String Theory: Prominent Suppliers Discuss the Electric Guitar & Bass String Market

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Roundtable
• Created: June 14, 2017

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Accessories are a consistent, reliable category for most MI retailers and it’s quite possible that nothing generates more traffic and sales than fretted string sets.

Strings may not necessarily be “sexy” and (in most cases) don’t exactly represent high-ticket items, but every guitarist and bassist goes through them with some regularity (particularly guitarists) and they have to buy new ones some where – may as well be your store, yes?

MMR recently touched base with representatives from five of the biggest names in electric guitar & bass design and manufacture to get their take on the state of the market, as well as to learn about new products and technology currently making waves.

What are your overall impressions of the electric guitar & bass string segment at the moment? For your brand, how are sales compared to last year?

Tim Pfouts: I feel the segment is solid right now. It is a crowded marketplace which has affected sales somewhat but we are still up from last year. We see a lot more peaks and valleys than we used to, so we now look at sales over a year’s time rather than focusing too much per quarter. But overall things are good.

Justin Fogleman: Elixir® Strings is gaining momentum and has had several record sales quarters recently. We believe there is significant opportunity in the Electric Guitar segment. As you may know, Elixir Strings is the #1 selling string brand for acoustic guitar players. In electric, the uncoated segment is predominant. In prepping for the OPTIWEB™ Coated Electric String launch [March 2017], we were overwhelmed by the positive feedback we received from our global field trials–especially from uncoated players. We’re confident now more than ever we can have similar success in electric that we do today in acoustic. In fact, OPTIWEB Coated Electric Strings was just awarded a Musikmesse International Press Award for “Best Guitar Accessory.” To date, sales of OPTIWEB Coated Electric Strings are doing very well and we are excited by the results we’re seeing. In addition, the launch has increased demand across our entire electric offering as players are becoming aware of the full range of tone and feel options to meet their specific preferences. We are finding that retailers are carrying the range of our different coatings to meet the wider needs. This most likely comes at the expense of slow moving less profitable uncoated SKUs.

Jon Moody: In terms of electric guitar, I would say it’s about level. We’ve seen a bigger sway toward acoustic guitar strings, which has been up from last year. Bass strings for us have always been steady, if not up this year, given that regardless of the type of music being played, there’s usually an electric bassist.

Worth Dixon: According to industry data, the market for fretted instrument strings has been more or less flat for the past several years. However, D’Addario is the leader in dollar market share in both electric guitar and electric bass categories, while enjoying significant market share growth.

Brian Ball: The electric string market for both bass and guitar are red hot right now and it appears the pendulum has shifted back from the six-to-seven year rapid growth of the acoustic string market. Ernie Ball sales are up double digits in nearly every category in 2017, but the majority of the growth has stemmed from electric sales, most notably our new Paradigm series. There seems to be a little bit of a halo effect from Paradigm benefitting all other lines including Slinky, Cobalt, Earthwood, and others.

How would you break down – percentage-wise – overall string sales for you, in terms of guitar compared to bass?

JM: I’d say between those two it’s an 80/20 split, especially when you factor in that guitarists by and large buy more strings than the average bass player does.

BB: Electric guitar strings outsell bass strings by at least a ten-to-one margin, unit wise, maybe even more. Bass players change their strings less frequently and don’t have as much of an issue due to the diameter and material difference (no plains).

WD: In the electric category, guitar strings generate about 75 percent of our revenues and bass makes up the other 25 percent.

TP: 70 percent guitar, 30 percent bass.

What’s currently the best-selling type or line of strings for your brand?

BB: Our Slinky Electric strings have continued to be our top selling line and one of the most popular globally. Our Earthwood acoustics have grown fairly substantially over the last decade which has allowed us to invest substantially into new patented technologies like Cobalt, Paradigm, M-Steel, and Aluminum Bronze acoustics.

WD: D’Addario’s growth in an otherwise flat market has been driven by the success of our NYXL brand for electric guitar and bass, both of which are helping to stimulate market demand for premium strings.

TP: Although we have a lot of new strings, our best selling is still one of our oldest and most established lines, the Powerwound Electric guitar string. It is our 8% NPS electric guitar string. It is the most widely used sets among our artists so that continues to drive sales. In our manufacturing facility, we also work hard on our efficiency to keep the price point competitive for a high quality, American-made string. In our bass, our Powerwound is our best selling bass line. Again, this has to do with the quality in addition to price point.

JF: Elixir Strings is the #1 selling string brand for acoustic guitar players, loved for their tone and feel combined with long tone life. With the recent introduction of OPTIWEB Coated Electric Strings, which were designed from the input of over a thousand electric guitarists who wanted the performance of an uncoated string with the long tone-life of an Elixir String, we are well positioned to revolutionize the electric guitar strings segment and achieve similar success.

JM: Easily it’s our flagship line of Boomers, for both guitar and bass. However, our Precision Flats are a very hot seller for bass players as more and more players are looking for that vintage, old school bass tone. In the acoustic realm, our Phosphor Bronze strings are a continued best seller, with our recent Americana series of strings being very well received in the bluegrass, Americana and folk genres.

Have you noticed any particular marketing, display, or promotion strategies that work well for MI dealers who are especially successful selling electric guitar & bass strings?

JM: The MI dealers who are successful in selling ANYTHING right now are on top of it in terms of social media, email blasts and great customer service. All three of those things contribute to a customer shopping there for the experience over saving money (which, when comparing guitar strings from store to store, isn’t much at all).

JF: Our leading retailers have told us that when they restring their guitars with Elixir Strings, they simply sell better and faster because the guitars on their wall stay in peak condition and inspire their customers to buy. Great sounding guitars sell guitars. Retailers can count on Elixir Strings to sound fresh and retain their tone longer than any other string. Another marketing strategy that retailers have seen great results with is setting up an A/B Demo Guitar Test. By allowing consumers to touch and hear the differences between strings, particularly between uncoated strings and Elixir OPTIWEB Coated Electric Strings, it makes the buying decision easier and faster.

TP: This, of course, varies greatly depending on the type of dealer. For the brick and mortar stores, a Restring Day promotion always seems to bump sales. This is something we help our dealers with and it really seems to get some customers through the door. I have also seen some dealers have success locally with social media promotions with local “influencers.” Not so much players that are known nationally but local players with credibility who mention via Facebook or Instagram something about a new string or promotion that can drive business back into the local store. But for our really successful dealers, it is just a matter that they are focused on strings and understand the need for carrying a variety of products and the potential for continued revenue.

WD: People are what matter most. A well-organized string wall helps, but front line sales associates who can share their expertise and help consumers make the best choice for their instrument and playing style are the most important factor. Merchandising can also be impactful, but it’s challenging for retailers to make space for it. Where there is a good story to tell and the display is well executed, some customers are able to commit counter or wall space. For example, we’ve seen success with our NYXL neon-style signs, to the point where dealers have literally built NYXL product displays around them. The result is eye-catching, draws consumers to the string wall, and gets them asking questions about NYXL products.

BB: The most successful dealers we see are the ones that thatcontinue to use and leverage all strings as a great opportunity for driving traffic through promos, bundles, and a reason to buy more meanwhile saving more. Obviously, a huge driver lately is your ability to generate a community of fans through social media and more importantly the content you use to promote your channels. Invest in a nicer camera than a flip phone, start promotions like guitar of the week, deal of the day, and any other social candy that makes your page a destination for fans.

Any upcoming string releases, promotions, or other developments that you’d like to share with our readers?

BB: Paradigm maintains our primary focus and represents an incredible opportunity for dealers to make substantially higher margins on strings. We’re constantly working on new products that feature improvements for strings, pedals, and accessories and will be releasing some new products this fall. Promotion-wise, we’re gearing up to launch a big 55th anniversary celebration this fall.

WD: We’re always expanding upon our core brands with offerings for new instruments and a wider variety of gauge combinations. In addition to renewed marketing assets for our NYXL, Nickel Bronze, and Pro-Arté brands, watch for a series of new products from D’Addario for specialized and regional instruments. Two examples are our NYXL sets for pedal steel guitar, a high-performance product offering for a dedicated community of musicians that have not been presented with new string options for many years, and a professional quality string set for erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument. We see regional musical instruments, musicians, and educators as an underserved part of the market that we are in a position to support.

TP: From a product standpoint we are excited about our new bass string we are releasing sometime over the summer called FOUNDATIONS. We have a new process and new materials that allow us to make a very flexible very bright bass string. It will not be replacing any current line we have but rather will make a nice addition to our bass offerings. From a promotion standpoint, we also have a new dealer-direct program that allows our dealers to order custom sets in smaller quantities with a lot of different options. Being a smaller boutique manufacturer, we decided to use this to our advantage in order to help our dealers hold onto customers who either need to want a custom set of strings.

JM: We expanded our line of Bass Boomers with a couple of sets specifically aimed at the players that use a 4 string bass but tune down to BEAD. We also just released our Pure Nickel Mandolin strings, which have been very well received. We’re also in the final stages of increasing our banjo line with a couple of nickel-plated steel offerings, due to customer and dealer request.

JF: Elixir Strings is investing heavily to create awareness of our new OPTIWEB™ Coated Electric Strings among consumers through print and digital consumer advertising, a consumer sweepstakes, social media campaigns and more. Our marketing efforts are focused on driving traffic to retailers. Because we know that retailers value restringing their guitars with Elixir Strings, we’re offering a new Mini Bulk program, now in smaller quantities, where retailers can purchase strings in bulk – in sets of 25, 50 and 100, giving them flexibility and savings. This cost effective restringing solution keeps their Electric, Acoustic and Bass Guitar collection sounding new and feeling fresh for longer.


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