What Women Want (When they visit a retail musical instrument store, that is).

by Laura B. Whitmore • in
  • In the Trenches
• Created: September 2, 2015

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I don’t profess to have insider knowledge of every woman’s experience walking into a music store.

But I can tell you my own point of view and that of many others I know.

As a professional in the musical instrument industry for pretty much my entire career, and somewhat of an expert in guitar-related gear, I still sometimes feel uncomfortable walking into a retail music store.

Why? Perhaps it’s internal demons, or perhaps it’s because I immediately feel like I have to prove myself knowledgeable to the salespeople there and therefore worthy of their attention.

Perhaps it’s because I have a bit of distrust when it comes to salespeople and expect that they are going to steer me toward whatever: a) they have in stock; b) they get the highest margin or commission on, and perhaps then; c) something they themselves like and appreciate for whatever reason.

In trying to put this in perspective, I considered a recent purchase I made of a product I know nothing about. You see, my family and I moved to the Boston area recently, and although the winter was miserable for most things, it was great for skiing. After several rounds of renting my son ski gear, I felt it was time to purchase… hopefully at a great end-of-season deal.

As my son and I walked around the ski shop, I immediately felt out of place. I literally knew absolutely nothing. We were directed to a salesperson who asked my son about his experience, likes, uses, and other questions like height and weight. Then he turned to me and asked about budget, whether my son had stopped growing, and other questions I was comfortable with.

He led us to a set of skis that really fit the bill. That salesperson made an overwhelming (and somewhat expensive) purchase seem like a no brainer. I felt respected and my son was ecstatic. The salesman went on to explain about what to do to have the skis set up, and other things that I as a mom should think about. I walked out feeling like I hadn’t been taken advantage of and that my son was completely satisfied.

When I apply this experience to my own in music stores, well… let’s just say it’s a lackluster comparison.

People often ask me, how do we encourage more women to pick up an instrument, play more and, of course, purchase more music gear?

You want more women to walk into your store? Here’s what women (and most humans) want when they shop for musical instruments.

1.     Let me know you are there to help and then give me space. Women like to browse. They like to look at products and take them in with all their senses: look, smell, feel – everything except maybe not taste! Don’t rush them. Make them feel at home but give them time to consider.

2.     Make info easily available. I don’t want to have to ask the salesperson every question I have. It would be easier for me to browse if there are tags or cards that explain the pertinent features of the product. I can even snap a phone photo of ones that interest me for future reference.

3.     Give me something. I want to know that you are interested in helping me, but I hate the hard sell. I’m not terribly comfortable with negotiating, but I want to feel like I’m getting a good deal. If you throw in something, like a pick, a cable, a tuner, a book, even something small, I feel like I’ve reached my goal of getting a bargain. I love that.

4.     Treat me with respect. Ask me questions in a tone that makes me feel like you actually are interested in my answers and you are not automatically assuming that I don’t know anything. Don’t make me feel stupid or defensive.

5.     Don’t assume. Yes, I may be shopping for my son or daughter or husband, but I may be just shopping for me. When you assume that I am not the musician or that I am not knowledgeable, it is offensive. This happens all the time!

6.     No ogling. Don’t look me up and down while you are talking to me. This is so uncomfortable. Eye contact is great. This also means you shouldn’t have overly sexist art or language displayed or shared in your store or in your advertising outreach.

7.     And speaking of. Have POPs, displays, ads and more that include female musicians in their artwork. I want to see people like me playing gear and being a part of the industry. This makes me feel like I belong. Oh, and make sure you have women’s sizes in your T-shirt stock!

8.     Have a female salesperson. I go to a female doctor because I feel like she can relate to me better than a man. The same thing goes for salespeople. I feel a sense of relief when I am dealing with a female sales associate in a music store. She gets where I’m coming from. I immediately gravitate toward asking her my questions or seeking her advice.

9.     Host events that are inclusive for women: a Mothers Day sale; a singer/songwriter night; a partnership event with a local Girls Rock Camp; a benefit for a women’s support group; a “give back” week in which some of the proceeds go to my kids’ school. Women notice when businesses support issues and causes that are important to them.

10. Don’t be afraid to follow up with us. If I walk out of your store without purchasing, I’m okay with you checking in with me to see if I need further information before making my purchase. Or if you get something new in stock that you think would fit my needs, and you reach out to me, I think that’s kind of awesome. So invite me to sign up for your mailing list, but ask more than my name and email, and keep track of what my interest areas might be.

Laura B. Whitmore is the founder of the Women’s International Music Network (thewimn.com) and the She Rocks Awards (sherocksawards.com). She owns and runs Mad Sun Marketing LLC, an agency focused on music and audio products. She’s a singer/songwriter and the editor of Guitar World’s Acoustic Nation.

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