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Nashville’s Convention Center hosted 500 exhibitors and 1,600 brands for Summer NAMM.

Better Economy
Gives Summer NAMM A Boost

The nation’s low unemployment and improved GDP growth translated into bustling activity in Nashville. “For the first time in years, dealers are spending, not worrying about going out of business,” remarked one rep.


ARE THE SALES OF MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS and audio gear, like most other discretionary items, tied closely to the direction of the economy? If the recently concluded Summer NAMM Show in Nashville is any indication, the answer is an emphatic yes. The positive economic signals in the headlines—low unemployment, the briskest GDP growth in a decade, and strengthened consumer confidence—contributed to the most vibrant Summer NAMM show in recent memory. The most apparent evidence of these economic tailwinds could be found in the attendance data. NAMM reported that total turnout of 15,010 was up 5% over last year’s show. Of more significance, the number of retail buyers was up by close to 10%, while cost-conscious exhibitors brought fewer people to the show. Exhibitor participation at the show was unchanged with 500 companies represented on the show floor.

Sentiments expressed on the show floor were equally upbeat. Offering perhaps the best summation, one veteran sales rep remarked, “For the first time in a long time, I didn’t hear any dealers complain about having no money to spend or threatening to close down. Instead, they were placing orders and actually talking about adding new lines.” Tom Bedell, president of Two Old Hippies, parent of Breedlove, Bedell, and Weber fretted instruments echoed that sentiment. “It was all positive for us, from start to finish,” he said. “The outlook of our dealers was excellent and we’re looking forward to a strong fourth quarter.”

“This idea that the ‘guitar is dead’
is just not factually based.
Our sales are up high single digits,
and dealer sell-through is even better.”

Nashville probably has more guitarists-per capita than any other sizable city in the country, maybe even the world. The fret-centric nature of the region was reflected at Summer NAMM, where the aisles of the guitar exhibit section of the convention center were packed for all three days. Surveying the crowds from a glass-walled meeting room above the show floor, Fender CEO Andy Mooney said, “This idea that the ‘guitar is dead’ is just not factually based. Our sales are up high single digits, and dealer sell-through is even better.” Keith Brawley, vice president of Taylor Guitar added, “We’re on track to have the best year in our history, and our biggest challenge is gearing up production fast enough.”

Positive results at NAMM weren’t limited just to established brands. Thomas Demharter of the German-based guitar company AMI said, “Summer NAMM was a great success. We came with a new, unknown brand and were able to cover 20 U.S. states with sales reps during the show. We also sold the complete booth.” Jason McDaniels, owner of boutique amp brand NoTone added, “As a first-time exhibitor, my experience has been nothing short of amazing. While the return on investment will be seen in the coming months, as of right now, my experience has been sensational!”

The NAMM Show in Anaheim is the site of most of the industry’s significant new product introductions, while the Summer Show is billed as a mid-year opportunity to take the pulse of the market and prepare for the all-important fourth quarter. NAMM CEO Joe Lamond stated, “The members who came to Nashville for Summer NAMM will be ahead of the competitive curve and deservedly enjoy greater success in the weeks and months ahead.”

“The more laid-back atmosphere
in Nashville is conducive to good,
honest conversations.”

In the absence of attention-grabbing new products, retailers seem to view Summer NAMM as a prime opportunity to forge relationships. The slower pace allows for more substantive conversations. Ryan West, senior vice president of West Music in Coralville, Iowa, said, “We definitely have better meetings in Nashville.” Tom Sumner, president of Yamaha Corporation of America, concurred, adding “The more laid-back atmosphere in Nashville is conducive to good, honest conversations.”

NAMM U, TEC Tracks, and A3E: Advanced Audio and Applications offered more than 60 professional development sessions during the show, designed to enhance skills and business know-how. The learning sessions commenced on Wednesday, before the show officially opened, with the Retail Training Summit, an evolution of the popular Retail Boot Camp program that offered specialized training for music retail professionals. The format was designed to provide techniques and tools for retail success. Retail professionals were able to choose from six sessions ranging from online marketing to finance, sales, and entrepreneurship. “The Retail Training Summit was great!” said Shawna Wingerberg of Antonio Violins I was able to send a colleague to one track while I attended the other tracks so we could compare notes and share.”

Other NAMM U sessions addressed topics including how to navigate and win in online marketing; building strong lesson programs with low attrition; hosting unique and profitable in-store events; new ideas for creating a customer experience; and creative and cost-efficient store design. Will Mason, CEO and owner of Mason Music, remarked, “We’ve been coming here for four years, and our favorite thing to do is hang out at the Idea Center and learn. We’re here to hear from other companies that are successful in our industry and learn their best practices so that we can adapt them to our market.”

A variety of special meet-ups, both on the show floor and off, gave attendees a chance to network with industry peers. Summer NAMM’s first SWIM Meet brought together the Smart Women In Music for a networking and discussion event on Thursday; and the NAMM Young Professionals welcomed Crystal Morris, CEO of Gator Cases, on Friday. On the show floor, TEC Tracks Meetups featured mentoring and extended Q&A in small groups and a variety of pro audio industry luminaries, including Tony Brown, Mark Frink, John Mills, and Dave Pensado. On Thursday, the 34th Annual TEC Award nominees were announced at the Pro Audio Reception.

Each day of the Show, NAMM at Night events could be found in Music City Center and surrounding Nashville hotspots. Thursday evening’s American Eagle Awards honored jazz legends Chick Corea and The Manhattan Transfer. The honors annually recognize notable artists and their contributions to American musical culture and heritage and the importance of music education for all children.

Saturday ushered in the Make Music Experience (MME). Formerly known as “Music Industry Day,” MME welcomed a variety of music makers into Music City Center. Attendees enjoyed curated education from Nashville insiders, and a stream of performances from Lillie Mae, The Delta Saints, MONA, and others. The Pensado’s Place Pro Audio Party also joined the day’s itinerary by hosting a lively session and meet-up on the show floor. Co-hosts Dave Pensado and Herb Trawick welcomed sound engineer John McBride (Blackbird Studios, Garth Brooks, Martina McBride) for a deep dive into production and sound.

Other notable events included: Tuesday’s pre-show Georgia on My Mind Benefit Concert for the Georgia Music Fund starring The Peach Pickers; the SheRocks Summer Showcase; Friday’s Top 100 After-Party at the Hard Rock benefitting The NAMM Foundation; and Muriel Anderson’s All-Star Guitar Night and the Vintage King Summer NAMM After-Party, both on Saturday.

The musical instrument, pro audio, and event technology industries will gather in January at the 2019 NAMM Show. The NAMM Show campus will again welcome the Entertainment Services Technology Association (ESTA), the Audio Engineering Society (AES), and others for four days of business, networking and events. Registration to attend will open at the end of August.

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