has seen so many saxophones at one time.�
Most of those who come through his door are overwhelmed by it, and players come in and make a day of it. �I wish they wouldn�t sometimes!� he laughs.
Electric Violin Shop
A modest 1200-square-foot store in North Carolina office park is home to Yamaha�s number-one dealer for �silent� and electric violins? Chalk it up as a perk of the super-niche.
Violinist Blaise Kielar�s store grew out of Music Explorium, a shop that specialized in hand percussion and world music instruments in Carrboro, North Carolina. Kielar would keep a few electric bowed instruments around almost as a novelty, but interest grew so much that he felt the category needed its own store. He moved the two operations to Durham in 2005 (his wife, Cathy, runs Music Explorium).
In addition to Yamaha, the shop sells NS Design, Ted Brewer, Vector Prodigy, Skyinbow, Mark Wood, Jordan, and Zeta instruments. �NS Design took some of their wonderfully inventive thinking and applied it to bow stringed instruments. John Jordan out of the Bay area is an individual maker who works with lots of one-of-a-kind special pieces of wood and basically made-to-order. So with him, we pretend we�re six different players and say on one we want �x� kind of shoulder pad and on another, �y� kind of bridge and three to six months later we have them in stock.�
He says they also keep Fender products for the lower end, and even offer their own instruments, Vada.
Kielar gets calls constantly and from places as far away as Bali and Israel. �Just the other day I was on the phone with a guy in New York asking what kind of preamp he needs for his street cello to play through a battery-operated amplifier,� he laughs. �Way more times than not, what we recommend works.�
Just 10 minutes from the Raleigh-Durham airport, it�s not uncommon for customers to fly in one morning and leave that evening with one of his instruments. �Others come in one day and are overwhelmed � like a kid in a candy store. They play every instrument in the place and then need to go to a hotel room and sleep on it to narrow their choices before buying one. I�ve just been amazed at the response. We had one guy who didn�t like to fly, so he took a bus from Chicago to come here. Thirty hours on a bus!
�He was a vegetarian, and when he left my wife prepared a special meal for him to take for the ride home. You have to have compassion for someone who spends the better part of three days on public transportation to come to your shop!�
Kielar loves to answer questions and makes recommendations all day long. He even gets excited when there�s a question he can�t answer right away because it allows him to learn something else that adds to his body of knowledge.
�We�ve thought about other physical locations,� he says. �It would be good to have something on the West Coast, and maybe something in Europe. The only reason we�re in Durham is because that�s where we live!�
�I�m a professional oboe player who started this business 22 years ago because I figured if I owned the business I wouldn�t be fired,� Nora Post laughs. �And it�s worked out just great!�
Working in a small store with an additional repairperson, she has attracted players all over the world through word-of-mouth and her Web site. The store is made up of three rooms, a �simple set-up that works fine for us. There are practice rooms to try out instruments, and piles of tools everywhere.�
She carries primarily the European oboes, and says Rigoutat, Howarth, and Loree are the biggest sellers. She is also doing increasingly well with Indiana-based Fox Oboes, which is currently better known for its bassoons. She too sells to the professionals who drive from great distances and fly in, in addition to receiving oboes for repair from all over the world.
�People love it here because there aren�t too many places like this. The bigger stores generally don�t emphasize double reeds; their market tends to be elsewhere. And oboes are so repair-intensive that other retailers just shy away from it because of that.�
She too has the �problem� of oboe players coming to just hang out all day, but she keeps them in good company. Her sales ability comes down to being exceedingly knowledgeable in the products, and understanding the mechanical condition of every instrument. �Finally, we�re able to service everything. That is what gives us an edge.�
Expanding is out of the question because an increase would threaten the time needed for the instruments and customers she has now. �If you can repair an oboe, you�ll never need to look for work!� she laughs. And on that subject, it was noted that repair women tend to be few and far between in this male-dominated business. Interestingly, 25 years ago Post went to machine school to learn how to make a two-key baroque oboe, and later picked up repair skills studying with European manufacturers. �I�m very independent, so I decided that it would work for me to be able to do this well � although I have to say some prominent old-timers never thought they would see a woman in this business. But they came around!�
Web Sites: A Crucial Aspect for Specialists
�In the early 1990s, we had amassed a mailing list of 8,000 players,� Southpaw�s Jim Duncan recalls. �We were putting out a monthly newsletter costing us several thousand and a friend came by and said I needed to be on the Internet. I said, �What�s that?��
Suffice to say the left-handed guitar dealer soon figured it out � and added 20,000 customers by doing so. �Our business increased at least nine fold since being on the Internet,� Duncan adds. �We can make a decent living at it now.�
The one common thread tying all these super-niche retailers together is they all have excellent Web sites that are well maintained. The dealer who thinks he or she is too small to invest in a quality site might take inspiration from some of the things these retailers have to say.
USA Horn�s Mark Rakita laughs when asked how important his Web site is to his business. �Someone in southern Chile, living in the Antarctic region, would not be buying from me if I didn�t have a good Web site. It�s why I sell on seven continents. Certain things now work against me because there are so many johnny-come-latelies who are working out of their basement and drop-shipping whereas we have a physical brick and mortar store, but the Internet great for us overall.�
�In all the music trade magazines, there are always articles about people being against the Internet, and I know a lot of small mom & pop operations are not comfortable with it, but it is great for us because we get global exposure at almost no expense,� says Nora Post, the oboe specialist. �Our advertising budget is zero now because all we need is a site that is up to date. I have someone who takes care of all that, and the cost is minimal compared to doing a mailing to 20,000 people.�
�There is only one magazine that reaches my market, and it�s not like I can advertise in Guitar Player,� says Blaise Kielar of the Electric Violin Shop. Kielar turned to a local professional to come up with the design, and puts effort into getting a quality photo of every product. Then there�s the description: �One of the hats I used to wear before I started working in music stores is as a musicologist. Writing about music is a challenge! To put in static words on a page what is a living, vital art� and the funny thing is I�ve always wanted to say too much, so I�m learning to try to make my point with fewer words.�
When DJ World�s brothers Karl and Curt Kieslich first started the business, Curt dove in and built a site that wasn�t very functional. �Then the best money I ever spent was on a professional to handle it,� he advises. �It was difficult to spend the $2,500, but it increased business noticeably.�
�Let�s just say without it, I don�t think I�d be here,� says Tony Cimperman of Planet Bass in reference to his site. �I don�t think even three or five years ago people really understood how big a tool it would become. Customers are really educated by the time they start contacting music stores for the most part.� Cimperman�s only other employee is a Web specialist, and he�s invested in the right lighting and camera to a quality graphics job: �It�s not something you can take with a point-and-shoot thing. The cameras and photo part is an operation by itself.�
�The Web site is a great opportunity for all small independent retailers,� concludes specialty retailer expert Patricia Norins. �It makes for year-around sales and is a great opportunity to have your store come up high in search engine lists. It drives traffic to you.�
Baile�s African Drum Works
Despite his years of experience playing and building hand drums, the papers on the topic he has presented, and the workshops he leads, Baile McKnight considers himself first and foremost a student of African drumming. That, and his retail business, is one and the same for him.
�Being a student of African drum and my business have gone hand-in-hand,� he says. �The business side began to develop as I became determined to have a career on both sides of this coin, both as one who drums and performs, and one who makes drums available to students and professionals.�
In 1992 he opened up a 1200-square-foot three miles outside of Washington D.C.�s city limit in the suburb of Forestville. There he builds and imports djembes, and sells hand percussion and related accessories from Latin Percussion and Rhythm Tech. Additionally he offers CDs and DVDs of African music and educational material that is hard to find elsewhere. Currently, he�s looking for bigger space to expand into for those who come from all over to try out his products.
�Just yesterday I had three customers drive here from Philadelphia,� he says. �I recently had customers drive in from places like Ohio and North Carolina. As a specialty store, we�ve become a one-stop shop for people into African drums, particular djembes as they have become increasingly more popular.�
Typical of many in this business, his passion and talent for the instrument has had a considerable head start on the business aspect necessary for continued growth and success. �The whole idea is to make this more than just a labor of love. Anyone who is not business-oriented, who did not major in business in college, has to get trained to function and operate a retail store. I approach this as a musician, so I have a passion for what I do, and can seed and nurture this, but if your intellect is not �meaty��� he laughs.
Keeping an eye on the books, planning, buying wisely, and testing the products are the cornerstone of his operation. �The other key is good service and integrity.�
His Web site is excellent, and is critical to his operation. �It serves as a portfolio. We produce high-level, high-quality djembes that target the professional. But we also target the beginner. The customer becomes our major advertising [plan].� Additionally, he spends a lot of time in schools and institutions, including mental health facilities, giving clinics and workshops.
Flute Center of New York
New York, N.Y.
It�s bound to get interesting when a clarinetist with a degree in radio and television in communications owns a flute store. �I quickly realized my senior year that [communications] wasn�t my cup of tea,� says owner Phil Unger. �It was too competitive and didn�t hold much interest for me.
�My father, who is a musician and at 82 still plays his clarinet every day and was a band director for 35 years, had part interest in a music store in Dayton. So I grew up surrounded by musical instruments and it was my father who suggested that I think about instrument repair. I was always good with my hands, so I thought it was a good idea.� Unger met with Bob Getzen, owner of Allied Music Corporation in Elkhorn, Wis., auditioned, was accepted, and studied at his school.
While good at repairing all the instruments, including the clarinet, which is what he played, it emerged that he was especially good at working with flutes. He ended up in Dallas repairing instruments and specializing in flutes. He later got the opportunity to hone his skills further with the Powell Flue with that organization�s shop manager at the time, Jim Phelan (Phelan went on to own Powell, and now owns Burkart Flutes).
From there Unger bought and sold his first flute and �realized it was a great business because the instruments are small but expensive, and easily shippable.� He opened up his first flute shop in Dallas in 1982, and in 1995 he moved the operation to New York. Today he has five employees.
�My store is really the international center for flutes,� he says of his 800 square foot operation that includes a small practice room. �Players from Spain, Russia � everywhere — come here.� When they come they find Powell, Burkart, Jupiter, and Gemeinhardt, among others, and both professional and student models. He also boasts a museum of sorts displaying items of interest from his antique flute collection, which he says is the largest in the world.
�People love the store. They like hanging out here.� Those who don�t make it in enjoy the next-day turnaround repair service he offers, which is the cornerstone of his business. Expanding is something he�d love to consider, but he�s paying $3,300 a month for what he has now and there�s no sign of the Manhattan real estate market swooning any time soon.
The Web site is very important, which he does himself. Was there a learning curve? �Absolutely, and there continues to be. But I�ve gotten good.�
Left-handed guitarist Jim Duncan remembers how hard it was for him to get a guitar in the 1970s. Then he stumbled onto a left-handed-only guitar shop in Virginia owned by a Tom Terrisi. He bought a guitar or two, and then expressed an interest in owning a similar store. Duncan asked Terrisi how many people had stores like this and he said two. Who�s the other guy? Duncan asked.
�You, dummy!� said Terrisi. A partnership was formed and Duncan opened Southpaw up in 1980 in his hometown of Houston. A few years later, Terrisi got out of the business and closed down the Virginia store, making Duncan�s operation one-of-a-kind. He�s thrived on kindred souls ever since. Then the Internet came along and things really exploded.
�Selling nothing but left-handed guitars, you�d think it�s hard to make a living and it pretty much has been,� he says. �But we�ve had a constant supply of customers and referral.� The Mecca for those predisposed to draw with their left is a 4,000 square foot operation located in the Houston suburb of Bel Aire. He has five employees and a million dollar inventory. Prices of the instrument range from $100 to $8,000. Found on the walls are products from Fender and Gibson (and both their custom shops), Jackson, Gretsch, Collings, Eastman, Martin, Taylor, G&L � pretty much all the major brands.
Yes, left-handers can get a guitar from the Internet, but one from Southpaw �doesn�t just run down a conveyor belt. We deliver a product that is set up by professional luthiers.� Those who make the trip in often get picked up at the airport and hotel recommendations.
Just over 10% of Americans are left-handed. Then you have to figure out how many of those are playing guitar � so he�s catering to a specific, slim minority. But they are at home at Southpaw in a way that is unimaginable to most. Duncan sums up the typical left-hander�s experience: The neighborhood guitar stores might have one or two left-handed guitars on the wall. The player has to burn gas to 15 or 20 shops and they may see what they want, but they may not.
�I carry at least 30 Gibson acoustics. I have between 75 to 100 Taylors, and the same number in Martins. I just did a contract run with Fender and brought over 100 custom shop instruments. Where I�m going to put them all, I don�t know!�
Tony Cimperman picked up the bass in high school, though it was when he was attending the University of Minnesota studying computer circuitry when he really got into it. He got a hold of a Modulus bass and was so intrigued he took it apart to study it. Impressed with the boutique high-end instrument (Chili Pepper�s Flea is equally enthralled and plays one), he signed on as a dealer and opened his doors in 2000.
�They�ve been really good basses for us to grow with, and are super-stable,� Cimperman says, who at 27 is the youngest person interviewed for this story. He would add other high-end basses to his offerings and today is a dealer for Alembic, Fodera, MTD, Spector, and Zon. Also found in his store are Aguilar and Epifani amplifiers.
The business is just Cimperman and a Web designer, and there�s plenty of product to try out for those who make it to his store (he says about 40% of his business is done in his store, 60% on the Internet). �We go about it differently than a �big box� store. The people we deal with like the one-on-one attention, and appreciate the depth of knowledge we provide.� Every bass is professionally prepared and tested before showing or shipping.
Serious players appreciate the attention and often call and drop by just to talk and see what�s new. Cimperman has come to not only know a lot of these customers, but their families, too. �Our [customer] return rate is really high because people like doing business with us. It�s all about building a relationship.�
He does have customers try to haggle down the price, but most don�t because they respect the operation and know how thoroughly he goes over every instrument. For that, most gladly pay a little more.
�It�s totally a niche market, and that�s the way I like it. I can take on products at our own rate. I get hit up by builders all the time, but we end up saying no to a lot of them because we want to keep it smaller.� As for further growth, he says he�s expanding every day, though at a pace he can handle. �It�s a niche that bass players themselves really dig. Some stores don�t pay much attention to them. It�s what I know. It�s what I play.�
The Mandolin Store
Washington Court House, Ohio
Dennis Vance of the Mandolin Store came at his current career differently than most � as a businessman who saw an opportunity. He grew up in a musical family and played guitar, but his first job would lead to his career: it was at a hardware store. Vance would spend over 20 years in that business, rising to the level of district manager for Ace Hardware.
�I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see how people operate their own businesses and hear motivational speakers teach on the subject, about how to be successful against �big boxes,�� Vance says. �After 10 years of spending so much time behind the windshield of a car, I decided to merge what I had learned in my career and what I learned trading musical instruments.
�I went into the instrument business because I could make money doing it. I just felt there was a niche with mandolins.�
Located in Washington Court House, a small town between Cincinnati and Columbus, the store is on the property of his house and has a showroom of 650 square feet. Still, people from West Virginia, Canada, and beyond have made the drive to the store to see what is one of the largest selections of mandolins in the country since it opened its doors in 2004. He runs it with his wife and an assistant, and they are the number-one Weber mandolin dealer in the country. They also carry Gibson, Collings, Eastman, Michael Kelly, and Breedlove, among others.
�My store is always neat as a pin � I�m a Virgo!� he laughs. �It�s probably the cleanest, most organized store in the business.� He says his success is because he understands that it�s not enough to make people merely happy; you have to �wow� them. �If you can make a customer a raging fan, he or she will tell everybody he knows. And those people are playing instruments with other people, and they�ll tell everybody they know.
�It�s not just about customer service, but about how you make yourself better than everybody else.� Beyond service, having a lot of products in stock is key, as is not borrowing money to get those products on your wall, Vance notes. If you�re working on borrowed money and instruments are sitting there, the temptation is great to discount them and sell at the lower margin. If you own it, you can afford to be patient until the right buyer falls in love with it.
Like all the others, he has a quality Web site and does brisk business on it. �There are two kinds of people. People who realize the Internet is important, and people who don�t.� Just that morning, he had received an order for over $3,000 worth of products.
�I have 60 mandolins hanging on the walls, but also 15 guitars, three banjos, five resonators. We do really well with Gibson banjos � but what puts bread on the table is the mandolin.�
Cranston, R.I. and Hamden, Conn.
�We were DJs back in the mid-1970s and we had more and more people coming up and asking us where we got our gear,� tells Karl Kieslich (�we� is his business partner and brother, Kurt.) Thus was launched one of the very first niche stores � a store that only sold DJ gear, one of the first of its kind in the country. First they operated out of a 500 square-foot store in 1982 in Hamden, Conn., which led to a 5,000 square foot operation that offers full services, including a rental department. The largest of the super-niche entrepreneurs MMR visited, they opened a second store in Rhode Island in 1986. (And they�ve since launched another whole company, Soundstage Systems, which does installations for clubs and churches, and recently won awards for their work on Club Paris in Jacksonville, Fla. � but that�s another story entirely.)
DJ World carries anything a mobile DJ needs in the way of lights, sound, and video, and employs only DJs who are exceptionally knowledgeable in all the gear. They even have �Hamden DJ World University� so if you�re an aspiring DJ or a working one wanting to learn a different part of the business, you can study to be better.
Gear found in the store includes a heavy inventory of Numark products. Crown and QSC power amps do well there, as do Yorkville and JBL speakers. One also finds a lot of lighting from Chauvet and Martin, and Calzone cases.
�Our customers love the store. It is geared to the DJ, and everything is set up and usable.�
And you�ll find no unkind words from Kieslich about the likes of Guitar Center and Sam Ash. �They are more helpful than not. If you go into their stores, they don�t cater to DJs. They look down on DJs. The gear is in a corner, and it�s in a box, and there�s no one knowledgeable there. They don�t know how to use the latest Pioneer turntable.
�We�re a very niche market. We don�t try to cover all the bases, but we are service-oriented in what we do carry. We�ll show you to use it. Other places just move boxes.�
He says that despite lip service being given to customer service, it�s actually harder to find. They happily provide a loaner amp if you have to bring yours in the day of a gig.
�We had many chances over the years to bring in guitars, keyboards, and so on, but that�s not what we�re about,� he says emphatically. �We have DJs coming into our place weekly, just hanging out, looking to us as a source of knowledge. [Other instruments] are a different world. We don�t want to mix the two together. You can�t be good at everything. You have to focus on what you�re best at.�