Stocking Your Store for Success – Heather Hamilton & James Harding – Gist Piano Center

heather (2)Probably the most difficult decision for me as a print music manager is deciding which titles to stock. The temptation to order every new and “popular” piece is pretty strong. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to carry everything, so I have to make tough decisions every day. I have to stock titles that will turn quickly and provide my department with enough profit to grow, but I also have to offer enough unique stock to attract the best print music clients. The only way I have found to do this is to build close, personal relationships with my biggest customers and to build my department on their purchasing habits.

To attract teachers and other target clients away from bigger “full line” stores in town, I focus on a warmer, personal relationship-based business model. I often take teachers to lunch. We spend time together discussing their goals, their favorite pedagogical tools and what they have always wished they could find in a music store. I ask them a ton of questions! What do you use? Why do you like it? Which composers do you like? Do you do recitals? What kind? All of these questions help me learn their needs and, thus, determine what to stock. I have to do my homework. I have to truly care about each teacher and his or her students. They can tell if my interest isn’t genuine. I also have to make sure that the teachers who visit my store find what they need every time they come in, and – if I don’t have it – I can get it fast. James HardingAfter that first lunch, I continue to communicate with my teachers regularly. I maintain a web form that allows them to order “takeout” from my department 24 hours a day. Just like a restaurant, I contact them when their order is ready so they never waste a trip. I even deliver music to some of my biggest clients personally – just so I can say hello and thank them for giving me their business. My teachers love this personal attention and, as a result, I can only carry the music they most frequently use. Our efforts to partner with teachers in supporting the music education of their students has resulted in a 66% increase of print music sales in 2012. Granted, I carry some stuff that I used to consider outdated or unpopular, but I now stock that music with confidence knowing that at least some of my teachers actually use it. Now, I am the only store in town that carries exactly what my customers need. Not only has this made my department grow quickly, but it has proven to the teachers in my area that I support their profession. They know I care about them, so they feel comfortable having recitals in my store and recommending my department to their students and colleagues. It’s made all the difference.