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Carlton Family Values: Carlton Music on 50 Years in the Family

by Sharon Paquette Lose & Victoria Wasylak • in
  • Anniversary
• Created: July 10, 2017

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Carlton Music is on the cusp on a major milestone.

Two generations into their Florida-based music store, owners Glen and Regina Carlton are optimistic that their daughter, Julie, will eventually carry on the tradition. “That’s what we’re hoping for anyway. She [Julie] kinda runs the place when Regina and I are out,” Glen Carlton says. “Of course, I’ve got a lot of good store managers that have been with me a long time as well, but she actually has done a whole lot for the website.”

But even if the Julie doesn’t someday grow into an ownership role, by thriving for 50 years as a family-owned musical instrument retail operation, Carlton Music has already earned its bragging rights. Founded in 1967 by Glen’s parents, John and Sally, the Carlton family’s passion for instruments is rooted in the fact that they were all musicians.

“We all played instruments and it’s a fun business to be involved with when you’re a musician as well,” Carlton says.

For the Carltons, being a musicians and entrepreneurs have always gone hand in hand, and most likely will continue to for the next 50 years.

On Location

Before Carlton Music branched out to two locations, there was one only Carlton Music, a one-story store plopped Winter Haven, Florida in 1976 after the Carlson family left their initial “cozy” space of 2500 sq. feet. In the late 90s, the Carltons added a second floor for studios and teaching, as well as back-stocking, cementing the Winter Haven location as the main office and primary location.

The Lakeland location has experienced similar growth, starting in 1980, and moving two times to accommodate for new growth. And with big sellers ranging from Yamaha, Fender, and Taylor and Martin, to accessories from D’Addario, Fender and Peavey, as much floor space as possible is needed.

“The first time was kind of a forced move because it was downtown and they were redeveloping and forced everybody out so they could level the buildings,” Carlson says. “But we kinda outgrew it anyway so we moved to another building, which we actually purchased over, not too far away, a few blocks away, on the main center of there, and we kinda outgrew that one as well. So we’re at the current location which we moved into in 1998 which is on Harden Boulevard, and that store is probably sticking 8000 square feet.”

Lessons for Life

Coming from a musical family, Carlton knows the importance of music in every child’s life. He himself being a bass guitar and trombone player, both locations offer music lessons and support local music education.

In addition to being affiliated with NAMM and the Florida Bandmasters Association, Carlton says that the company deals with a lot of school instrument rentals within Polk County, as well as four or five counties around them as well.

“I have an office manager that oversees the accounts and stays in contact with the schools, and we two full-time road reps that go out and call on the schools each week during the school year,” Carlson notes. “So we do a lot and we do a lot of school instrument repairs as well. We have repair shops for both band percussion, electronic repairs for guitars and amps and PA, and we also have full-string repairs for guitar setup and all that.”

Treat ‘Em Like Family

While Carlton Music has always been “all in the family,” the hospitality extends beyond anyone with the Carlton name. The company has multiple employees who have been working with them for more than 20 and 30 years – one main shop repairman, Chuck Furr, has been working for Carlton Music over 40 years.

“We’ve got a lot of long-term employees that have been with me a long time. Most of the employees have been with me 9, 10 years or more,” Carlson adds. And with the rise of online shopping, personality is more important than ever. Carlton says that perhaps the more important aspect of his work is giving customers the full experience – from picking out the right instrument for them, to getting lessons for their family or providing any repairs.

“I think it’s just the…probably just the way we treat our customers. I think the service is so important and making sure that customers are taken care of. It’s really nothing new. It’s, you know, just the fundamentals of business, basically. But, you know, we’re very conscientious of, you know, taking care of our customers and making sure that they leave happy,” Carlson says. “We’re not just here to put a guitar in their hands and walk out the door and never see us again. We wanna bring them back, sell the accessories they need, offer them lessons, repair the instruments if they’re needed. So that’s kinda what keeps us going.”

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