Social Media Continues to Climb
When MMR recently sent out a survey to over 1,000 MI folks about the Internet and social media, several of the comments we received were along this vein: “You only have one chance to make a first impression.” Fair enough, but what that used to refer to were those precious few seconds when a newcomer swings your storefront’s door ajar, whereas now: “Your website is that chance. Today, your site is the first thing a client sees and experiences.”
Others noted that if that first online impression is less than stellar, there’s no sullen or disappointed face to provide you, the retailer, with an “ah-ha moment.” If your site fails to provide a favorable impression, the potential client is lost before you even knew you had one.
So comparing this survey to previous ones that have been featured in the pages of MMR throughout the past decade-plus, and spending time checking out MI retailer websites, it seems a lot of ground has been gained. Social media, which we first explored in January of 2009, has been embraced even further than that report revealed. But this has its pitfalls, too.
Greg Maglione of Tower Music in Fenton, Missouri has made the observation that maybe decisions about this whole social media stuff should include consultation with his younger staff members. “I’ve been around a while – I’m 55!” he laughs. “I see Facebook as something [an end user] does when you have too much time on your hands. I’m still of the generation that picks up a telephone, but the younger generation uses [the Internet] as a primary communications tool.” So he defers to younger members of his staff, particularly Josh Stieren and Tim Woestendiek.
And here’s a telltale sign of the times: Ric Overton, a one-time Ballwin Piano executive who opened up a piano store in the inopportune year of 2007 in San Diego only to see it fail last year, is now a social media consultant. He merely took his store’s name to mean something else – Piano S(an) D(iego) now has an operation advising industry organizations as Piano Social Director (pianosd.com). “What a lot of people don’t understand about social media is it can’t go where you’re not sending it,” he says. “Few understand what it does, and if you don’t know how to use it, it’s of absolutely no use.”
Our survey shows that pretty much every single retailer has a business website, and most are “very happy” or “happy” with it (58.8 percent total). These sites are more sophisticated than ever, with multiple pages to suit specific interests. Gone (mostly) are the primitive dancing note graphics and thrown-together designs which somebody did for free. Increasingly professional help is sought out for a store’s online presence. Many of those happy with their sites have long evolved past the one-page “business card” look with additional components that include social media (Facebook, Twitter), YouTube, eBay stores, and online instrumental rentals.
However, almost a third of those who responded to the survey are ambivalent about their store’s site, and the vast majority of those who aren’t happy plan to redesign in the coming year. What is revealing is that even some who are happy with their site plan to redesign, as the total number of those reach 62.4 percent. Compare these numbers to those who have recently redesigned their site (56.6 percent did it in the last 12 months; 77.4 percent in the last two years), and it appears the old mentality of throwing a site up online and forgetting getting about it is a thing of the past.
“Your website should be updated on a regular basis,” states Overton. “Once a quarter at the very least.” The need for change is less about aesthetics or changing tastes – mixing it up is vitally important for Search Engine Optimization. “A total redesign may not be necessary, as long as you’re keeping a fresh look and feel to the site.” It needs to be clean and easy to maneuver as well. And above all: Simple to use.
Maglione was in the majority. “We’re working on it right now,” he says. “You have to change it up every few months now it seems.” Although what kind of change is essential is always the tough question. “I look at some websites, and there’s so much information that I don’t want to look at any of it.” Tower Music has opted for a clean front page that allows surfers to get the gist of what the store is about immediately, and then there are big buttons that will take the viewer to details of what he or she might be looking for. The categories include instruments and equipment; lesson program; repair; pro audio installation; rentals; and their “Tower Jam!” program.
Understanding that the website is “the new storefront,” he says he likes to approach it as such. Then again, like others, he wrestles with “TMI” syndrome: “I’ve worry about putting too much information up there, but my employee Tim [Woest] says I’m just being paranoid, and I should put it all out there.”
Paradoxically almost 20 percent of those who have redone their site recently are less than satisfied with the results. But in the 15 or so years during which music instrument stores started to have a presence on the web, many are on their second, third, or even fourth version in an effort to increase the sophistication and reach their Internet presence. A small percentage, 7.7 percent of those surveyed, have stuck with the same website for five years or longer.
Overton was recently hired by Jonnel Domilos to consult and help with his social media plan. Domilos is one of the many in today’s economy in the process of re-inventing himself. He previously ran a large piano operation in Orange County that did not survive the harsh economy. Now he runs a smaller specialty shop in San Diego called Sorrento Valley Music. There he focuses on violins, violas, cellos, and some pianos. The latter tend toward the European brands not always easily found, including Blüthner, Estonia, and Irmler.
Domilos recently launched his site and is happy with it. It is a simple one-page business card setup, but that is by design. “It’s trial and error, but I decided I didn’t want to give out so much information,” he explains. “Some sites answer everything, but I want to engage whoever stumbles on it to call me. I feature I’ll just highlight my address and contact information. That’s it.”
Jeff Eckroth of seven-store chain Eckroth Music says they’ve updated their site in the last year. Not surprising considering been an early adopter of the Internet but for reasons that might not be so obvious: “It has allowed us, as a company, to be close to others on the team and feel like partners,” he says of his stores spread out under the big blue sky states of North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota. “I think our team is closer despite there being 1,200 miles between some of them then those of another organization who work in the same building.” So Eckroth has been connected live online for 20 years now.
Geography has also been a motivating force in having a sophisticated, clean site capable of online rentals and even getting gift cards, among other features. “We view our electronic communications as an extension of us,” he says. “Our website is a tool, but not the relationship itself. We first lay the groundwork of a personal relationship, and then make our website so that if we’re not available late at night or if a customer simply prefers to use it as a way of doing business, then he or she can. Our website is a constantly morphing tool.”
Eckroth says one of the reasons he’s pleased with the Eckroth.com site is that it’s a priority with the organization’s leadership. “We’ve got a great leadership team,” he says. “And I believe our online rental and repair portal, and the ability to allow our customers to make payments through the site, is highly utilized because of their good work on it.”
Having an eBay component as part of your website has long been embraced by many as a surefire way to find an enthusiastic customer for that obscure Ireland concertina beyond the neighborhood, or get top-dollar for that 1964 Fender Jazz P-Bass with just some belt buckle scratches on it. But selling new products online – in essence competing with the big chains and mail order houses and Amazon.com – has been more daunting. Yet there’s a sharp up tick is in the number of retailers selling new products online, though few who aren’t doing so today plan to next year, suggesting saturation.
Eckroth has a shopping cart though it’s only been up for 18 months. “I fought it for a long time,” he confesses. “If you’re not careful, it can be turn into just having transactions. And I hate transactions. I want relationships. A transaction is based on price and does nothing for a young musician. But trust, communication, shared enthusiasm – that’s what inspires music making. A website can be part of that.” He stresses that they “aren’t finishing for business in Alabama or some other state far away.”
Finally, using e-mail for marketing purposes continues to usurp the Yellow Pages ads of yesteryear, though it seems rather than configuring a system based from their website, more are paying for an outside service like iContact or Constant Contact. “Sending emails using constant contact is the best, cheapest advertising” was a comment made frequently by survey participants.
You don’t to need read it here to know that trends are moving at warp speeds, but its interesting that the last time MMR delved into this topic – a mere 20 something months ago – MySpace was the belle of the ball. In 2006 it was the most popular social networking site. By 2008 it most certainly wasn’t. In February it was put up for sale.
A whopping 80 percent of MI retailers are on Facebook today and many are using the social media site to keep in touch with their customers and associates in the business. Many are using it to promote special sales or deals. As one surveyed pointed out, statistics show that 65 percent of those on Facebook buy products which are marketed to them on the site. That is as undeniably powerful as it is alluring.
As almost 40 percent of retailers are on Facebook almost every day, it makes one wonder what we were doing with all that free time before the social network site was launched just a few years ago… but despite the embrace of Facebook, ambivalence about what it actually means towards putting additional cash into the register remains high. Just over 30 percent say Facebook doesn’t influence their bottom line at all, with another 24 percent saying it does just a little. Not quite 20 percent think time spent on Facebook plays a significant roll in their sales and profits.
The comments about how important social media is fell into three categories. There were a lot of “it’s the best way to quickly disseminate information about the company and products” and “another tool to market to a wider audience” type comments. More than a handful said it was better than emailing customers about deals and special events.
Skepticism abounds: There were also plenty of “it’s a bunch of people whining about their terrible lives” comments.
The third most frequent sentiment was the many who seemed to have just jumped on the Facebook bandwagon, with quite a few “just started a few months ago” and “not important yet but, we think it will be” comments peppered throughout the survey data.
Domilos is also one not necessarily seeing a direct connection between having a Facebook presence and the bottom line. “More than anything, it’s about PR,” he says. “That is what I’m trying to accomplish with social networking.” But he too points out that now social networking can be a key to earning that higher SEO. “By using social network, you get on top of the search list, and I’ve seen situations where if you use it, and are good with your wording, you can bury sites that have been out there for four, five, six years.”
Website columnist Nick Usborn made that exact point in a recent blog. He points out that within a short period of time, social media has transformed the way people use the Web. “Put simply, it’s where hundreds of millions of people prefer to spend their time,” he writes. But more importantly he says that it used to be that Google gave websites and their pages a higher ranking whenever there was a relevant inbound link from another reputable site. “Backlinks are no longer the way in which search engines determine the quality of a site or its pages. They now look at social signals. If a page is ‘liked’ enough on Facebook, or a link to that page is retweeted enough on Twitter, Google [and Bing and Yahoo] will recognize it” and thus it gains that all-important a higher ranking.
“I find many people are simply signing up for a Facebook account and that’s it,” Overton observes. “You have to be inviting friends from your community, people who are your ideal customers.” He believes that working on it at least one day a week is the minimum amount that should be done, and that time should be spent posting information that is valuable to the “friend” base. “There are easy ways to invite new friends, but then you have to give them a reason to want to come into your store. Telling them that you are at the grocery store or showing pictures of what you had for dinner last night are not reasons.”
The number of retailers using Twitter is increasing, though it’s not at the 50 percent mark yet. Ambivalence about it is higher, with the vast majority who isn’t already on it having no plans to do so. As to what real economic value using the Twitter is, nearly 50 percent say not at all. Tellingly, only 2.5 percent think it contributes to the ringing of the cash register.
Manufacturers and suppliers, which have largely embraced Twitter, will be disappointed to learn how few retailers are even following them: apparently only 17.9 percent.
“Twitter is fun and can be a valuable tool for some people,” Overton says. “But like Facebook and other sites – the post has to be interesting enough to get people through the door. Make people laugh and give them a reason to come see you. All social media has its place but only if it’s used as a tool.”
Eckroth says they’ve not yet dived into social media, but it’s coming. “We’re constantly watching and trying to figure out how to use it successfully,” he says. “The worse thing we can do is throw ourselves out there and not be geared up to support it.” He notes correctly that many retailers start down paths like this with the best intentions but don’t follow through, which can often lead to more damage than good. But he admits to inevitability of it: “It’s something that is important to our customers, so there’s no doubt that we’ll be doing it in the near future.”
Another unique challenge for their seven-store operation spread out over three very different states is that each individual outlet seems to him to need their own account. “Each store is a allowed to develop its own personality, and whatever we do – website, Facebook, Twitter, we have to take that into account.” Somebody who shops at the Minnesota store is likely to have a dissimilar worldview and have different needs than the person who shops at the Bozeman, Montana store.
To the “bottom line” question, Maglione takes a big-picture approach. “If you look at who I’m competing with, it’s not really other music stores. I’m competing with video games, the time potential customers spend on Facebook, and all the other things that fill up kids’ days now. But I’m thinking if you can put in a thought without irritating them, I think that can work. But I’m open to see what the big deal is.”
Domilos is much more aggressive with the social networking aspect of his site than the site itself, which is being handled by Overton. It’s tethered to the site and he’s especially pleased with how that is going. “You put a website out there and normal expectations is that it takes eight months to a year for people to notice. With social networking [primarily FB for now], I started seeing activity after just three or four months.”
That he’s chosen an outside consultant to run this aspect of his business is telling. “Like anything else, I can’t do everything,” he says. “I’m literally a two-man operation here, and I found trying to handling the social media aspect to take up too much of my time.” He says the goal is to post something at least twice a week, if not every other day.
Could any of this be the next MySpace? In the survey done in 2009, dealers were pointing to specific exchanges on the site that lead to someone coming in from quite a distance for a sale. Today MySpace seems to have fallen off the flat earth that our technologically driven times seem to be. While one can still find those blue MySpace logos on MI retailer websites, they seem merely to be a holdover, and it certainly isn’t on the tongues of anyone who is diving into social media, currently.
Maglione notes that really anything we’re using today could quickly go that way. “Google could be MySpace tomorrow,” he says. “How much credence do you want to put into something that, for all we know, could be quickly obsolete?”
To the hundreds of MI retailers who responded to the survey, that is on the mind of at least few, though the vast majority are trying to figure out how to make it all work best for their business.
Every guitar shop in the country wants that rock star in the store. Wild West Guitars in Riverside, California actually has one, and he’s not there to try to get free gear. He’s there to help make purchases, do some marketing, and isn’t above saying, “May I help you?” to that customer who walks in the door.
He’s Warrant co-founder and guitarist Erik Turner, and when he’s not recording or touring with the band, he’s found working at his neighborhood music store. The store itself is a high-end boutique operation located in Riverside, Calif., that has an impressive website and is deep into social media.
Wild West Guitars’ Erik Turner
MMR: So how did Erik Turner come to work part time at a music instrument store?
Erik Turner: Warrant played here. Wild West Guitars shares a big building with the Voo Doo Lounge, a private membership club. I met the owner Mark Herbert and we hit it off.
MMR: What appealed to you about the store?
ET: I’m a high-end gear freak and that’s who this store is for. We just try and stock the store with the most badass gear on the planet. It’s a fun place to work. The people are all great.
MMR: What’s your role?
ET: I do a little bit of everything. I help with purchasing. I help with selling. I help with the eBay aspect of the store. I love to work on custom guitar orders – spec them out, and then watch them come in six months later … I like to just find wonderful homes for wonderful guitars. We’re like an adoption agency! [laughs]
MMR: What was it like going to music stores when you were a kid?
ET: I grew up in Orange County, and I just went to the store I could ride my bike to! For me it was Jim’s Music. That’s where I bought my first half stack. Then at 19 I moved to L.A. and formed Warrant. It’s the only band I’ve ever been in. But there I bought used guitars … I still have a ’64 Fender Jaguar I bought for $25! It was a different world back then.
MMR: Compare that to Wild West Guitars.
ET: Well this is not an ordinary shop. It’s like working in somebody’s badass home. It’s not like any music store I’ve ever seen. All the offices are high end. It’s in the warehouse district, and there’s different rooms featuring different gear. The Voo Doo Lounge looks like a million bucks.
ET: Everybody who works here is real cool. Also, I’ll make friends playing in places who find out about the store that way. And I’ll make friends with customers who then find out about Warrant.
MMR: The store does a lot of social networking …
ET: Yes. We have Facebook and Twitter. As I’ve learned from Warrant, social media is now just an important fact of life. It’s a way to connect with customers and fans.
MMR: Interesting that you say that – in a recent survey of music instrument stores, there were many comments along the way that Twitter seemed to be mostly fans to follow stars and celebrities. But Wild West tweets a lot … how is that working out?
ET: When we get a beautiful guitar, it’s great to put it out there. Like we just got this Suhr Modern Black Limba with this beautiful honey burst finish … it’s like a work of art … so we get it in, I get it photographed, put it in eBay, and then hit a few buttons and it’s out on Facebook and Twitter. All in short time. Twitter is a part of that as sometimes somebody sees it and says I have to have that guitar right away.
MMR: Wild West’s YouTube channel has a lot on it …
ET: One of our customers films TV commercials for a living, and we worked out a deal where he filmed about 50 HD videos guitar videos. People can go on and see and hear the instruments, hear different riffs on it. It’s an important part of the overall strategy.
MMR: What other marketing does the shop do?
ET: We have free clinics that can bring in about 200 people. Suhr artists, PRS artists. We’ve been the largest PRS Private Stock dealer for the last two years. We’re proud of that, and we’re proud of our really large selection.
We do the Fender Road Show every year where they bring in a couple of their master builders, and our customers are big fans of that. That’s all part of the old-school marketing.
MMR: Any other advantages of being at Wild West?
ET: Oh, yeah. I try things out all the time. There are a couple of amps I used on the latest Warrant album, Rockaholic, that I wouldn’t have even known about if I wasn’t here. There’s a Splawn amp that’s on at least a third of the record. I also used something by Shadow Amplification, which is a new company we’re working with. It’s nice discovering new amps and gear that ends up on a new album!