Last Word

Roland, the Japanese firm that designed the [TB-303], has spent three decades pretty much ignoring the calls for a proper reissue of this simple little instrument,” writes Jasper Hamill in a recent Tech article for Forbes regarding the sort-of reissue of Roland’s TB-303 synthesizer in the form of the Aira TB-3 (see MMR’s Product Spotlight of the Aira line on page 52 of this issue). The article goes on to discuss the evolution of the instrument’s cult status since its discontinuation only a few years after initial introduction in 1982 and also wonders if Roland waited too long for the 303’s reboot.

Time will tell the fate of the Aira TB-3, but certain larger topics and lessons pertaining to the notion of success via cultivating a “cult product” or special event are interesting to contemplate, both for MI retailers and suppliers.

Consider McDonald’s barbecue “pork” (that’s a topic for another forum) sandwich, the McRib. First introduced to menus in 1982 and subsequently – and repeatedly – removed, the marketing of the item became a blueprint for successfully building customer fervor.

“While McDonald’s playing hard-to-get with the McRib certainly baffles most customers, from a business perspective, it has proven to be a wildly effective marketing strategy,” noted Inc. magazine’s Nicole Carter in a 2011 feature. “The McRib’s marketing strategy bundles the appeal of exclusivity, scarcity, and seasonality into one savory package. And it’s become a strategy so successful that McDonald’s is making the promotion perennial.”

How is this relevant to MI? Well, there are, of course, plenty of examples of instruments that have eventually been re-issued or revisited after gaining post-non-production notoriety, with varied results.

MXR and Ibanez make waves by reissuing their old pedals, Ludwig’s Black Beauty has been re-released at least twice that I’m aware of, Ampeg periodically trots out this year’s version of the Dan Armstrong guitar, the Rhodes and B3 organs have both had successful re-launches – the list (as I’m sure anyone reading this knows) is pretty much endless. In most instances, the renewed availability of a beloved, classic instrument results – at least momentarily – in buzz for the overall brand.

And how might retailers capitalize on this here-now/today-but-not-for-long marketing approach? “We believe in doing regular events and the occasional ‘special event’,” says Willis Music Company’s Kevin Cranley.  “Customers have so many choices today and we feel we need to provide something extra to win them over. Special events can be that edge.”

“We are always running events whenever possible,” offers Sammy Ash of Sam Ash Music Corp. “Weekly, we have something happening almost every night: Mondays are Drummers Unite; Tuesdays are the guitar clubs; Wednesdays – which are our most popular of the week – are the OMN’s or Open Mic Nights; Thursdays are our Keyboard nights; and Sunday is the Sam Ash Jazz Brunch for horn players.”

Of course, “special events” don’t just happen. In addition to (hopefully) coming up with a good concept, the successful birth of a happening that resonates with the community depends on careful preparation. “Planning is the key to success for everyone involved,” Cranley continues.  “One piece of advice is to find a dedicated partner for those areas where you don’t have the muscle.”

Collaborating with other area establishments creates a more inclusive vibe to a given day’s gathering and may result in unexpected sales or relationships. Offering more than just “stuff for sale” also invites greater participation. Whether it’s entertainment, free food, a “drum-off” competition, celebrity appearances, or all of the above and more, those are the types of things that create truly memorable events – and new customers. If your performance stage for “Big Super-Fun Day” or your guitar demo tent (or whatever it may be) is set up across from the food stand outside a family of four’s favorite Mexican restaurant, it’s entirely likely one of those kids or parents will feel comfortable enough to walk over and check out what you’re up to.

“The main trick is for the location to want to do an event and take ownership of it,” Ash says. “Most of our suppliers are generous for contributing small and sometimes large items for these types of events. We donate generously to community groups that support music with many gift certificates. That gets very grateful customers coming back in the store with big smiles.”

It’s unlikely that many out there are reading this and saying to themselves, “A special event – that’s something I’ve never heard of or considered before!” But, however much this concept may be old-hat to retailers, not many – certainly not all – really make the effort to commit to the undertaking. It takes hard work, planning, and may not always pay off as you’d hope, but when it does, the rewards are long lasting and significant.

If your operation does take the effort to launch and sustain special looked-forward-to events in the community, my hat’s off to you. If you don’t, why not give it a shot? While you consider it, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next limited-time run of the McRib.

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