Leaving cold Toronto, landing at LAX and walking out into the warm California sunshine is something that will never get old for me. After a few days visiting friends in West Hollywood, I met Alex Hahn, President, and her husband Allan Avard in Anaheim on Tuesday night. It was an early night, as we had a full day planned on Wednesday at ‘Retail Bootcamp’ at the Hilton hotel next to the Anaheim Convention Centre.
To be in a room with hundreds of other music retailers was a new experience for me. While I’ve attended several sales and marketing seminars over the years, none had focused exclusively on the challenges facing music retailers. Some of my key takeaways were:
a) Music lessons are a great way to expand and helped many ‘bricks and mortar’ stores survive the recession. While I saw sales drop off here in Toronto in ’08 and ’09, it seemed that our American counterparts felt the pinch much more acutely.
b) The USA continues to support music education in schools. In Ontario, at least, public school music programmes have been gutted. Paul Hahn used to sell pianos by the dozen to the TDSB and the various school boards before they were all amalgamated. While there are still several schools that maintain active music programmes, too often we hear from others who want the pianos simply removed, as they haven’t been played in years.
c) There was a major focus on inventory management, which is a different animal for a piano store than a ‘music store’. But thinking about ways to more effectively manage our inventory is a good thing.
After the seminar, we watched the Anaheim Ducks beat the Calgary Flames 6-3 at the Honda Centre. It certainly is a lot less expensive to go to a hockey game in Anaheim than it is in Toronto!
Thursday dawned bright and sunny, and we walked the mile or so to the Anaheim Convention Centre.
We arrived early to attend the ‘Breakfast Of Champions’, which featured several on-stage interviews of interesting exhibitors by Joe Lamond, President and CEO of NAMM. Tom Oberheim, pioneering analog synthesizer developer, had one of the most interesting lines: ‘If you’d told me in 1987, when sales of Oberheim synths had flat-lined, that I’d be sitting here today, trying to keep up with demand, I wouldn’t have believed you.’ Mr. Lamond also interviewed the ‘Retailer Of The Year’, who said: ‘We’re focusing on ‘clicks and mortar’ in reference to the importance of music stores maintaining excellent websites.
After breakfast, there was still half an hour before the doors opened to the show, so Alex, Allan and I enjoyed sitting in the sunshine. All of a sudden, the strains of the Disney Classic ‘Under The Sea’ from The Little Mermaid could be heard. I got up to investigate and there was the Disney Show Band, warming up the pre-NAMM crowd. When Mickey Mouse himself appeared to conduct the band in ‘Zippadee Doo Da’ there were smiles on faces of young and old alike.
When the doors opened our first stop was on the 3rd floor where Hailun and Kawai had their rooms. The Hailun room was small but featured a grand with their patented slow close piano lid. I almost freaked out when the rep demonstrated: Hu pushed up the lid on a grand and let it fall! About halfway down it started to slow and then gently placed itself back down. It gave me the willies just watching.
The Kawai room was much larger and featured their entire line of acoustic and digital pianos. Robin Rooke, the sales rep for Eastern Canada, was very generous with his time and told us about some of the changes he’d seen in the piano retail landscape during his 20 years with Kawai. A highlight was when an elderly gentleman appeared in a wheelchair, surrounded by men in business suits. ‘That’s Mr. Kawai’, Robin said. Mr. Kawai was taken around the room, where he was excitedly greeted, and inspected the pianos.
After Kawai, we went next door to the Samick/Seiler room where we met Michael Stillwell of Stillwell Pianos in Tempe, Arizona. Like Paul Hahn & Co., Stillwell Pianos is a multi-generation family business. We compared notes about our respective businesses. Michael is also the founder of the Piano Technician Academy, the first online Piano Technician course in the USA.
Our next stop was ‘Lounge 88’, where several manufacturers had their booths set up. The first booth we encountered was Bluthner, the famous Leipzig piano company, still owned and operated by the Bluthner family. On hand was Dr. James Reeder, longtime Bluthner dealer, and none other than Dr. Christian Bluthner himself! Dr. Christian showed us their wares, which included an acrylic cased grand piano and a brochure that featured several pianos with cases prepared by artists with whom the company had partnered.
I was particularly interested in the Ravenscroft Piano and Ravenworks Digital booth. Ravenscroft has manufactured 9 pianos in their history, and maintains a 7ft and 9ft for display purposes. Really impressive attention to detail, with a friendly and knowledgeable staff manning the booth.
Another highlight was reconnecting with John Sagissor of PianoDisc, the player system manufacturers. At Paul Hahn & Co. we’ve been installing PianoDisc for our customers and in our showroom pianos for over 10 years.
We visited with Paul Jansen at the Paul L. Jansen booth. For over 50 years Paul L. Jansen has sold piano accessories like caster cups, and are world famous for their piano benches. And almost everything else you can think of.
Lloyd Meyer, former President of Steinway & Sons was on hand manning the Renner booth. A true salesman, it was a treat to chat with Lloyd and learn about the ‘Renner Advantage’.
Our last stop was the Yamaha exhibit in a hotel across from the Convention Centre. Yamaha makes every kind of musical instrument and they were all on display in the same room. Yamaha had obviously spent a lot of money to display their offerings to their best advantage. Since Yamaha now owns Bosendorfer, there was an Imperial Grand displayed. Unfortunately, it was so noisy that it was impossible to hear any of the pianos. But they all certainly looked beautiful.
At the end of our piano day, we walked through the main floor. It’s organized chaos: with a few exceptions, everything on display makes sound, so even with strict volume limit controls, there’s a din that must be heard to be believed. I learned a lot and met many interesting piano people. I hope to return next year. Special shout out to the awesome guys at HHB Canada. Great to see them at NAMM and it’s true what they say: they’ve got the market cornered on the best audio gear.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog, or have any questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d love to hear from you.