As a photographer, I have always said that someone good at business but average at photography will succeed faster than a great photographer who doesn’t understand business. I want to extend that one step further.
A person with average talent and poor business skills who is excellent at marketing will do better than a talented person with superior business skills but lacks marketing knowledge.
Or to butcher the teachings of Ray Kinsella, you can build it, but they won’t come if they don’t know there is a baseball field in the middle of all that corn.
A few years ago, I dreamed of playing the guitar. I had passed a music store with a wall of guitars one day, and the seed was planted. That dream stayed in the back of my mind, but I never did anything about it.
And then a world-wide pandemic struck.
As a writer and photographer, social isolation didn’t hurt me as much as many, but I still wanted something else to occupy my time. The dream of playing the guitar resurfaced. I spent some time researching and discovered a wealth of free lessons online.
The spark ignited.
The next thing to decide was where to buy my new guitar. That was in was May 2020, and the lockdown of many businesses was carefully relaxed. I had, of course, heard of Guitar Center, so my online search began there. This article isn’t about them; they probably know how to market as they are a huge national chain.
I reluctantly decided I would have to start looking there. They were close, and they were open. It didn’t appeal to me as I envisioned walking into a Best Buy for Guitars where smiling people in blue shirts and khakis would ask how they could help me today. I projected this nightmare to being sold an extended warranty upon checkout.
Fortunately, I was saved by a serendipitous encounter. On my way to my first haircut in three months, I noticed a music store in the same parking lot. They weren’t open that early, but I made a note of the name.
When I got home, less scraggly than I had been since the start of the lockdown, I Googled them. And there, on their home page, was an impassioned plea from the owner. It seems they made a lot of money from school bands and the pandemic had crippled their business. They were going to open up the following week and begged support for a local business.
I was sold. This was perfect. I could help out a local business and get my guitar from the same location I would visit monthly for a haircut. Fate had intervened.
So, I got the contact info from their site and sent an email. I introduced myself, discussed what I had in mind, and asked some questions and any recommendations they might make.
The sound of crickets followed.
Okay, times are tough. People are distracted. I reached out a second time. Two days later, I got a reply from the owner. She said something along the lines of come in and meet our ‘guitar guy,’ Alex. He’ll be happy to help.
None of my questions were answered. No recommendations were made.
So, I sent a third email, asking if she could forward my email to him to get some answers and be better prepared before I came into the shop.
“I don’t know if he does email, but I’ll let him know. Give me your phone number, and I’ll have him call you.”
No. I don’t do phone.
A couple of days later, I got an email from the guitar guy, pretty much saying the same thing the first one did about coming in, and he could help me.
Okay. Fair enough. I wanted a guitar. I wanted to buy it from a local business. Here was a local business that sold guitars. I decided to cut them some slack. So, I replied that I would be there the next day when they opened at noon.
But the decision had been made. Tomorrow, I was going to walk into that store, plastic in pocket, and walk out an hour or two later with my brand new guitar. I was pretty pumped.
So, at the exact date and time I said I would be there, I made the little bell ring on their door. A few people were sitting around a central area. None were wearing masks. None stood to greet me. I looked around briefly, noting a dark and cluttered room poorly laid out and not very inviting. But there was a wall full of guitars.
“Is Alex here?”
A young guy with long hair looking like working in a guitar store was probably a dream career stood and walked toward me.
“I’m Alex. Can I help you?”
“Hi, Andy, I’m Darryl.”
A blank stare.
“I emailed you? I wanted to buy an acoustic guitar.”
“Oh yeah, come on over.”
I had rehearsed this first encounter in my head and had the answers ready to the questions I expected.
“Have you ever played before?”
“What type of music do you want to play?”
“Did you have a particular type of guitar in mind?”
He didn’t ask any of those questions.
Instead, he pulled a guitar off the wall, handed it to me, and said, “Try this one.”
It was a brand I had never heard of, but that wasn’t surprising. Other than Yamaha, which I expected to buy, I knew that brands I was familiar with would be out of my price range of around $200–300.
I held it and fingered a couple of notes and chords I remembered from when I was a kid and had a guitar for a short time. I didn’t know what I was looking for or at, and he wasn’t forthcoming.
“Do you have a Yamaha?” There was one, in particular, that was in my price range and highly recommended around the net.
“We do, but here, try this one out.” He handed me another guitar I had never heard of. I then noticed that both guitars he had given me had built-in electronics. I knew that added $50 to $100 to the price and wasn’t something I was interested in. I told him that, and he replied that most guitars these days have that feature.
I looked at the guitars on the wall and saw that about half of them, in fact, did not have that ‘feature.’
I fiddled around with that one for a minute and was starting to get impatient and discouraged.
“Is there anything else you want to show me?”
“Not really; those are the two I would recommend.” He gave no reason or logic for the recommendation. It certainly wasn’t based on any information he had gotten from me.
I thanked him for his time and left. I have never been back. I will never be back.
In case you skimmed all that, here is the TL;DR version: I walked into a store determined and prepared to make a purchase. They let me walk out empty-handed.
Disappointed, I returned home and began browsing Guitar Center again. Then a few thoughts occurred to me. Buying from an impersonal big box store like GC wouldn’t be much better than buying a guitar online. If I’m going to buy online, I could buy from a ‘local’ business that just wasn’t local to me. So, instead of Google, I went back to YouTube.
I remembered seeing some videos demonstrating guitars from a small shop somewhere. With a little looking, I found them; Alamo Music in San Antonio, Texas. I watched many of their videos. Not all, because they had a ton. Seemed like they had been pumping out videos weekly for years. By the time I was done, I felt like Chris was an old friend sitting around my living room chatting about guitars. I thought I had found my vendor.
But this article isn’t about them either.
Don’t get me wrong; they are very good at marketing. I had emailed Chris a few times and narrowed down my choice when another of those serendipitous events happened. I really hope you like serendipity.
Another master of marketing is YouTube. If you watch any video, they will recommend many others they think you might like. They will also recommend videos that make you ask WTF, but I digress.
A day or two later, I saw a video by a guy I had watched before. This one was specifically about how to shop for a new guitar. Interested, I hit play, then Skip Ad, and I was off.
This guy was visiting a guitar store. He was greeted at the door by the owner. Of course, a video crew will put you on your best behavior, but still, marketing 101. Make the customer feel welcome.
It then went through a process where the owner asked the guy all the questions I had expected at my shop. He was presented with several options and told why they would be a good fit. He was then escorted into a small sound-proof room with several of them, where he was invited to sit and play as long as he wanted.
I had found paradise. Why couldn’t I have walked into that shop? (Don’t get ahead of me here)
As the video came to a close, I started fast-forwarding to see if there was any more useful information. As the video sped by, I saw text superimposed on the screen with the name, location, and phone number of this wondrous store — Righteous Guitars.
I live about three miles from Alpharetta, Georgia, and I’m pretty sure there isn’t another Alpharetta on the planet.
So, I looked them up online and found they were twenty minutes from home. I sent them the same note I had sent to the other vendor.
A few hours later, I received a very nice detailed reply that answered all my questions. Also, they told me about the precautions they were taking due to Covid and a link to an online reservation system. They only allowed in a couple of people at a time. I made a reservation for the following day.
When I got there, the masked owner unlocked the door for me and let me in. He said he was finishing up with another customer, introduced me to Jeff, who would be happy to help, and left me to look around.
I should have done more research online because as I looked at the massive wall of acoustic guitars (just as many or more electrics hung on the opposite wall), all I saw were prices over $10K. I quickly realized that they sorted the guitars in order of cost from top left to bottom right. So, that’s where I went.
The bottom right guitar was a Taylor, a brand I was familiar with but hadn’t considered as it was out of my price range. But that price range wasn’t based on a budget or ability to pay so much as wanting a ‘starter guitar.’ This was a Taylor Academy for $500. Jeff walked up about them, and I told him I wanted to try that one.
He took me to the same room I had seen in the video, tuned the guitar and handed it over. He listened while I fiddled around and answered all my questions, and asked quite a few of his own. He then offered to leave me alone so that I could play. Since I couldn’t really play, I didn’t see much value in that. But I did tell him that it was a little more than I was planning on spending.
He then gave me a little background on the Taylor line and why this guitar was such a value. He also added that a nice case was included in the price. I looked at him for a minute.
“I’ll take it.”
I added a couple of other things I knew I wanted, like a tuner and stand. Then I asked if he thought I should go ahead and buy a set of strings.
“Any guitar you buy here comes with free strings for life.”
At Righteous Guitars, they will put on a new set of quality strings every three months for as long as you own the guitar at no charge.
Of course, besides being tremendous customer service, this was also a great marketing ploy to get you back in the store. I’ve been back three times now.
On my next trip, I will be buying my second guitar. It will cost a great deal more than $500.
All because they know how to market and understand customer service.