The 2009 NAMM Show: iMSO Expands Members
NAMM Meeting Used to Clarify What the Group Is – And Isn’t
“What we want to do is let you know who we are and what our goals are,” announced Independent Music Store Owner’s president Gordy Wilcher at the group’s meeting at NAMM. “There is some confusion.”
But mostly, there is a lot of excitement. The group, founded by five MI retailers in early 2007 as an all-volunteer nonprofit organization dedicated to growing the market and creating forums where members can exchange ideas, has already grown to over 350 members. In addition to its noble pursuits, the cost to join is certainly attractive. It’s free, though to be a voting member it costs a mere $25 a year. No one in the organization gets paid (monies so far have mostly gone toward legal fees), and members of the board are placed there by vote.
The bylaws are simple: the retailer must be an independent owner of a brick and mortar store, with the majority of sales coming from that and not the Internet. The motto seems to be, “the more the merrier,” as the organization encourages “competing” stores in the same town to become members. The spirit of the organization is “one for all and all for one,” the belief being that if a customer isn’t going to buy something at one store for some reason, it’s much better for everyone if that customer goes down the street to another independent store, rather than going to a chain or going online.
They hope to succeed where others have faltered: “We ask dealers who have belonged to other groups if they have ever gotten anything out of them, and the answer is always. ‘No,’” Wilcher says.
A New “Old” NAMM?
Marketing director Frank Hayhurst (Zone Music) opened the recent meeting with a bit of trivia that not all remembered: NAMM is no longer an acronym, but a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to all aspects of the music instrument industry, including vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers. While the letters stand for National Association of Music Merchants, it’s evolved and, for some time, it’s actually been the International Music Products Association, with “NAMM” remaining as a name.
|Members on iSMO:
“For all our differences independents are an extremely important part of the industry. If all the independents were to fail tomorrow our industry would be severely damaged. This group gives us a chance to find common ground and speak to the important issues our industry faces. Sales tax reform is a good example which affects all of us.”
“I have been in the music industry for over 33 years. For most of that time I was like most other dealers. I sat here on the side of the road running my own business and hardly ever saw the inside of another store. I was totally reliant on my reps and trade magazines to tell me what was going on in other stores across the country.
“Now with iMSO I can chat on a daily basis with over 200 music dealers from all over the country and in all types and sizes of cities. If I want to know how other stores handle their teaching programs I just ask. If I need to know which companies have the best deals on credit card rates I can ask other retailers not just rely on what the credit card companies wants to tell me.
“Information is power. Never before has their been such an efficient and successful and low cost means of letting independent music dealers share information with each other.”
“Gordy Wilcher, the iMSO president, and Marketing director Frank Hayhurst, are bringing proactive energy and common sense from the world of independent M.I. retailers. My impression of this group is that they are focused on adding value to the “brick and mortar” retail channel.
Essentially, the iMSO group said that their intent is to grow sales and the market by utilizing their strengths as community based retailers, and we think this can only be a good thing.
Korg USA is constantly asking our customers how we can improve programs and services. We’re pleased that a group of store owners would ask for, listen to and value our suggestions on how they can do a better job at the retail level. As store owners, they’ve invested in our industry, and it makes sense that they would be looking for ways to secure and increase the value of their investment.
There is a growing trend of retailers working together and the more this happens, the greater their reach into the market. These efforts, combined with those of manufacturers who are engaged in outreach about the benefits of owning and playing an instrument, will invigorate our industry.”
The short history lesson / refresher course was important because the group is defining itself in the context of the origins of NAMM, as it was in 1901: a group of music instrument dealers staying in touch and sharing marketing information and promotional ideas aimed at creating more music makers. “We’re a national coalition, a partnership of independent dealers, and already our pro-activity is something that the industry finds refreshing,” Hayhurst said.
“NAMM is valuing that we’re unrelentingly positive and proactive,” added secretary Chris Lovell (Strings & Things). “We’re not obligated to NAMM, but want to partner with them.”
Hayhurst stressed iMSO is not going to compete with NAMM, but work with the organization and hopefully get their moral and financial support for the purpose of growing the market for all. “We are committed to collaboration and partnerships,” he said.
Another key goal of the group is to work with manufacturers and suppliers – again, not necessarily as a buyers’ group, but rather in acknowledgement that retailers can learn from those that make the instruments ways to sell them more successfully.
The group is wearing their independence on their sleeve, and makes the case that they are best able to reach deep into the community and implement grass roots campaigns that they believe most effectively grow the market in ways that big chains cannot. “We want to be a good role model,” said Hayhurst. “Our agenda is to benefit our industry, our community, and ourselves. If you’re a weak retailer and you go under, you don’t serve me as a dealer, your don’t serve your community, and you certainly don’t serve our industry.”
“You’re not my competitor, you’re my colleague,” added Wilcher.
Right now the biggest asset seems to be the retailer forums on the group’s Web site (musicstoreowners.com).
Several at the meeting stood up and gave testimonials. Don Tegler, of Tegler Music (Clinton, Iowa) commented that for $25 a year, he’s already gotten his money’s worth. Sharing ideas, and reading comments from dealers whose profits are up is an important feature for him. And there’s a lot out there – already the iMSO Web site boasts over 20,000 posts.
“I can’t tell you how many little tidbits that can help a dealer’s bottom line are on our site now,” Wilcher said. “And the forum has put me in a different mindset to buy differently at NAMM.”
“It’s important to know that there’s a lot on the forum, and it covers a big scope,” said board member Donald Ulrich of Yenney Music (Olympia, Wash.). “One guy might be in the business three months, another since 1920; an owner might have a 350 square foot shop, another a really large operation with several stores. But the most fascinating aspect of it is the sharing of information. I like to log on and help somebody out, and then I myself get tons back from it.”
Wilcher got a phone call from one member who told him that he felt like he was lost in the woods before he discovered the website, and it’s literally helped him survive. He added the interesting thing about the membership is they have what they affectionately called “lurkers” – people who are logging on and reading the forums, but not participating as much as the board of directors would like. “We’re hoping to get them a little more involved.”
One of the group’s recent undertakings was a partnership survey designed to gather information and learn from vendors. Titled “How can we be better partners?” they asked about their perception of independent dealers and groups, if they would be interested in creating special models by modifying existing product for independents, if special marketing merchandising programs could be created, etc.
“We went to them and asked their opinions about what they think is working,” Hayhurst said. Currently Lovell is tabulating the responses, and they hope to make that information available in the future.
Wilcher, who as an owner of Owensboro Music in Owensboro, Ky. and saw his numbers go up last year, is certainly an independent’s biggest cheerleader: “We’ve had an impact on our community, and when I see how many new music makers we’re producing, I know we’re the best solution. Now we need to get more of our comrades involved.”
The question on everyone’s mind (including some vendors) is will the iSMO become a buying group? The answer is for now “not yet but maybe later.” “We’re now an informational sharing coalition,” Wilcher says. In the not too distant future they could see helping iMSO members form regional buying groups if that’s what they want to do. “As I like to always say, I have five musicians in my band and we have trouble finding a single song we all want to play – so the idea that all 350 do something in a buying group together is just not feasible.”
Yet some kind of buying factions will emerge. “In 2009 there will be buying programs available to our members,” said vice president Henry Gillum (Showtime Music). “It wasn’t our intention in the beginning. We’re going to be happy to offer that service to our members.”
“But we’re putting together a trade organization, not trying to get an extra five percent [discount] from manufacturers,” Lovell said. “We’re trying to figure out what’s in their heads.”
Reception from manufacturers to the group is reported to be very strong – though none would go on record with a comment. NAMM too declined comment. (Both rare instances of shyness no doubt due to the long shadow of the FTC.)
Another point that the board felt needed to be made was to remind everyone that iMSO is still an “infant” organization. “Just 19 months ago this started with five people,” explained Wilcher. “The way of the world today is that people want something right now and if they don’t get it, it’s a little discouraging.” It will take a while to meet “critical” mass, but when it does, it will be “an incredible tool for all of us.”
“We are most struggling to get rid of some misconceptions,” Lovell added. “We’re a nonprofit trade organization first. There will be buying possibilities down the line if that’s what people want.”