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Why Try to be Like Everybody Else?

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Editorial
  • June 2018
• Created: June 11, 2018

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In Victoria Wasylak’s excellent profile of Lexington, Massachusetts’ guitar dealer, The Music Emporium (page 64), co-owner Joe Caruso says of the Boston areas’ Guitar Center locations: “They didn’t put us out of business – they helped our business. Too often, every store is the same, they’re all carrying the same stuff. There’s too much homogeneity in the retail world.”

This philosophy and approach to business in the MI realm is, of course, not necessarily “new,” but it seems to me it deserves amplified (no pun intended) attention in today’s current climate – one in which each monthly MMR dealer survey, regardless of the topic, is populated with tens (sometimes hundreds) of responses that, in part, bemoan the inability of traditional brick-and-mortar stores to compete with big box or online retailers.

Later in that same article, when explaining how The Music Emporium decided to enter the electric guitar market after decades of established success as the region’s source for all things “fretted and acoustic,” Caruso adds, “We didn’t want to do Fender, we don’t want to do Gibson, don’t want to do PRS, because everybody had those. Why try to be like everybody else? All these small builders we could represent that don’t have a home – we could be that sort of place. We could be the place to go to find so many cool, obscure lines that players may have heard about, but no one carries them.”

Read Victoria’s feature to learn the details of how this strategy has paid off handsomely for The Music Emporium, but for now, suffice to say: it worked and it’s working. Again, it’s a lesson some retailers might want to remind themselves of and reevaluate as an already competitive, difficult marketplace becomes ever more so.

I’m a Gibson guy. That said, a quick glance at my collection reveals that I’m also an Ampeg (Dan Armstrong), Guild, Fender, Teisco, Goya, Rickenbacker, Gretsch, Epiphone, and “New York Pro” (don’t ask – it was a gift. Looking around online just now, they seem to have left us. I do play that guitar a lot! R.I.P.) guy. But a place like Caruso’s – one that stocks none of my “favorite brands” – represents the type of store I’d seriously consider making the drive to rather than just another dealer that has all the guitars I know.

I think of the brands profiled in our August 2017 “The Class of 2017” feature – Michael Kelly, PureSalem, Sire, Wallace Detroit, Chapman, DiPinto, Relish, Prestige – and those (and plenty more like them out there) are the brands I haven’t so often held in my hands, plugged into an amp, and played. Those are the types of guitars I’m excited to see at trade shows and the types of guitars I’d hop in the car and make the trek to check out if a nearby dealer happened to stock them.

With one of the major industry trade shows upon us, I’d advocate for paying serious attention to some of the smaller, lesser-known companies exhibiting (not that you should ignore the big names, of course). As The Music Emporium has demonstrated, offering appealing gear that isn’t available online or at the larger retailers is one solid strategy to distinguish your business and to not only survive in today’s market, but to thrive.

Speaking of Summer NAMM, for those readers planning to make the trip to Nashville: drop by our booth (#800) and say hello!

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