By Michael Raine
Obviously those students that come into your store for music lessons are also buying product from you, right? Don’t be so sure, says Pete Gamber.
Gamber owned Alta Loma Music in Rancho Cucamonga, CA from 1978 to 2012 and still teaches in-store music lessons six days a week. A regular NAMM U and RPMDA Convention presenter, Gamber says that throughout his nearly 40-year MI career, he has been continually surprised that stores often don’t have a strategy to turn students into customers on the sales floor and vice versa.
“First off, most stores aren’t selling print to their students. They are assuming they’re selling print to their students and they’re assuming students are going to walk in and go, ‘Oh, I’m in a music store, I think I’ll buy the books,’” Gamber laments. “We used to teach 2,000 students a week at our locations in private lessons, so my wife and I had a system going because when things started hitting the fan with Guitar Center and Sam Ash moving into our neighbourhood, and then Amazon and everything else, we had to figure out ways to stay alive. Part of that, we realized, was that we were assuming people came for lessons and we sold them stuff. If they didn’t walk into the room with books, half the teachers didn’t say they needed to get books. They would pull out a piece of pad paper or manuscript and scribble something down for the kid. So I think that is the first mistake – we’re assuming we’re selling to our students.”
On the flip side of that, Gamber says he regularly sees players come into a store and say, for example, “I’m looking for a book to teach myself guitar.” The store’s salesperson will obviously bring them over to the print department and pull out a selection of titles. “But the words never come out, ‘You know we teach lessons here?’” Gamber says. “Just like we assume we’re going to sell books, we assume somebody looking for books is going to ask us if we teach.”
When it comes to selling print music to students, one of the main obstacles to overcome is teachers’ hesitancy to get involved in sales, or their fear of pushing additional costs onto their students and/or parents. As Gamber puts it, “Teachers don’t want to be salespeople, so whatever is the path of least resistance, they will follow.” To get around this, Gamber and his wife created a system that he says improves the student’s experience and productivity, takes the sales pressure off the teacher, and helps sell print music.
To use an example from Gamber, say a six-year-old was signed up for beginner piano lessons. In his store, young beginning piano students were taught by Mary, and Mary had a few titles that she preferred for her lessons.
“Before the [first] lesson, we’d say, ‘Get here 15 minutes early and there are books we’re going to get you set up with so you can be successful.’ We would sell the books and then they’d walk into their lesson and they’d be ready to go and Mary would be happy that the kid had the right books. Mary didn’t have to sell the books and she didn’t have to explain, ‘Why do I have a technique book and a lesson book and a song book?’ It was done for her, and Mary didn’t have to wander out on the floor.” It’s a win-win-win situation for the student, teacher, and store.
Gamber says MI retailers should condition their students to understand from day one that the right materials make lessons more productive and successful, and that their store is the source of those materials.
Using established print materials also aids student retention, Gamber says, because it provides a measurable way of showing parents, who are likely paying for the lessons, that their child is making progress. You can tell the student’s parents, “‘We finished book one and we did this and we finished this easy Star Wars book’ and the parents are going, ‘Oh, this is awesome,’ because that is the only way they know if the kid is learning,” Gamber says.
Of course, some parents may take issue with being told they must pay for lesson materials after having paid for the lesson itself. To this complaint, Gamber responds to them, “Have you ever gone to college? And did you have books?” or even, “Did you ever take a cooking class?” The suggestion, obviously, is that most formal classes of any kind require students to buy course materials and music lessons are no different. “As soon as you say something simple like that, they go, ‘Oh yeah,’” Gamber attests.
On the flip side of the equation, selling lessons to existing or prospective print customers, Gamber says there are a few things he has done that work well. For starters, find out which titles your teachers prefer to use and what they think are the best for different instruments and experience levels.
“You can say, ‘This is a book a lot of our guitar teachers use and they have a lot of success with what we do.’ I used to actually have, underneath the racks with the books, a space without a book that had the flyers for the guitar teacher above the books that they like to use,” recalls Gamber. “I would waste the blank rack space and have an 8 x 11-in. flyer and say, ‘Here’s the teacher that uses this book’ and some of the fun stuff he did and a link to the video on our website and all the info.”
When dealing with a new player who was in his store looking for a beginner level book, Gamber’s usual response was, “A month of lessons will get you off on the right foot versus having to come in six months from now and someone has to redo the way you’re putting your thumb around the neck of the guitar and now it’s in the way.” A third of the time, Gamber estimates, that person would immediately ask for more information about the teacher and program. “I’d get a lesson signup just because I asked and it was because they came in looking for a book.”
It’s a simple thing to do and the worst thing that happens is they buy the book and leave. In that case, stuff a flyer into the book. “Guess what I’d see in about a month? Someone coming back in and saying, ‘I was a little confused. Remember me, you sold me the book? Thanks for giving me that flyer and I went and looked on your website and saw the teacher talk about what he does and do a little a demo,’ and off they went,” Gamber says.
This method can be applied elsewhere, too. Gamber notes he would make the same suggestion to people who came in looking to get their guitar tuned. After all, if someone doesn’t know how to tune their guitar, or other stringed instrument, it’s a pretty good indication they could use some lessons. Or in the rental department, do you have kids renting band instruments during the back-to-school season? “It’s a silly thing to overlook. You know these people know nothing, they’re going to be beginning band and a lot of them don’t even know you teach lessons and you may have rented a horn or they came in to buy a band book, so why not hand them a flyer on your sax teacher or woodwind teacher?”
The big lesson, obviously, is don’t assume anything. Especially, don’t assume your students are purchasing books and that your print customers are purchasing lessons. As Gamber says, “We never think of tying that together and it’s like separate departments. Even in small stores that only have three employees, somehow there is this mental division of ‘that’s where the books are’ and they just don’t connect.”
Michael Raine is the Senior Editor of Canadian Music Trade magazine.