Photo: Sutton Music Centre

So, you’ve sold the piano/saxophone/violin/guitar. Exit one happy customer to continue their musical journey.  But how do you keep them coming back?  This can be a challenge, but using their shop space to offer additional services keeps business ticking over for many music retailers.

If your shop has the space for it, offering music tuition on your premises is an obvious way to continue the relationship with your customer and it’s something that you can recommend as soon as they’ve bought their instrument.  If they are taking out a Take it away loan, they can even add the cost of a block of lessons to the loan amount.

Plenty of music retailers are already doing this. Sutton Music Centre has offered music tuition in guitar, drums, piano and bass since they relocated the business to its current premises nine years ago. They also offer group lessons, where two or more pupils learn together, which they feel is a great format- as director Mark Allis explains, “it’s a different way of doing things. Pupils can learn how to play with other musicians, they can also learn from other pupils’ experiences, and we’ve had really positive feedback”.

Practice rooms can be useful

Some retailers take advantage of the space they have in other ways. Hayes Music, based in Southampton and Romsey, offer practice rooms to allow prospective buyers to try out and compare instruments privately. They are used particularly for brass and woodwind players: “Some customers can be embarrassed to play them in public,” owner Richard Boler explains. “It’s not the same as trying out a guitar, that you can quietly strum on the shop floor! The rooms are often full, so we’re planning to convert a fourth room to meet demand”.  They’ve also been considering offering music tuition as some customers have been asking about it.

Widening your audience

It’s worth considering how you can diversify your audience. It’s never too early to introduce children to music, and Brittens Music has been offering “Colourstrings” music classes since September 2016, which is a method of teaching based on the work of Kodaly, Dalcroze and Orff and tailored for babies, toddlers and children under 5.  As Mark Greenleaf of Brittens explains, “We already have a successful music school, and the owners wanted to introduce something that gives children a good foundation, to make their start at music school easier”.  With 58 children attending each week, the scheme is going from strength to strength.

Building relationships with partners and suppliers

You could take advantage of your existing relationships with partners and suppliers to hold special events, which can be a great way to attract potential new customers into your store.  Ackerman Music in Brighton has hosted workshops, masterclasses and book launches in the past. They mainly work with publishers to put these on, as general manager Lynne explains:

“Generally, they are very supportive.  They’ll pay for the speaker’s expenses, so we just need to arrange and put on the event. I see it as good PR for the store more than anything. Some have been more successful than others, but it’s important to give things a go. You can’t just sit back and do nothing, you’ve got to try different things!”

A white feminine, person talking to some elderly, feminine people about some jazz and string instruments.

Photo: Ackerman Music, Hove

If you don’t have a separate room for this, or there’s not much space in your store, it’s worth improvising:“ We just hold the events on the shop floor – which is choca, so we do need to shift things around a bit”, Lynne says.  They’ve even taken part in community events, which is something to think about if your store really is too small.  Sutton Music has also held an event in their local shopping centre and found that it’s a good way to publicise themselves and create interest. “One guy who approached us said that he’d lived in Sutton for 50 years and never knew there was a music shop there!”

The high street of the future – your shop can be part of it

With many big brands like M&S, Mothercare, either closing stores or downsizing their high street operations, it’s easy to think that the future looks bleak for the high street. But not if your business takes advantage of emerging trends. According to a study by from Which?, the high street is becoming a social hub, where people go to catch up rather than shop.  Innovation consultancy Elixirr has written extensively about this, noting that “the rapid growth of in-store experiences as a means of attracting consumers through the door is a trend that isn’t likely to slow down any time soon”.

Some music shops are already thinking ahead in this way. Harringay and Camden based Music and Beans describes itself as a “hybrid music school café”. Absolute Music is a two-floor superstore in Bournemouth has an in-store café – allowing customers to really make a day of their visit.

Support could be on its way if you need it.  The government recently announced a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support local areas to prepare long-term strategies for their high streets and town centres, including funding a new High Streets Taskforce to provide expertise and hands-on support to local areas.

As all these retailers show, with a little commitment, planning and hard work, your shop could become more than just a place to sell instruments, but a music services hub for your local community.

Why not start with Learn to Play Day?

On Saturday 23 and 24 March, music retailers up and down the country will be taking part in Learn to Play Day.  If you already hold music lessons at your store or have contacts with local music instrument tutors, this could be a great way to attract new customers.  Learn To Play Day is the flagship event of the UK’s Music for All Charity and provides budding musicians or old hands with the opportunity to have an introductory music lesson with a professional tutor, completely for free. If you’re interested in taking part, contact Music for All for more information.

A poster advertising free music taster lessons organised by "UK's Music for All Charity"