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Refining Your Vision to Fit Today’s Marketplace

Menzie Pittman • April 2019Small Business Matters • April 4, 2019

This year my business, Contemporary Music Center, has achieved a milestone. We turned 30 years old. It seems like yesterday that I opened the doors to CMC. Looking back, I realize so much has transpired since that day. What better time to look at the idea of vision in business than when you reach a major milestone?

The Business You Formed Yesterday is Most Likely Not the Business You Have Today

When I opened CMC, I took over the space of a music store that had been in that location for five years. While that business struggled on many fronts, the music education facet was strong. My plan was to be different, to be better, and to grow.

We were new, and we were excited to make a go of it, but every project is exciting in the beginning. The success of any business sustaining for decades is in the maintenance of the initial vision and sustaining that energy, never shying away from the responsibility of new ways and fresh, creative thinking.

What Remains the Same After Thirty Years?

Over three decades, three things in my business remain original: one phenomenal guitar teacher, the idea that quality matters, and me. Everything else has gone though some form of evolution. I bring this up to make a point. You have two choices in business: you can grow and move forward, or you can stand still and get run over. Everything else is a detail. Let’s put this in perspective. The world wide web’s birthday was August 6, 1991.

CMC opened in 1989. You could certainly call that a moment of disruption. Think about it for a minute. You can only conclude one thing, and that is that the only reality is change. That is the constant.

Change Helps You Keep Your Vision Fresh

I think every business owner, manager, or business leader would agree that change has one redeeming and unique quality: it forces you to grow, and it brings you the opportunity to reinvent yourself. To some that might seem daunting or frustrating, but the music business is generally made up of very creative personalities. And to a creative person, the connection between “challenge” and “change” is very similar to that between “air” and “breathing.”

Change or disruption forces you to look at the way you have historically done things and the current way you manage and conduct the details of your daily operations. If change is the only constant, being set in your ways won’t serve you well for very long.

A major key (no pun intended) to survival is realizing that conditions and business environments are fickle. I often think of the statement, “Let the market settle the argument.” Those words are true whether we embrace them or not. The market always settles the argument. We don’t have to like the changes or agree with them, but denying them is a fool’s errand. You don’t have to look very far in the world of music business to find models that have forced change. We probably would all agree that Reverb, Sweetwater, and Carter Guitars took bold directions in providing solutions for customers – solutions that made customers change their buying habits.

Refining Your Vision

When I teach music, I have a mantra I use with students: study the greats. I believe it holds true in music, and I believe it holds true in business. But I also believe you must study yourself. Complacency is the enemy of creative thinking. We must face the truth that we must continually redefine ourselves, our vision, and our business.

Technologies help us work more efficiently, but they are also a trip-wire for new complexities. Some owners love pencil and paper, but anyone you hire in his or her 20s or 30s may not relate to your communication tools of choice.

You have no other options than to continue learning, updating, and refining ways of communicating, marketing, organizing, and operating. What does the ad say? “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” We are only moving faster – exponentially faster. If that’s the case, why then is “retro” so embraced? The answer is simple. We live in a world of opposites. We can never forget that music is also a history course, and this truth gives us additional tiers of opportunity in products, design, ambience, and in philosophy. However, you still need technology to move at today’s speed of business.

In Closing

When it comes to refreshing and refining your model, reflect on your beginning, then examine your current status, accept what has worked, but more importantly, admit what has failed. Tune your core beliefs, stand by your principals, honor your values, and enjoy refining your business creation to fit today’s needs. If you embrace this simple understanding, we will raise a glass and toast to each other in another 30 years!

Menzie Pittman is the owner and director of education at Contemporary Music Center in Virginia (CMC). Following a performance and teaching career spanning more than 32 years, he founded CMC in 1989 and continues to perform, teach, and oversee daily operations. He has 50 years of musical experience as a drummer and drum instructor. Menzie is a frequent speaker at NAMM’s Idea Center, and a freelance writer for MMR’s “Small Business Matters” column.

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