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Meet NAMM’s New Chairman Mark Goff

...post imaginable: counter man, floor salesman, road rep, store manager, occasional window washer, and ultimately CEO. Although the name over the door at Paige’s Music has remained constant, the business he joined in 1985 bears little resemblance to the one he presides over today. What was a multi-store full-line operation, has been transformed into a single-location school music specialist. Goff says that both his personal career growth and the successful restructuring of Paige’s Music were made possible in large part by NAMM’s educational programs. “I am a product of a NAMM U,” he says. “The insights I’ve gained there have had a lot to do with our success.”

Goff takes the helm of NAMM with a sense of gratitude for how the organization helped further his career, and the conviction that it is uniquely positioned to advance the industry’s fortunes. NAMM’s most visible activity is staging tradeshows, but he is particularly enthusiastic about two of the association’s valuable, but less obvious services. One involves providing education for retailers through NAMM University and other venues while fostering a sense of community where they can exchange ideas. He explains, “My business has benefited from ideas I’ve ‘borrowed’ from the retailer friends I’ve made at NAMM. NAMM can help make better retailers, which makes for a better industry.”

The other core function involves advocating for the benefits of music education in the halls of government and the media. As a school music retailer, Goff has built his business by preaching the virtues of music to communities throughout central Indiana. However, he thinks the value of advocacy goes beyond expanding school band and orchestral programs. “It’s about creating more music makers, which is good for everyone,” he says. He has been a regular participant, lobbying members of Congress at NAMM’s annual Washington D.C. “Fly-Ins.” In addition, he’s made music education advocacy a major component of the marketing efforts at Paige’s Music. “Everyone in our organization is tasked with promoting the benefits of music,” he says.

Although Goff brings sharp focus to his business and his role at NAMM, his entry into music retail was something of an accident. After graduating from Indiana Wesleyan University in 1985, he was determined to get a customer service job at the Vincent Bach division of The Selmer Company. He had been a standout trumpeter at Mississinewa High School in Indiana and entered college as a trumpet performance major with dreams of playing professionally. The presence of more talented players on campus led him to the painful realization that a performance career was probably a long shot. Hedging his bets, he began taking courses in accounting and marketing. At the end of four years, with a degree in music business, he was convinced his skill set was the perfect match for a job at Bach. Selmer management unfortunately felt otherwise and informed him that he’d need at least five years of retail experience before being considered.

Undaunted, Mark, with his new wife Sandy in tow, drove to Indianapolis, stopped at the first phone booth, tore out the Yellow Pages listing of music stores, and began calling on each one looking for a job. He received polite rejections everywhere he went until he walked into the Paige’s Music location. A key employee had left days earlier, the store was short-staffed, and the manager, who was favorably impressed by Mark’s earnest determination, hired him on the spot. He began work the next week on the sales floor. Reflecting on the “stop-gap” job, he says today, “It’s provided a bigger and more rewarding life than Sandy and I ever dreamed possible.”

Paige’s Music was founded in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1871. When Goff joined, the business was outwardly healthy, operating three full-line stores in Terre Haute, Indianapolis, and Fort Wayne. Two years later, however, it was teetering on the brink of insolvency. This abrupt change of fortune left an indelible impression on Goff that has guided his approach to management ever since.

A large and unexpected tax bill due to a 1987 rule change involving the recognition of rental income left Paige’s Music desperately short of cash. The crunch made keeping the stores stocked a challenge. It also highlighted internal weaknesses: the Terre Haute and Fort Wayne stores had been only marginally profitable, and keyboard and m.i. departments produced inadequate returns. With only a limited time window available to save the business, Warner Paige, CEO at the time, performed radical corporate surgery: He liquidated inventory, closed stores, and consolidated operations in a single Indianapolis location. With considerable understatement, Goff says the moves were “painful,” but were ultimately were a “blessing in disguise. We went from being a sick $5 million dollar business to being a healthy $2 million business. And I learned that bigger is not always better.”

After the consolidation, Goff emerged as Warner Paige’s key lieutenant, gradually assuming increasing operational responsibility. In 1999, as Paige retired, he acquired the business. Reflecting on his career arc from junior salesperson to owner, he is unstinting in his praise for Warner Paige. “He made this all possible,” he says. “He invested in me, sending me to NAMM educational sessions, and allowed me to buy the company.”

Determined to avoid a replay of Paige’s previous cash crunch, Goff has been extremely deliberate in his expansion strategy. Since taking over, he has added three “stores within a store”: Encore Strings, an elegant showroom offering high-end stringed instruments; Chops Percussion, which offers a full line of concert and marching percussion; and The Indy Flute Shop, a high-end flute boutique. Based on rigorous metrics—gross margin minus direct selling expenses and gross margin return on investment—the divisions make a solid contribution to the bottom line in addition to complementing Paige’s core school music business. Goff says, “We’ve been careful to only enter markets where we can add value and compete effectively. I’ve learned that not all sales are worth having.”

The three boutiques and Paige’s school music operations are housed in a 35,000-square-foot facility in an Indianapolis industrial park. Although Goff has considered adding locations elsewhere in the state, he has opted instead to expand his geographic reach with additional road reps. He explains, “Having our organization under a single roof, where everyone can make eye contact, has built a really cohesive team, focused on service.” To strengthen the service oriented culture, Paige’s Music sends out response cards, inviting customers to rate each interaction as “Bravo,” “Nice,” “Okay” or “Boo.” Thousands of cards have been returned since the program was initiated in 2008, and Goff attributes the significant reduction of negative ratings to the staff’s awareness of problem areas and earnest efforts to address them.

Goff relies heavily on numerical analysis to measure every facet of his business. However, ask him what he likes best about music retail, and he’s quick to respond, “the people.” Of the 54 employees at Paige’s Music he says, “I am so proud of our organization. They’re all wonderful people who are a pleasure to go to work with every day.” He also counts fellow retailers he’s met through NAMM and the National Association of School Music Retailers among his closest personal friends.

Unlike his early days at Paige’s Music, at NAMM Goff is stepping into what he describes as a “solid, well run organization.” He adds, “We’re fortunate to have an excellent staff in place, strong finances, and a clear mission. It’s less about making big changes than building on a strong foundation.”

Goff and his wife Sandy reside in Fishers, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis. Although both are native Hoosiers, they have developed a fondness for “everything having to do with mountains, hiking, skiing, and mountain biking” and regularly vacation in the western states. Closer to home, they enjoy touring together on a pair of Harleys. The Goffs have two children, Adam, 25, and Emily 22.

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