RPMDA Offers Valuable Resources to Retailers
The Retail Print Music Dealers Association was built on the needs of print dealers, but growing stores and a diversified clientele have led the group to expand
its vision to all corners of the MI retail world.
Every year, a tight-knit group of retailers, print music publishers, and industry advocates spend a morning together at breakfast in a well-stocked hotel ballroom. Attendees take turns to stand up and share the most interesting retail practices they’ve heard that year – increased involvement with community theater groups, sponsored ukulele circle events, discounts to digital customers – while the rest of the group listens intently. It’s an informal session, as much about coffee and good company as it is about presentations. But it consistently proves to be one of the most information-packed hours of the year for anyone connected to the industry. It’s the RPMDA’s “Best Ideas” session.
A growing number of MI retailers have taken to looking forward to the annual spring retail tradition of the Retail Print Music Dealers Association (RPMDA) conference. Made up of a diverse group of print music industry veterans (retailers, distributors, publishers, developers, and advocates), the RPMDA provides one of the most welcoming and informative retreats of the year for its members. The “Best Ideas” session is just one of the week’s packed programming. And according to current president Carol Wilbur (of Pender’s Music in Carrollton, Texas), the appeal is broadening with each year.
“Over 80 percent of our membership comes from a business that isn’t exclusively print music these days,” she says. “This 80 percent represents realistically the type of retailer who is most likely to join RPMDA in the future, thereby ensuring a sustainable organization.” Wilbur is confident that the association is up to the challenge.
This year’s RPMDA conference (www.printmusic.org) will take place May 1-4 in Columbus, Ohio, and Wilbur is looking forward to welcoming longtime friends and brand new registrants alike. It will be the 37th anniversary of the group’s first gathering in St. Louis in 1976. Charter members on that occasion included Carl Fischer, J.W. Pepper & Son, Ward-Brodt Music Co., Stanton’s Sheet Music, and many more. Since then, the conference has move to a new location each year, making stops in Miami, Nashville, San Antonio, Boston, and, last year, Los Angeles.
The stated mission of the group is “to provide a common meeting ground for the interchange of ideas among dealers, to promote ethical standards and policies in dealing with music publishers, and to promote better and more meaningful dealer-publisher relations.”
To that end, the organizers of the group have built an all day, every day approach to their conferences, stocking them full of networking opportunities, trade show-style booth sessions, and break-out informative seminars on everything from new types of display strategies to social media marketing and inventory management techniques. A perk of the expanding membership base is that the group now finds itself with a deep well of talent to draw on for these types of learning sessions – veterans from both the retail and publishing side have grown lasting relationships through years of RPMDA meetings and conferences.
Wilbur says that, typically, new members make up 20 to 25 percent of each convention’s attendees. “For this organization, it is important to all of us that each of us succeed, and I think that many of our first-timers sense this concern almost immediately,” she says. “RPMDA is a place where we can exchange ideas freely, bring our questions and problems to the table, and know that we’re all going to benefit from the answers.”
As the retail world moves into an overwhelmingly online environment, dominated by sales and marketing through computer screens more than store windows, those answers are proving more complex. As Wilbur points out, members are uniquely suited to help on another out on topics like how to properly stock print music, what types of merchandise to display, improving ROI, maximizing buying power, how to best take advantage of in-store lesson programs, and how to take hold of the opportunities and competition brought forth by social media.
“Two of the biggest challenges our retailers face today are digital delivery of print and online selling in general,” says Wilbur. “Our publisher and retailer members meet directly to work on ways both sides can profit in the digital area, but it’s obviously always a work in progress as technology constantly changes.”
The morale is strong in the group, though, as retailers and publishers work together to figure out how best to fit print music sales into the broader vision of what it means to be a successful MI retailer in 2013 and, more importantly, beyond.
“We encourage dealers to meet the ‘Amazon-like challenge’ and treat their own websites like and extension of their physical stores,” she says. “When you can offer your online customers a shopping experience as easy and comfortable as when they walk into your store, you’ll see your sales grow.”