by In the 1980’s my wife and I had a novel idea to promote our new music school. Instead of students coming to our school, we brought our music teachers to schools the students attended. We came combined the name Music with Education and called our business Musication®, complete with a registered trademark; our very first IP.
We successfully built up our business to 1,000 students a week. We were selling and renting band instruments as well as guitars and keyboards. After attending a few NAMM shows, we became convinced that music teachers would embrace the new line of electronic keyboards from Casio, Kawai, and Yamaha. When the NYC Department of Education bid out the keyboards, we were ready. We placed our Musication label on the keyboard and packaged it with some really cool educational content. This IP strategy also proved successful, having an exclusive contract for several years, before the gorillas caught on and beat us at our own game. Still, it taught us a valuable lesson. Even if you are selling a commodity, there is room for innovation.
Today music retailers are ferociously battling for market share, often based on price, across all media platforms. Perhaps it’s time to examine a more creative way to attract more customers using the same model I used more than 35 years ago, by customizing a segment of your inventory.
Scott Sasser, (See his team picture below) Director of Custom Shop at Martin, recently gave my wife and I a tour of the Martin factory in Nazareth PA. If you are a music retailer and you have not taken the tour: Go! I will never look at my Martin D16 the same. Just wonderful.
The Custom Shop motto: “With your vision in hand, our artists cut, sand, carve and craft the finest materials into your custom built guitar.”
Scott is quite passionate about his teams’ mission. Here’s how he communicates it.
“Our dealers who champion the “custom” concept”, have realized that consumers at the high end, believe in the “Why” of a project, rather than the “What.” Consumers want the story behind the inspiration, the motivation behind it. It helps convert them into a paying consumer who know longer wishes to be in that commodity.” In other words, your story becomes our unique Intellectual Property; your value add. Your own “why”. And the proof is in the pudding. Scott tells me that many of his dealers who have embraced this approach do indeed enjoy a greater gross profit, than dealers who are simply selling guitars on price.
Of course, for those retailers who are bold enough to create and promote their own exclusive brand, and actually owning the trademark, the sky’s the limit.
Ronald Bienstock, Managing Partner of Bienstock & Michael, one of the most experienced and well respected Entertainment and Intellectual Property Lawyers in the country, offers the following insights:
“Music retailers have a history of selling proprietary brands . For example, Guitar Center has Rogue and Acoustic. Sam Ash has had Carlo Robelli and Sammy. In the past sourcing these products would have required real effort and real expense. There were factory expenses, including but limited, to mold charges and several sample iterations, minimum purchase amounts of, perhaps, container sizes, that only sizable retailers could have been able to afford. That has changed. Technology advancements have increased the ability for even a single retail location to have a house brand of products as the prices for such product have become much less substantial . There are, of course, issues that arise in creation of the house brand and products names that we should review.”
“Now that you are about to become a “manufacturer”, you will have the responsibilities that come along with that turf. First is a trademark search ( please use a professional) for the house and/or product name. Let’s say that you want to bring in a student level guitar and bass amp form China. Your aunts’ names happen to be Ann and Peg. Thus, you decide a good name is ANNPEG. This is not a really good choice- and a quality trademark search would have told you that this is too similar to an active registered amplifier ( for those in the know this is class 9 at the USPTO) trademark . Thus, picking a brand you can own is crucial. If you are going to invest the time and money you should own the trademark. Staying on guitars for example as to headstocks and body shapes – these are product configuration trademarks and should also be the subject of professional searches. Music instrument products, such as the aforementioned amps , and many others, such as recorders , tin whistles , kazoos if you like, can also be ordered with a propriety name that you should seek to register, if register- able, with the United States Patent and Trademark office. You as a music retailer have created intellectual property- in our example – a trademark.”
So if you find yourself complaining how your margins are being squeezed, and finding it difficult to compete, think about creating intellectual property. It may be your competitive advantage.
Martin Guitar Custom Shop
Jeff Allen – GM, Custom Manufacturing
Scott Sasser – Director, Custom Shop
Dan Brown – Custom Admin Manager
Jaimie Blackman – I’m the guy holding the guitar with the big smile
Emily Meixell – Custom Admin
Tim Teel – Director, Instrument Design