Surviving Back to School

by Evan Jones, Bandland LLC

Evan JonesFor us, the busy season begins in mid-July and has really ramped up as I am writing this article.  If you are correctly working the educational market, you will hopefully be busy well into the next calendar year.

For many school music retailers, August and September are basically controlled chaos.  There is rarely a dull moment and the pressure can get intense at times.  Focusing on a few basic reminders may be the difference in keeping, or losing your sanity.

Remember, we are experienced problem solvers.  This applies to most of our RPMDA membership with few exceptions.  From the leaders of the largest publishers and retailers to the little mom and pop operations, we spend a large portion of our days being really good problem solvers.  I was informed of this at a music conference some years ago.  I can’t remember if it was Denny Senseney, Danny Rocks, or another knowledgeable industry veteran, that eloquently explained this in a session.   For a moment or two, I was a little defensive and slightly taken aback by the comment.  But then as I thought about my day to day work, I realized that is exactly what I am.  It really stuck with me, and I remind my coworkers on a regular basis.  In fact, I am totally at peace with my role as a problem solver, and I have found that all of my best employees fit that role as well.  So, if you and your staff are expert problem solvers, you are likely very good at what you do and very appreciated by your customers and music teachers.

If you want your customers to think of you first, be lightning fast in responding to their requests.  I have found the use of technology to be a huge benefit to my store.  This doesn’t mean having the newest phone or tablet.  I’m referring to being quick in replying to emails, texts, and messages.  You and your customers are busy, and it isn’t always realistic to communicate on the phone these days.  If you are always quick to reply to these correspondences, your customers will think of you and be more likely to contact you first.  Make sure your key associates are conscientious and speedy at answering questions, quick at sending quotations as requested, and mindful of following up with teachers.  We all know that many teachers have little sense of urgency until the last minute, which can create mini emergency – and guess who has to put out the fires?  Yes, you.  But you will be the hero to that customer if you consistently come through for them.  I have one teacher who refers to me as “her personal secretary.”  I didn’t care for that at first either, but after thinking about it, I realized that was exactly what I need to be.  It proves that she depends on me.  What more could we want?

Lastly, have good procedures in place for your entire staff.  This may seem obvious, but it can be a problem for many of us.  It’s easy to get sidetracked and off-task at times, but I realize my staff and I are more efficient when we follow checklists, keep good calendar notes, and are particular to details.  You will be better at everything, more efficient, and have fewer mistakes and slip-ups if you have good procedures in place.  My son, Adam, is our print buyer, accessory buyer, and inventory specialist.  What we hear from Adam on a regular basis is “put effective procedures in place, and then trust the process.”  I agree with that and feel good when I hear it.  I know that Adam didn’t come up with that himself.  He undoubtedly learned that bit of wisdom from an industry peer.  Be sure to attend RPMDA and other industry gatherings to continue learning from your peers, just as we have!

Try to enjoy the busy start to the school season, and strive to be an expert problem solver.  Your business depends on it!

Evan Jones

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