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Guitar Panel Explores Market Growth Strategies

...in conjunction with NAMM on the day before the show began. Panelists included Bob Taylor, Taylor Guitars; Jim D’Addario, J. D’Addario & Co.; Steve Long, Long & McQuade and Yorkville Sound; and Mike Doyle, Guitar Center. They responded to wide-ranging questions posed by moderator Paul Majeski, publisher of The Music Trades.

There was a general consensus among the panelists that the market is improving. Taylor reported producing a record number of guitars last year and has planned the company’s largest-ever production increase for 2015. Guitar Center sold 1.3 million stringed instruments last year, said Doyle. That performance was dominated by acoustic guitars, but he noted a recent surge in sales of electrics as well.

Everyone agreed that increasing the number of female guitarists represents a significant opportunity to grow the still largely male-centric guitar market. Though encouraged by the surge in female singer-songwriters who play guitar, D’Addario observed, “90% of electric players are male. What would happen if a compelling female electric guitarist came along?” Long & McQuade has strived to add females to its store workforce and make the shopping experience less intimidating for female customers. To that end, one “activist” employee has created a list of “do’s and don’ts” for working with female consumers. Guitar Center has featured more females in its advertising.

Jessica Baron, founder of the groundbreaking Guitars In The Classroom program, urged guitar makers to produce models with thinner necks for females’ smaller hands, as well as more smaller guitar body types. She also said that while making guitars attractive to younger players was helpful, making instruments that are cute but uncomfortable or difficult to play was not.

When the panelists were asked to share their thoughts on promotions that significantly impacted sales, Doyle cited GC’s Singer-Songwriter contest and sweepstakes, which engage both male and female participants and additionally generate sales of microphones and sound systems. Long mentioned high-end guitar rentals that consistently led to high-end guitar sales. D’Addario revealed that when he first got into music, his biggest thrill was “when I finally got to play in a band,” and he suggested that the industry needs to do more to facilitate that life-altering experience. His company recently rented spare office space to a School of Rock program for eight- and nine-year-olds.

Taylor cited his company’s 500 Road Show events held at dealers last year. Primarily targeting its existing customer base, these “fun and friendly” presentations focus on providing information and advice above sales. “[Road Show customers] don’t want to be sold another guitar,” he said; “they just want us to help them find their next guitar.”

GAMA promotes interest and participation in playing guitar through several initiatives, primarily its Teaching Guitar Workshops program. Last year, through workshops conducted across the U.S., Canada, and in Bermuda, TGW trained 283 school music educators, who in turn taught guitar lessons to some 14,000 young students.

GAMA elected new board members including D’Addario’s Peter D’Addario, president; Hal Leonard’s Brad Smith, vice president; Korg USA’s Joe Castronovo, treasurer; Martin Guitar’s Skip Beltz, secretary; as well as Tim O’Brien of Taylor Guitars and John Kelly of Musiquip.

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