Thursday, 28 May 2009

New to the Website

This week I have added more Trinity Guildhall publications to the website:

As always when adding new products, I don't keep them in stock straight away, but order on demand until I can assess stock levels required. Order time is 3-4 working days.

More books are due to be published in July: new violin exam pieces, guitar exam pieces, which I will add when they become available.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

End of Year Sums

This week I have been concentrating on getting my accounts finished for 2008-9 so I can get everything off to my accountant.

While I bought an existing business, I spent huge amounts of time creating the website and improving what I can offer, so it is nice to see it paid off, with turnover doubling over the year.

So thanks to all of you who bought music last year, and special thanks to those of you who took the trouble to give me feedback on the service I provide.

Please remember that I do rely on you to add things to my list of available music - I can get pretty much anything within about a week, so do let me know if there is something you can't find and I will do my best for you.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Am I the Devil Incarnate?

Today I met a sales rep from one of the main music distribution groups.  He, along with others in the industry, is uncomfortable with internet retailers and clearly thinks that they are doing damage to music shops.

Now, I used to work in Human Resources and so I am used to being portrayed as the spawn of Satan - the HR department is usually the most despised in any company.  But the conversation set me thinking.  Is there any truth in this view?

So why are music shops closing down?  There are a few reasons in my view:
  • rents - in common with other retailers, the massive increase in rent over recent years has impacted on some music shops, often the ones set up more recently
  • over-reliance on selling instruments - the big profit margins on instruments and electronic equipment has led some to stock up on this instead of sheet music, but in a recession people simply don't buy instruments as frequently, leading to cashflow problems
  • poor selection and supply of sheet music (customer service) - people do buy sheet music regularly, especially parents with kids learning instruments, and this repeat business should be the bread and butter of a music shop - too often it is neglected
I don't include the internet as in this list as I don't think it is a direct cause.  I have always felt that a high street music shop with an existing brand and customers had a major advantage over someone like me, trying to build a business into UK wide internet retailer.  Yet I find, time and time again, that I keep more music in stock than most music shops with all the stock space they have.  On top of that, I have access to much more music which I don't keep in stock but order on demand.

This is a key issue in the debate of internet v high street retailers.  In the high street, you have to choose what to stock.  On the internet, you can post everything available - given the thousands of pieces of music out there, this is an advantage for the online retailer.  But it should be said that any music shop can do what I have done - create a website and add to it all the things they can't keep in stock.

There is also the change in shopping habits of the consumer.  Many of my new customers are parents whose child is just starting to learn an instrument.  These people turn naturally to the internet, they don't bother going shopping in the high street.  Others don't have the time or want to spend the money driving to a music shop which might not have the book anyway.  Like it or not, many people these days want to shop from home - I do, and I'm not alone.  When you can spend 15 minutes online and buy what you want, to have it turn up a few days later, why waste half a day at the weekend trying to find it in the high street?

A lot of retailers forget that there are many people in the UK who live in rural areas and who simply do not have access to a music shop.  Where are these people to go?  The internet is a saviour for those who live on Scottish islands, remote areas of Wales or the southwest of England where there are few large centres of population capable of supporting a music shop.

The sales rep said to me today that internet shopping makes it harder to market new music as people cannot see it and so decide whether to buy it.  My answers to that are:
  1. most books are bought by parents as ordered by teachers, so it is teachers who have to be persuaded - there are ways to do this (too long for this post!)
  2. publishers have to make PDF extracts of the music available to retailers for their websites so people can peruse them - this is starting but very slowly
Having said all that, I do think this is a genuine problem.  I have tried a "new" page with little success, and I need to give more thought to how to achieve this.  

So what is the threat to music shops from internet retailers?
  • loss of business due to heavy discounting (this applies mainly to instruments and accessories) as internet retailers have lower overheads
  • loss of business as people change their shopping habits towards more online purchases
While I think that the heavy discounting may reduce a little in the recession, unfortunately the lower overheads issue will remain.  It would be nice to think that landlords may get a little more realistic about rents, but...  As for the trend towards online shopping, nothing is going to change that and music shops have to adapt.

The key in all of this is customer service - every business has to build its customer base by providing what the customer wants and in such a way that the customer is incentivised to come back and spend more money.    Whether you're in the high street or online, this doesn't change.

Any business has to seek to be as efficient as it can be, and music shops are no exception.  The general consensus in the music business seems to be that the weaker players are being shaken out - those that survive will be the better ones.    Many music shops have expanded into areas such as music lessons and other ancillary services - we all have to find our own niche and there are plenty of opportunities to do just that, including using the internet.

I have a few niche areas: the instruments that other retailers cover poorly, e.g. bassoon, baritone, tenor horn, etc.; certain products that most others don't carry; low postage rates due to the fact I recycle packaging; and a pride in fast, high quality customer service.  Does that make me the devil?  Or have I just filled the gaps that I can see in the sheet music business?

Any music shop can create a website and increase their turnover by selling online as well as in the high street.  It does, however, require a different approach: I value the flexibility that trading online gives me, no 9 to 5 for me, but that means that I also write blog posts at 8pm, monitor my site in the evening when most transactions go through, and when prices change, spend my evenings trawling my site to update them.  I can't shut up shop at 5pm every day.

Maybe this is symptomatic of the real threat - moving away from the traditional way of doing things into a new world with a new technology.  I don't know - you decide.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Preparing for the next exams

Spring is gathering pace, this week the may flowers came out -they're all over the damp fields at the moment.  Lots of rain and wind this week so I'm afraid my post went to the post office by car a couple of times, sorry.

The last set of music exams is now well behind us, so the thoughts of teachers and students are turning to the next ones.  This week the most popular item has been CDs of the exam pieces, for various instruments.  Some of them can be purchased with the sheet music (violin, clarinet, flute, piano) while others can be bought separately (cello, guitar, viola, oboe, saxophone, also piano).  

The CD is really useful - allows you to decide what you want to play before buying any music, and also helps you perfect your playing.  For instruments which are accompanied by piano, practice tracks are included to playalong to.

One book which is going up the "charts" is Big Chillers for Trumpet, which is having a surge in popularity.  I ran out this week and have ordered some more.  It contains Mack the Knife, One Note samba, As time goes by, Lullaby of birdland, A nightingale sang in Berkley Square, Night and day, Chattanooga Choo Choo, Ain't Misbehavin' and Revelation.  Great tunes, also available for horn (both) and tuba (euphonium uses the trumpet one).

Friday, 1 May 2009

Music in May

I have added more titles to the website this week, in cornet, trumpet, flute and french horn.

On the negative side, I have had to increase prices of some strings for violin, viola, cello and double bass. This is the third time this year that I have had to adjust these prices - it's all down to the drop in the value of sterling, as strings are imported in either euros or dollars. This time the price increase is in the region of 10%.

The fall of our currency over the last year has added significant costs to all retailers. It's not just the price of the stock, but also the delivery charge. A proportion of my stock comes from Germany - prices for music are set at a particular point in time, but as they are charged in euros, they now cost more in sterling than they did a year ago. I can't sell them for more, though - well I suppose I could, but wouldn't have many customers buying them, would I? Most retailers stick to the RRP for books, so we can't pass on the true cost, instead we take a hit.

As for delivery charges, as you might expect delivery from Germany is not cheap. In December 2007 it was under £8, now it's over £11. Again, a cost which cannot be passed on.

Added to that some items have become more expensive for other reasons too - clarinet and sax reeds have gone up by 50% in the last year - some of that is due to supply reasons rather than just the economy. I don't deal in instruments, but those retailers who do have got the same problem there - huge inflation in prices.

All in all it's a difficult time for retailers - if your local music shop ceased trading recently, this is one of the reasons why.

Yesterday we had the news that Kemble pianos would cease production in the UK later this year - a sad day for a long standing business. Unfortunately most instruments now are made in the far east, and that looks likely to continue for some time to come - it is quite simply more economic for companies not to produce or be based in this country.

Having said all that, let's be more upbeat - music is a great hobby and relatively cheap compared with other entertainment. More and more people are playing instruments and making music together, long may it continue!

I will be closed for the bank holiday (thought you can order online 24/7 as usual) - have a great weekend and enjoy the good weather!