Canadian Music Trade - In Depth

The Retail Doctor Has a Prescription for You

This article originally appeared in the December/January 2019 issue of Canadian Music Trade.

By Michael Raine

On Jan. 23, the day before The 2019 NAMM Show officially opens, forward-looking MI retailers have an appointment with the doctor to fix what ails their stores. Excuse the bad pun, but Bob Phibbs, aka the Retail Doctor, is confident that those NAMM members who come early to Anaheim to attend the new Retail Innovation Summit are going to leave inspired and armed with practical and actionable solutions to improve their sales and marketing operations.

This day-long, two-part summit with Phibbs will cover the top retail trends, such as new technologies, platforms, and other things impacting the customer experience, and offer a future-oriented look at business strategies while also encouraging retailers of any size to think more strategically about adding value to their business for potential customers. This will be Phibbs’ third time at NAMM and he brings an intimate understanding and love of the MI retail industry, being a musician himself and holding a degree as a choral conductor.


“I am not going to be saying, ‘Wow, at Target, you drive up to the door and robots deliver it to your trunk. You all need to be doing that!’ But what it will be is that when they leave, there will be an actionable list of what they can go back to their stores and do to make them more competitive, have more fun in it, and, more importantly, have more effective marketing,” says Phibbs. “I think it has never been easier for your ideal customers to find you, but the problem is, for example, if you don’t pay attention to your Google My Business and you don’t pay attention to all the tools that are out there that you could use, then what you look like on the web is either invisible or, god forbid, there is that one student who hated Mrs. Appletree the flute instructor and they went online and said, ‘This place is terrible and I never go there.’ Now that review is sitting out there as the lone representative of your business online and 85 per cent of potential customers are reading it. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t even still work there or if it was right or wrong; it is still out there and that’s the problem.”

Though Phibbs is hesitant to give away too many secrets before the seminar, and he emphasizes it’ll be a collaborative, “co-creating” event based on the real needs and problems of the retailers in the room, he says video will certainly be a key part of what is discussed in the marketing component.

“Video is the new email and video is the new way you’ll be able to not only market your services better to potential customers, but also for your instructors to be able to follow-up with their learners in a new and exciting way, and it won’t require you to go out and get a film studio or something. You can do it on a cell phone or laptop and that immediacy is one of the trends that people want to know. Plus, it’s authenticity, which is one of the trends that people want to know,” he explains. And when Phibbs talks about video, it’s a lot more than just using YouTube videos to supplement lessons. “How do you delight and inspire somebody? What happens when they get a video email from your instructor telling the parents how well Jamie did on her lesson? Do you think that would be cool? Absolutely it would be cool. Do you think it’s going to help them with practice? You better believe it’s going to help them with practice. Are they going to be able to remember your brand better than the other stores’? Absolutely they are.”

With video and across all marketing content, authenticity has become of the upmost importance. A desire for authenticity is, in part, behind the appeal of live video applications on YouTube and Facebook, for example. “It gives you the chance to interact with your tribe and then, ultimately, gives them the feeling that ‘this is just for me’ versus taking some generic manufacturer’s video and sticking it up there. I am sure it is pretty and has all the bells and whistles, but there is something that is not that authentic about it and millennials, in particular, seem to be avoiding anything that looks staged or too packaged,” Phibbs says.

He also emphasizes the importance of monitoring, and enabling, online reviews because, according to the research, 85 per cent of shoppers start their search online and reviews make up a big part of a business’s online footprint. “You can control what your digital footprint looks like using some of this technology that I’ll be talking about so that you having 300 reviews, for example, would be much better than having that one bad review and a way that you can use that.”

Often, when he’s discussing some of these technology-oriented innovations, even if it’s just video emails from an instructor that are quite simple to do, Phibbs says he is met either by fear or an exasperated reaction, like, “Oh, my daughter does that and I don’t have time for that.”

“Would you say that if you were opening your business right now? Probably not. That’s the other thing. There is a certain complacency after you’ve had a business a while and I am always trying to bring people back. Remember when you bought a business – because I would say an awful lot of independent retailers bought their business from somebody else – you’d do anything for the customer, wouldn’t you?” says Phibbs. “Then we kind of get away from that as we get older and then we settle into a groove and then I think that edge of competition goes away and we sort of feel entitled that we’re the only guy in town, but right now there’s probably 3,000 or 4,000 other businesses online that can do what you do.”

For a long time, music store owners have been mostly baby boomers, but Phibbs says there is now a third wave of entrepreneurs coming into the industry with a fresh perspective on the customer experience. “They are creating a place that has couches and chairs to sit in, they are looking at frictionless checkout where you can pay with PayPal or Google Pay or Apple Pay or whatever it is. They’re looking at ways that they’ve seen restaurants, for example, taking care of customers and trying to be more proactive in understanding that millennial consumer,” he explains.

As well, Phibbs says people go online to buy something but go to a brick-and-mortar store to shop, and there is a difference that should inform retailers’ decisions. “It means [customers are] open to, ‘I am looking for some picks but I might be able to use a new amplifier and I wonder what that new digital tuner is like.’ They’re open to it, so the challenge to most retailers is, ‘How do I end up being able to show this in a way that is not just an iPad or a 50-in. LCD on the wall that loops product videos? How do I use all of that to engage that shopper?’ I think that is kind of interesting because if you’re thinking about, ‘How do I make the shopping easier?’ then life gets better.”

“The other thing I would say is, if you’re really going to make people feel like they matter, then anybody walking into a music store can buy something that day. There is something in a music store that anybody can buy any day. But that has got to be your goal because that may be your only shot to get them before they go off to Craig’s List or Amazon,” says Phibbs in conclusion. “But if you honour the fact of what this person did to walk in the door, then I think what you do is you say, ‘Alright, I am like a conductor when I’m in the store and it’s up to me to set the tempo and it’s up to me to make sure that we’re ready for this and, ultimately, it’s up to me to put the performance on,’ and I think we’ve gotten lazy about that. I think that’s why so many of the good music retailers come to NAMM! They’re the ones that are interested; the ones that stay home with the excuses like ‘I can’t take two days off my business,’ well, how is that possible? Basically, what you’re saying is: ‘There is nothing new I need to learn,’ and that is the recipe for becoming the next Sears.”


Michael Raine is the Senior Editor of Canadian Music Trade

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Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Musician, Canadian Music Trade, Professional Sound, and Professional Lighting & Production magazines. He also hosts the Canadian Musician Podcast.
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