“It’s about impulse buys. Some days, it seems like [accessories] are the only things that move.”
Orange may be the “new black” and, for stylish ladies, it’s possible that nothing tops off a fancy ensemble like the perfect purse or a pair of earrings, but in the world of MI retail, “accessories” has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with maintaining a steady profit flow, even in challenging economic times.
When MMR ran the article, “Small Goods, Large Returns” (April 2008), we confirmed that accessories played a significant role in keeping MI dealers and suppliers afloat in a turbulent marketplace. This month we got some new perspectives from both last year’s guests, as well as few new dealers to see what if anything has changed.
Last year, Mike Fazio of Fazio’s Frets told MMR that having knobs, tuning keys, and pickguards readily visible gives players ideas for dressing up, or even just changing out certain components of their current guitar or bass to give it a different look. This has paid off for Fazio who had moved to a larger store: “In this downturn, cables, slides, guitar strings and guitar hangers do extremely well. I think we’re seeing more pickups and items that go into repairs. It seems like we’re selling a lot more guitar parts.”
Ted Eschliman of Dietze Music, who we also spoke with last April, says, “If anything, we’ve had to focus not just on the way we sell accessories, but the way we buy accessories. At NAMM, going through the vendor booths is a real mission for us. We need think in terms of what can we do to increase the bottom line.”
In 2008, Eschliman commented on the “paradigm shift over the last 10 years in regard to accessories.” Today Eschliman says, “Now that we’re making 28 points or less [on instruments], we don’t give accessories away. Every industry is doing it. I was just reading about what airlines charge for snacks – all stuff they used to give away for free. It’s three bucks a bag for crackers, but they get it because people want it now. You have to understand that when you go to a football game and you’re hungry for a hotdog, you don’t shop for a hotdog! There’s a certain amount of impulse, a certain amount of ‘now.’ I gotta have this; I gotta feed this thing now. We can never overlook that.”
Mark Shewchuck of George’s Music agrees. “People need an excuse to get out of the house. They come into the store with their buddies and say, ‘Hey maybe I do need a cable or a new strap.’ It’s about impulse buys. Some days, it seems like those are the only things that move. People are taking longer to pull the trigger on big ticket items but the smaller stuff seems to fit into peoples budgets.”
Fitting the Budget
Dave Sterns of the Guitar Gallery of New England tells us that, “The accessory market seems to be pretty healthy. Strings are always going to sell and, surprisingly, with all the resources online, we still sell a lot of sheet music. I’ve also noticed that straps are still pretty good. We try to stock nicer straps like the Levy stuff and those seem to be holding up pretty well. People don’t have a problem spending 40 or 50 bucks on a real nice strap.” Although the current economic crisis has hurt big-ticket items, Sterns has seen success with some higher end gear. “I think people are still willing to spend a little more money on a high end pedal, but maybe not so much right now for a high end amp. We were doing pretty well with pedals anyway, but I’ve noticed that they really didn’t take much of a hit for us in terms of interest as a result of this whole economy.”
“People seem to enjoy finding ways to have pleasure,” explains Eschliman. “Rather than spending money on the trip abroad they’ll say, ‘I’m going to go someplace here in the town’ to do what they call a ‘stay-cation.’ I think we’re seeing the same thing with accessories. People still want to spend money on things that will make them happy, and that’s been doing well for us.”
Drumming Up Business
Plato once stated that, “necessity is the mother of invention” and for some dealers, the current economic crunch has inspired new ways of drumming up business.
George’s Music has started holding free guitar maintenance workshops. This has really paid of in the accessory department. “The workshops are a good opportunity to let people know the benefits of polish, string winders, and tuners,” says Shewchuck. “That way, the customer doesn’t think that it’s some kind of gimmick that we’re trying to push. All of these items are completely legitimate ways of ensuring that our customers become good, responsible students of the instrument. We’re talking about small things like lemon oil for a fretboard, but over the course of a customer’s lifetime at the store, all that small stuff really adds up. It’s very empowering for customers to know how to take care of their instrument,” adds Shewchuck. “It lets them know what these accessories are and how to use them.”
Eschliman has taken a different approach. By exploiting the popularity of “Guitar Hero,” he’s found a way of attracting new music students. “Who would have thought 20 years ago that the word ‘hero’ would come after the word ‘guitar?’” laughs Eschliman. “Now that we’re in that day, we should be taking advantage of it. This summer, we are offering a program called, ‘Be an authentic guitar hero / heroine.’ That isn’t so much accessories-related as it is focused on music education, but in my mind a lot of this stuff kind of melds together. Kids are being exposed to guitar through a nontraditional music store channel. The question is, ‘What can we do to grab them and reel them in?’ We’re seeing the ['Guitar Hero'] print materials all over, we’ve got ‘em pretty well displayed in the store and most top publishers are on that bandwagon. What we want to do is take that type of mindset and put it in our cash register.”
It’s All About Selection
With respect to product selection, there are two distinct schools of thought. The first group tries to provide the customer with as many different options as possible. The second makes a conscious effort to cater to a certain clientele.
With regard to accessories, Mike Fazio falls into the first category. “You can’t just stock one type of cable and expect to sell much,” explains Fazio. “You’ve got to have a good selection, and you have to be a little deep on some of this stuff. We’ve got a couple of real long racks that have nothing but strings on them. Every type of string you can think of. We try to stock as many brands as possible and that definitely helps sales because you always have those guys that come in looking for one brand and one brand only. If you don’t have it, you lose that sale and potentially that customer.”
Dave Sterns is with the second camp. “We are certainly known in our area as the go to place for boutique and vintage stuff. We tend to get players that appreciate high-end stuff and are willing to spend the money on it. Those players are my best resources,” adds Sterns. “I’m always looking for a potential new line that would work for us, but it’s hard with so many small companies out there. A lot of them are going after the same thing. Everyone has a tube screamer clone! You have to be a little bit picky – It’s sort of demand-driven in that sense.”
Words of Wisdom
“It’s a way to really benefit customers to have all the little stuff that they need and want,” says Shewchuck. “The capo is what helps you enjoy the acoustic guitar and the cables are what help you enjoy your pedals.”
“We’ve taken a philosophical shift in that it’s not just about making the profit; it’s also about perpetuating the activity,” says Eschliman. “When you engage people with better quality accessories – things like good print books, better capos, better strings, and a better repair shop, you’re making the players lifestyle better and the activity of playing more quality.” In other words, “When you get them enjoying themselves, they tend to spend more money.”
For Fazio, it’s all about merchandising and customer service, “The open displays out on the floor so people can roam between them and handle the items, that’s been very consistent.” Along with providing plenty of open displays, Fazio tries to give customers a “good, better, best” option. “If you keep it to a good, better, and best type of situation, you buy better and, obviously, the more margin you can make, the better.”