|Based in Chicago with satellites in several countries, the Reverb team has built a powerhouse sales platform and community “by and for musicians.”|
Platform hits $1.0 billion sales milestone
as technology continues to advance
When Reverb surpassed $1 billion in global sales this year, the big winners were people who buy music gear, people who sell music gear—and the future sellers who will benefit from everything the Reverb team has learned so far. Launched in 2013, Reverb.com was far from the first online marketplace open to the musical instruments trade. Even so, it managed to break through a competitive field with the promise of an online community built by and for musicians—plus free listings and 3.5% selling fees, conspicuously undercutting eBay’s rates at the time. Over the next five years, Reverb followed through on its concept, developing high-quality multimedia content, shipping and currency tools, seller website integration, and more. As the listings and sales piled up, it also accumulated something else: extensive data on hundreds of thousands of listed products, including specs and selling prices. With that information, Reverb developed technology that now makes listing items nearly effortless. If a user wants to sell a 1972 Gibson Les Paul Custom Cherry Sunburst, for instance, they can skip the painstaking process of entering every feature. Instead, they can simply search Reverb for that product and choose the option to “sell one like this.” With that, Reverb will retrieve known data on the product and fill in the specs correctly on the spot, affording users “a selling process as easy as a Google search,” as Reverb puts it.
“Our platform was built specifically for the musical instrument industry by a team of musicians,” says Kevin Drost, chief strategy officer at Reverb. “We’re constantly in contact with users, as well as using the site ourselves, to learn what features will make it easier to buy and sell gear.”
For Reverb founder and CEO David Kalt, building the platform brought together an eclectic background in music, entrepreneurship, and tech. A guitar player raised on The Police and The Clash, he went into music production and engineering out of college. Finding an affinity for the technical side of the field, he taught himself to code and built his first business, a CRM solution for the travel industry, followed by an extremely successful second business: an options trading platform, optionsXpress, that he eventually sold to Charles Schwab. Getting the itch to reenter the music industry, Kalt purchased retailer Chicago Music Exchange in 2010 and it wasn’t long afterward that he started to feel the need for a platform like Reverb.
“I was using the online marketplaces that existed at the time to sell slow-moving inventory and buy unique guitars to put in my windows—but the experience was really frustrating,” says Kalt. “Options like eBay were expensive, cumbersome, and not tailored to the needs of the m.i. industry. I wanted to build something better.”
Designed for individual sellers and music retailers, as well as brands that sell direct, Reverb quickly won over users with an experience tailored to musicians. A full-time editorial team delivers daily content ranging from news and demos to videos such as “How To Play Like The Rolling Stones.” A music-savvy customer service department ensures that when users contact Reverb by phone, email, or chat, the reply will come not just from a real person but from a musician. Beyond that, Reverb has positioned itself as a space where musician/users can interact with one another: While some sales platforms set ground rules for how buyers and sellers can contact each other, Reverb has no such limits on communication. A favorite story comes from a user who needed to sell his prized electric guitar to bring in some extra cash with a baby on the way. After posting to Reverb with a picture of himself and his wife holding the guitar with sad expressions, they did make the sale—and received a care package of baby clothes and blankets back from the buyer. “We’re constantly amazed by the wisdom, insight, and kindness members of our community share with each other,” says Kalt.
Since Reverb’s initial website launch, it’s introduced a number of tools and features created to improve the buying and selling process. The Reverb mobile app, for example, helps users buy and sell gear easily on-the-go. The Reverb Price Guide, which aggregates real-time transactional data, keeps users current on the market value of gear posted for sale. Machine-learning has not only streamlined the listing process but automated suggestions for future shopping, recommending add-on items just as a salesperson would do. As its user base spreads across the globe, Reverb has also rolled out tools for calculating shipping, generating labels, incorporating customs information, and converting currencies. “We facilitate a tremendous amount of cross-border transactions, so we’re always trying to simplify the process and make it easier to sell internationally,” says Drost.
Especially for retailers who sell through Reverb, a landmark update was last year’s introduction of Reverb Sites—a seller’s shortcut to a fully functional e-commerce website. With Reverb Sites, a seller can create a customized site, synced to their Reverb.com shop and inventory, in minutes. As a solution for retailers who don’t have the time or staff to maintain an up-to-date website, it’s been a game-changer for smaller stores especially. (An article on the transformative use of Reverb Sites by Music Makers of Galesburg, Illinois appeared in the November issue of Music Trades.)
More than five years in, Reverb is a marketplace for new and used guitars of every kind, plus effects and pedals, drums, pro audio equipment, synthesizers, band and orchestra instruments, home audio gear, music software, and even—as of last year’s launch of “Reverb LP”—recorded music. “If it makes music or helps you create music,” says Kalt “it can be bought or sold on Reverb.” The platform now counts sellers in 170 countries and maintains offices in the U.S., the Netherlands, and Japan, along with team members in the U.K., France, Germany, and Australia. For the foreseeable future, says Drost, Reverb expects to keep growing rapidly, especially outside the U.S. “Not only will international expansion create an even bigger universe of buyers for U.S. sellers,” he sums up, “but also it will enable buyers and sellers from all over the world to easily connect over the perfect piece of gear.”