Why you should never water down your products to increase sales.
Growing up I lived within a short train ride into New York City. It was almost easier to jump onto a NJ Transit train than sit on the school bus for almost 45 minutes to get to school. Musician friends of mine and I would often bag the day and head into the City, grab some breakfast at the Tick Tock Diner in Hell’s Kitchen and then head thru Times Squares’ debacle of sex shops and tourist trinkets.
We would head to Midtown’s infamous 48th street music shop row, home to Manny’s Music, 48th Street Guitars, Sam Ash, Rudy’s Music Stop among others. With our long hair and pseudo rockstar looks we would discuss what famous guitarist would be wondering the store and our excitement to try out a Les Paul guitar thru the then new Marshall JCM800 tube amplifiers.
Waiting outside for the stores to open we would always be first inside drooling over the walls of hanging guitars, rooms with precariously stacked amps and speaker cabinets, racks of recording gear, spools of tape and mixing boards that looked like mission control.
We would wander the store trying every instrument we could while twisting knobs and tweaking amps almost certainly attempting to play a Steve Vai riff. Salesmen would cruise around the store dressed in jeans, Vans or Cons and manufacture’s T-shirts that generally signified what department they specialized in. Questions were answered and experimentation and noodling was encouraged.
Pro musicians would pop in while in town recording or touring, often disappearing into private rooms as you never knew what to expect. More times than not we would walk out with some new tool be it an effect pedal or just some strings excited about our surroundings and adventures.
Then the bottom fell out as the music stores slowly closed, blamed was New York City’s higher rents which mostly isn’t true. Yes the rents increased on 48th Street just like the rents increased everywhere else in New York City however what actually happened was big box retailers took over.
Sam Ash and Guitar Center went from small mom and pop shops into gigantic Goliath like retailers, gobbling up scores of musical shops and popping up in strip malls around the country, the decline begins.
Armed with higher credit ratings the big box retailers converge on the manufactures. Companies such as Gibson and Fender guitars began to squeeze smaller retailers forcing them to carry large quantities of inventory across the entire brand lineup. Many of the once American made products found themselves being manufactured in Mexican, Japan and ultimately China in efforts to reduce costs and expand the brands. Manufacturers ventured into the uncharted waters of relabeling kitschy items such as guitar picks, strings and cords to maximum market share and sales.
The entire structure of the musical instrument industry was being run by Wall Street in a huge Madoffesque Ponzi scheme. Manufactures became more corporate as they increased market share with often subpar products. Retailers promoted “sales” almost weekly of rebranded trash products to lore unsuspecting musicians and students reeled into purchasing “just as good as products” from unheard of manufacturers.
One holiday season while Christmas shopping with my wife I wondered into a big box music shop armed with my anything in the store 15% off coupon I headed to the “Pro Audio” department. A “pro audio specialist” or whatever false narrative he was claiming asked if I needed any help. I’m an easy sell as I know what I want long before I ever enter a store and to be honest I was only there to save 15%. I requested him to grab me a Shure SM 57 microphone.
The Shure SM57 mic which is based on a 1930’s design is legendary in the audio world. Used by every United States President for over the past 50 years and most Rock and Roll concerts and recordings I was already sold (plus I already owned four of them)
My salesman responded that if I had read the fine print of the sales-flyer, Shure (along with most other major manufactures was excluded). My wife as always responded “ I told you, nothing you want is ever really on sale here why do you bother?” and I generally hang my head in shame, knowing she’s right and recognize that the nostalgic days of musical equipment glory were nearly over.
The salesman suggested to me a “just as good as” rebranded piece of trash which I angrily responded “how many hit records were recorded with this piece of shit jammed into the speaker cone?”
I didn’t bother to await his response as I walked out of that big box retailer, never to enter again.
To be fair we aren’t talking a substantial amount of money nor savings. A Shure SM57 goes for about $100 retail so saving $15 bucks certainly isn’t worth compromising your sound or your reputation. The following day I called my Pro Audio sound specialist to place a full price order. In conversation, I expressed my disgust with the big box vs Shure issue as well as the fact the great music shops of the past hardly exist any longer.
Then I asked him why Shure hardly goes on sale and his response changed my life from charging my own customers to the products I purchase….
Shure microphones sell themselves. With small profit margins and a flurry of cheap knockoffs the only way to maintain brand dominance is to hold the line. Occasionally Shure will allow their products to be placed on sale under their control. Retailers do not control Shure nor other high end manufactures.
I currently buy products from manufacturers such as Sound Devices, Sennheiser, Rycote and Cinela. High end brands that hold the value of the products consumer experience, quality control and market share to the highest regards.
Working mostly in sound for film I now frequent what our industry calls the “usual suspects” a small team of specialty retailers with a knowledgeable caring staff that represent the manufactures brand values to the highest regards. Sales and service are paramount in these business models with direct dialog back to the manufactures. Product corrections are often made with new products often specially designed and manufactured to fill a need in the professional industry.
Pro consumers have close connections with our sales reps and often manufactures reps to keep our cottage industry progressively moving forward. Most of these products are hardly ever discounted on the new market and very often hold higher prices on the used market with pros citing years of product reliability and manufacturers support.
That crappy Big Box Store microphone could have saved me tons of cash over the years on product acquisition costs however it’s doubtful on the reliability and customer support level which currently is ultimately what I’m willing to pay for.