Just a few years ago more than a few were whispering, “Put a fork in it, it’s done.” So that there is tangible excitement and enthusiasm for this year’s summer show says something.
Many, including NAMM president and CEO Joe Lamond, never gave up on the annual gathering. “I’ll never forget when NAMM first moved the Summer Show to Nashville,” he says. “Working at Skip’s Music in Sacramento, we would naturally bring a large team to Winter NAMM, but the Summer Show was just the two of us. Because of the more relaxed pace, we were able to have quality time with vendors. I remember conversations with Hartley Peavey, Chris Martin, and [fortmer Fender CEO] Bill Schultz – icons we could never get close to during Winter NAMM. It was an opportunity and learning experience for me and I believe this is still one of the most important elements of Summer NAMM.”
Specifically for this show, there seem to be reasons for optimism – from a continued slow, but steady march out of the Great Recession, to the new Music City Center and perhaps a greater acceptance by most to embrace the new rules of today’s retail operation (even if we haven’t figured them out yet).
It looks like the Summer NAMM show is back, and the numbers tell the story.
In 2010, exhibitors fell to 381, then to 379 and 372 in 2011 and 2012 respectively. As this issue goes to print, there are 398 exhibitors at the show. And the number of exhibitors only tells part of the story; as you know from reading MMR, distributors and suppliers are constantly taking on and creating new brands. When you consider that companies are displaying around 1,160 brands, that’s a lot to see.
Returning to SNAMM
Another strong sign is that some key manufacturers are returning, including TASCAM, Warwick, and Civilized World.
Deering is another company who is returning after a short absence. The company has a long history with the Summer NAMM show, going back to 1979. “While we have always enjoyed the opportunity to visit with our dealers and artists in Nashville, evaluation of results from contacts at the show indicated a continuous decline from 2007 forward,” states Carolina Bridges, Deering’s director of public relations.
But after sitting out for two years, they are back. “There has been an exponential increase in the interest in Deering banjos since the end of 2010 to present. Combining both of these factors convinced us that investing in a booth and staff to exhibit at the Summer NAMM show this year would be a good idea.” They also want to capitalize on the success of their 5- and 6-string banjos from the Goodtime series and their popular Crossfire electric banjo.
Bridges was not surprised that the numbers for this year’s show are shooting upwards. “Increased attendance at this show should be reflective of the growth and success of the industry at large,” she says. “If dealers are willing to invest their capital in getting to the show to see what is available to them throughout, their enthusiasm will carry over to their own stores and involve greater efforts at serving the many individuals interested in making music!”
“Yes, we are coming to Summer NAMM,” declares Cannonball’s Sheryl Laukat. “We decided to make it a different experience than Winter NAMM, so we are just exhibiting at a 10’ x 10’ booth and bringing just a few horns. We want to touch base with our dealers and let them know we appreciate it.”
Cannonball’s relationship with SNAMM has been tenuous at best – the company appeared just once in the 1990s. After that initial toe-dip, they felt that most of their dealers did not attend Summer NAMM. So why now?
“Our customer base has expanded quite a bit since 15 years ago and it occurred to us that we have a lot of dealers who attend Summer NAMM now,” Laukat says. “They may not be initially thinking of looking at band instruments, but there are quite a few who will be there. It’s a fabulous opportunity for being able to touch base with many Cannonball dealers in one spot within a few days.”
ESP stopped bringing their guitars and gear to Nashville about 10 years ago. “Like many, it was due to the continually downward trend of attendance, and our overall ROI was being negatively impacted,” says Jeff Moore, director of marketing. “It wasn’t making financial sense for us any more, especially since we had to bare the constant cost of rather large displays at Winter NAMM and Musikmesse.”
But he notes that the fact that many dealers who don’t go to Anaheim in the winter make the effort to come to Nashville in the summer. “Those retailers are important to us and we are excited to be back and able to conduct business this summer.”
The biggest name in the “return category” is Gibson, though CEO Henry Juszkiewicz cautions not to read too much into whether they are at any particular trade show or not. “We didn’t do Austin or Indianapolis, true, but there’s no ‘rule’ for sitting out a show,” he explains. “Summer is busy for us because Gibson sponsors and works with lots of festivals and events. This year we’re participating in events in Columbia, Germany, Canada, Japan, the UK, and of course, the U.S. Our consumer brands will be represented at SINOCES in China. All of these dates are close to NAMM, so attending NAMM this year took a fair amount of logistical juggling.”
In addition to those who are returning, there will be 145 new companies exhibiting for the first time in the Music City Center. Unlike Winter NAMM, these newcomers won’t be in the basement – they’ll be as accessible as anyone else.
While John Wator has checked out the winter show as a “gear geek,” this is his first time exhibiting his guitar effect pedals. Just a year ago it was a “hobby.” Then he realized he could actually sell his pedals to others – and thus Daredevil Pedals was begot.
“I initially was ready to apply for the Winter NAMM Show when I found out about the one in Nashville,” he says, noting that it’s drivable from his base in Chicago. “Also it’s a bit less overwhelming for an independent business that is just starting to expand, like mine.” He’ll be displaying all his ready-for-sale pedals, plus at least one he’s beta testing. “I’m excited to put them all out there and see what people think. I try to be really open to conversation with customers, but doing it in person makes it easier. I had years of instrument retail experience, so it seems more natural to just hand someone a guitar and say, ‘Here ya go, crank it up, and find out!’”
The New Convention Center
“The new Music City Center is incredible – it’s even shaped like a guitar,” says Lamond. “Everything about the inside says ‘music.’”
He believes our industry takes some credit for the new state of the art convention center. He notes that in 2004 when NAMM and a couple of other key conventions left because of the lack of exhibit space, local leaders took note. This triggered a series of decisions that ultimately led to the $585 million dollar building.
NAMM will be the fourth organization to use the new facility, reports Music City Center’s Holly McCall.
For exhibitors there’s a lot to like, starting with the size. The space is big – eight acres, divided into four sections. Whereas the old center had six loading docks, now there are 32, and four allow for semis to drive right onto the convention floor. At the booths, there are floor boxes allowing access to water, compressed air, electricity, and data.
As far as figuring one’s way around, “We have Wayfinding Signage, plus there will be a number of ambassadors available to help guests find their way,” McCall says.
The new space is no doubt a draw for some exhibitors. “Deering felt that the new facility would excite folks to come and see what it was all about,” Bridges says.
“We are hoping to go away from Summer NAMM, having talked with our customers in person, and having expressed our appreciation to them for being a part of the Cannonball team,” Laukat says. “This is going to be a much more casual and relaxed show for us. We want our customers to visit our booth, hang with us for a few minutes in our two soft, relaxing massage chairs. We’re also having drawings for our Cannonball dealers to enter. The prizes are a trumpet, a flute, and a soprano saxophone.”
Daredevil Pedal’s John Wator feels it’s good to hear of so many networking opportunities: “At this point I’m coming in with the approach of networking till my eyes fall out. This is the best opportunity I will have this year to meet retailers and customers face to face and show them what I have going on with Daredevil Pedals.”
The conventional wisdom is that this show is for “Indies,” and NAMM continues to celebrate the “100 Best” MI retailers to reinforce that. “The Summer NAMM show is aimed squarely at the needs of the community music dealer,” Lamond says. “And they are so important to this industry. They sell young people their first instruments, give the lessons, and make the repairs. We need them to be strong.” He adds that he, too, has heard from some retailers that they feel vendors have shifted their attention elsewhere and, “If that’s true, in my opinion, that’s a mistake.”
Getting to the independent dealer seems to be on the exhibitors’ minds.
“A good dealer, a savvy dealer, is always important regardless of size,” says Juszkiewicz. “’Bigness’ doesn’t guarantee the ability to take care of customers, or make the right decisions about what consumers want. Independent dealers are important part of the Gibson family. I don’t see that changing.”
Good Times Return? Not So Fast ….
Lamond is cautious about the positive economic signs and what they mean to this industry. “Yes, unemployment has inched down a bit, the stock market seems to be doing better, and housing is coming back, and all those are good signs,” he remarks. “But it doesn’t mean that things will ever be back to exactly how they were before the recession. Everyone has to find their own path in this new retail paradigm.”
This new path will have to include an embrace of technology, he believes. When asked to comment on those who feel that technology is a threat, or is the enemy, Lamond says: “We don’t have the luxury of having technology be our enemy or anything else – it’s here to stay,” he says. “How people shop and buy things has changed forever. It’s a mobile world now, and we have to find ways to take advantage of that.”
He adds that the programs and workshops his team has put together for Summer NAMM are geared toward addressing the challenges of today’s environment. The emphasis seems to be, “adapt or become increasingly irrelevant.”
There are also three special networking events that Lamond is especially bullish on: The Grand Opening Party Wednesday night featuring a “Nashville Tribute to Jimi Hendrix,” Thursday night’s session moderated by Vince Gill and Two Old Hippies’ Tom Bedell and a group of industry leaders sharing invaluable and hard-earned insight, and Friday’s Top 100 Dealer Awards highlighting the best retail practices in the country.
But will the show live up to the hype? Stay tuned…
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