by Madeleine Crouch
When I moved to the Dallas area in 1979 armed with a degree in music and some piano teaching experience under my belt, it was January and not the best time to pick up a lot of students. I’m not sure why I thought of it, but I looked up music stores in the yellow pages (young RPMDAers, ask your parents!) and saw a big ad for Whittle Music Company, with a large sheet music department as print music was called in those days. I had worked as a student volunteer in libraries since junior high and enjoyed music history. So I walked in and got a minimum wage job, $1.90 an hour, as a sales clerk.
And I loved it! Not only did I meet lots of people, but I started learning a lot about running a retail department and business behind the scenes. Along the way there were lots of adventures, like taking inventory, including choral octavos for 12 cents, by hand on ledger pads for an entire month, one staffer calling out prices and quantities and the other taking dictation. This was long before RPMDA’s Best Ideas about getting rid of deader-than-dead inventory. Once I ordered a fabulous grand piano cake for a reception for Henry Steinway, and turned Dallas’s leading piano teachers into zombies when they ate the black frosting. Danny Rocks used to call on Whittle’s representing a couple dozen catalogs, and during one of his visits he taught me how to use my manual single lens reflex camera in less than 15 minutes. We were on the sales route of Ed Adams, for whom our scholarship program is named. He sat in the department manager’s office, re-doing our stock orders because we’d gotten them all wrong by his estimation while smoking a cigar, which made his stop at Dallas last a week after he’d gone.
I became the department manager, and my friendly competition included Harold Gore of Pender’s Music, and Charles Ashley and Richard Rejino from Brook Mays Print Music. I spent eight great years in print music retailing, and left only because the store was sold to a real estate developer who had bought the fabulous Whittle’s building and had the family toss in the music store as an afterthought. Not a recipe for retail success. I spent a year in commercial real estate leasing, then returned to music retailing. I learned that knowing what you don’t want to do is just as important as knowing what you do want to do.
One day I had lunch with Brenda Dillon, a customer, and mentioned that I might be looking for a new job, as the 50-50 owners of the company I was working for were going through a bad breakup. She said that I’d be perfect for her husband Don Dillon’s association management firm. Two weeks later I was working for Don, and almost immediately thought of an association that might need management – RSMDA, as it was called then, the Retail Sheet Music Dealers Association. I had once been a proud member, and in 1989 our company was hired to serve as the headquarters office. It was a dream come true to be working with RSMDA again. A year later, we had exhibits for the first time in Toronto. Three years later the membership voted to change the name to the more inclusive Retail Print Music Dealers Association (no sheet!)
The years – actually decades – have flown by. My wonderful boss Don Dillon handed over his company to me ten years ago, and three years ago I asked my former competitor and RPMDA past president Richard Rejino to join Madeleine Crouch & Co., and he serves as your executive director. I’m looking forward to attending the 40th anniversary of RPMDA, the little association that could. I’ve made some of my very best friends as part of RPMDA, which has built an enviable culture of sharing and cooperation, not only among dealers but between retailers and their suppliers. No other segment of the music industry demonstrates this power of positive thinking better. We walk the walk and we talk the talk. We’ve been through enormous change and are still standing, always looking for new ways to stay in the game that we all love.
Happy 40th birthday, RPMDA! You don’t look a day over 30, have you had work done? What’s your secret?
Madeleine Crouch is a former member and executive director of RPMDA and the owner of Madeleine Crouch & Co., Inc., which provides headquarters services to not-for-profit associations, many of them in the music industry and including RPMDA.