Fresh Faces: Class of 2012
We’ve heard the refrain like a broken record since 2008 – “tough economy,” “cautiously optimistic,” “wait and see.” This year, a fair amount of new retailers are cashing in their chips and jumping at chances to open up, expand, or move on to new phases in their careers. We here at MMR are no strangers to hearing about shops closing up, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to focus on what’s always welcome news in the season of rebirth and renewal – new business!
The class of 2012 ranges from full-on drum stores to a classic vintage gear dealer a few blocks off of Nashville’s Music Row, and all three serve a wide variety of markets. They all have one thing in common, though – owners like Dynamic Percussion’s “Gus” Guastamachio and Music City Pickers’ Gabe Hernandez saw distinct demand for a service that they found themselves uniquely in the position to meet. Rather than wait any longer, they jumped at the opportunity. Here are their stories.
Dynamic Percussion - Manchester, Conn.
Richard “Gus” Guastamachio has run a small percussion lessons business (Gus’s Drum Pad) in Connecticut for years now, but just recently found the opportunity to take over neighbor Art Benson’s Dynamic Percussion. He tied the businesses together and now operates Dynamic Percussion in a new storefront with over three times the amount of space than it used to have. The store is the only dedicated drum and percussion shop in the state and Guastamachio says he’s already begun attracting business from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“I’ve known Art Benson since his first facility down on Hartford Road way back in 1987 or ’88,” says Guastamachio. “He was ready to retire and spend more time scuba diving, I was ready to expand, so it was perfect time.”
Guastamachio is a natural percussion shop man. Not only does he have a lifetime of experience as a pro musician – he studied percussion at the Peabody Institute and has had stints in the local Spirit of Broadway theatre orchestra and spent a good portion of the ‘80s in the esteemed Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps – he’s also had years of retail experience. After performing in the Fife and Drum Corps as part of President Reagan’s escort in and for visiting dignitaries like Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher, Guastamachio went on to a career in the vending business, as he maintained giving percussion lessons.
When he made the decision to buy Dynamic Percussion last year and go into full-time retail game for himself, his students served as a great jumping off point for business. “I was very blessed to have the dedicated customer base that existed in my students,” he says. “I had close to 50 students and they all came over and brought friends and talked it up through the school system. So it continued to flourish from there.” Thanks to his rich musical background, the scope of his lessons is wide and includes everything from concert snare drum to timpani, marimba, and rock and jazz drumsets. With Guastamachio’s conservatory training, he says he’s fluent in all the classics.
“I’m lucky enough to have pretty much all the instruments of a community orchestra or a school band setting. All the percussion instruments and mallet stuff, plus snare drums and world/ethnic instruments. I’m fluent on almost all of it.”
On the retail end, Guastamachio has been selective so far in which lines he carries, beginning with Ludwig, Zildjian, Sabian, and Taye and currently including Sonar, Pearl, DW, Mapex, LP, Toca, and Dynaasty with plans to add many more this year. A budding relationship with area schools in Manchester, Glastonberry, and South Windsor means increased business with both musical instruments and lessons. On top of the individual lessons, he and his partners (he’s joined in his lesson program by educators Bob Hutchinson and Bob Hill), also offer percussion ensemble and combo classes that include guitar, bass, and keyboards.
The new Dynamic Percussion will also continue the tradition of in-store appearances that loyal customers have come to expect. “We have in-store clinics and masterclasses planned for the horizon,” says Guastamachio. “We will continue on the tradition that Art Benson set up of having big name drummers come in to spotlight what drums and percussion can do.”
Nearing the store’s first summer season under his leadership, Guastamachio says that the results so far have been great. “I don’t want to jinx myself, but the response has been incredible,” he says. “People love the space and the displays and business has been very good, as far as I can tell. It’s only been just over two months, but I’m really pleased with the way business is going.”
UpBeat Music - Crestview, Fla.
While helping customers at a music shop in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., Dick Reinke began noticing that a fairly large portion of them were traveling nearly 45 minutes from the west in fast-growing Crestview. He spoke to a few friends from other shops and they had all noticed the same thing – while Crestview had plenty of folks interested in musical instruments, it seemed they had nowhere local to call their own.
A plan was hatched last fall. By March, Reinlie had opened UpBeat Music, a full-line music store with just about everything outside of pianos, plus a full rental inventory for school band programs. Along with his coworkers J.C. Murphy, Lacy Gatlin, his son John, and a couple part-time employees, he’s already well on his way to connecting with a captive audience in town – interest was so high during construction that he opened the doors early just so he wouldn’t have to keep everyone waiting.
“It’s a small community and people are really taking ownership of this place already, which is phenomenal,” says Reinlie. MMR spoke to Dick over the phone as the shop was celebrating its first 30 days in business.
Like many retailers, Reinlie got into the business for fun. He has over 25 years of experience in the telecommunications business, including an executive position at Nortel Networks and a startup. He moved back to his home town in Ft. Walton Beach and considered retirement before getting into an old favorite hobby – music. After eight years in the business, he noticed the opportunity in Crestview.
“They’re moving a lot of the military special forces to this area and it didn’t have a music store,” he says. “It’s a got a high school band program that’s got an upwards of 300 kids in it and a couple middle schools with about the same amount, and then there are surrounding schools that represent another 400-500 kids. There was a need in the area and no one was serving it at all.”
Reinlie put in place a plan for a shop that could service as many band students as possible, as well as taking advantage of interest in rock instruments. He spent the winter getting his ducks in a row and headed to NAMM this January to initiate the core of his inventory. Opening a brand new shop can make you a very popular person while visiting Anaheim…
“Everybody wanted to talk,” he says. “My shop is far enough away from any other music store that all the lines are open for me.”
His strategy was to build reputation and recognition. “What I wanted to do was to make sure that when someone walked into the store, they felt like they were walking into an established music store, not one just starting out,” he says. “I wanted to have A-line products – Fender and Ibanez and Martin. Those are very important in the combo business.”
The same goes for school band lines – UpBeat curretly carries Conn-Selmer and Jupiter instruments, [with plans to soon bring Yamaha into the fold.]
Though he wasn’t scheduled to open until the end of March, he says a parade of customers peeking through windows finally convinced him to open up as construction was still being completed. He doesn’t regret the choice – UpBeat made 150 percent of its projected revenue in its first month.
Plans for the future of UpBeat Music include a band instrument repair shop and a comprehensive online ordering service called PriceBeatMusic. The web entity will serve as an extention of the store’s online presence – Reinlie plans one website (UpBeatMusic.com) to act as an online promotion of the brick-and-mortar store, with PriceBeatMusic.com acting as a true online ordering platform.
“We’re in a smaller town and for us to carry products that make us look like a real music store, we need to have an online presence,” says Reinlie. “We need to be able to move nationally. It doesn’t have to be huge amounts, but we have to move it. So that’s what that’s about.” That website is in development, while products for local band customers should still be available on the home website.
UpBeat has also had a rewards program in place since the beginning, allowing customers to build up points for big discounts on other merchandise. In short, they’ve hit the ground running and intend to keep building up speed as the year progresses through first-year milestones like the beginning of the next band season. But opening week was maybe the most encouraging sign of all.
“People have been coming in to volunteer to work,” says Reinlie. “People have been coming in to put together drum sets for us, and one even brought in a guitar display he had in his barn.”
There might never be any better indicator of good business to come than an enthusiastic customer base, an idea that Reinlie doesn’t take for granted. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he says. “It’s a blessing. It gets me excited about coming to work every day.”
UpBeat also just hired a full-time instrument repair man, Mark Vandermark, who worked in that capacity at Louisiana State University.
Music City Pickers - Nashville, Tenn.
Anyone familiar with Nashville knows about the famed district of recording studios, publishing houses, and record labels known as “Music Row.” The district has served in various capacities as both a business headquarters and sightseeing destination throughout its long history. Its reputation is well deserved – the roots go back to the heyday of early country music and visitors would find the modern day ASCAP and BMI offices, as well as the famous RCA studios where Elvis recorded hundreds of hits.
But a go-to shop for vintage gear? Industry veterans Gabriel Hernandez (a former web editor for Gibson Guitars) and country star Brady Seals looked around and found nothing of the sort. They’d been working together for about a year selling vintage equipment from around the country as an online-only business, but saw a distinct need for a brick-and-mortar shop in the heart of the industry.
“We found that among these couple hundred recording studios right here on Music Row, there isn’t one music store like this,” says Hernandez. “The nearest one is almost ten miles away. We thought it was a no-brainer.”
The duo just celebrated the shop’s grand opening in April, displaying around 65 guitars in the shop along with vintage amps and pedals, with an isolation booth installed in-store for trying out every piece. In conjunction with Music City Pickers, the site will also see the opening of rock’n’roll artifacts specialty shop, “Toys in the Attic,” run by longtime memorabilia collector Stephen Shutts.
“It’s been going exceptionally well selling online, so we thought the next logical step would be to open a retail store,” says Hernandez. “Not that we wanted to compete with the Guitar Centers and Sam Ashes of the world, but just to deal in vintage musical instruments – high quality instruments, amps, and pedals.”
Seals says his interest in the business began when he realized that his own collection was getting a bit out of control. “It really started with liquidating the large amount of gear that I had at the house built up over the last 20 years,” he says. “You’ve only got two hands, you know what I’m sayin’?”
He met Hernandez as the two crossed paths at online listings sites. Just over a year ago, they realized they could really make some noise if they teamed up, so Music City Pickers was born.
The location was almost a natural pick for Seals, who’s spent decades working in the area. “There’s a little place right off of Music Row where we’re at – Edgehill Village,” he says. “You know, it’s just a really cool little spot, and not too far from a studio I used to work at all the time called Sixteen Ton Studios. We’d take breaks walking up the alley to get a cup of coffee. So I was very familiar with the location. One day I just walked up to the property manager and asked if they have any openings. Usually they don’t, because they’re thriving right now, but that day she had something coming open. I jumped on the opportunity.”
It’s developed quickly since then, with careful interior decoration and an eye toward maintaining the sort of inventory dominated by “player’s guitars” (with a healthy dose of collectibles) that has made their online business a success to this point. “My thing is that we like to buy low, so we can sell low,” says Seals. “We like to stay under competitors to where we can quickly turn around something. I’ve been in the musician’s chair and I know that paying astronomical figures for guitars and amps is just unlikely for a musician. For a collector? Yeah, maybe. And we’ve got those things, too, and price them accordingly.”
Current prized possessions? At press time, they were still safeguarding a few pieces from the Black Crowes, including Rich Robinson’s 1934 National Duolian guitar and a bass head custom-built for Mark Ford. They’re also brokering the sale of three guitars owned by famed songwriter J.D. Souther (“Heartache Tonight,” “Victim of Love,” “You’re Only Lonely”).
Hernandez is also hoping to produce a TV show that follows he and Seals around the country making vintage guitar finds that they’ve already become known for. In the past year and half in operation solely as an internet business, they’ve sold to luminaries like Hank Williams, Jr. and Chris Young. But first and foremost for Music City Pickers is to keep on finding (and selling) incredible guitars.
“Word of mouth is starting to get around and we’re hoping it continues,” Hernandez says. “We’re not out to make a million dollars on every guitar – we’d rather be known as a company that pays a fair price for an instrument. If it’s something that’s cool and looks good in our store or online, that’s great.”