There is a musical instrument store in Toronto that is to the would-be guitar heroes of tomorrow what Canadian Tire used to be for the kids playing shinny yesterday: it’s where you go to get the stuff you need, dreams of grandeur no extra charge.
Though the business was founded in Montreal in 1965, it is a Saturday tradition that Steve’s Music Store on Queen St. West will be filled to the rafters with the hopes and dreams of every ilk of player, from the idle riffs of virtuoso players who you swear should be world-famous, to the rock-star junior who shows up with mom and dad in tow to pick up the $219.95 “My First Electric Guitar” package.
Despite retail evolution and fragmentation that has gone on in virtually every sector–the world of music isn’t that much different from ours–Steve’s is still the place to go, just as it has been for decades. In kind, the store appears unchanged, too. From the rack of Telecasters and the Flying-V mainstay of glam rockers to the stacks of, well, Marshall stacks, nostalgia sells in the guitar world.
Unfortunately, that nostalgic atmosphere extends to the checkout counter, where you are likely to be greeted by a 20-something in a black Zeppelin T-shirt punching your order into a nicotine-stained, green-screen computer, circa I-don’t-know-what. (You haven’t been able to smoke indoors in Ontario for nearly 20 years, so that should be a clue.) The computer is a museum piece.
And that’s where it belongs. Not that I’ve ever seen it “go down” or had any trouble whatsoever on checking out. Nor is Steve’s totally technophobic; a fully functional website provides a good list of offerings with an e-commerce option.
I am sure that there were some decisions to make about where they were to spend their technology investment, but what they have now on the ground must be hampering their ability to compete.
The store is still caught in a very old-school invoice and cash-cage world, no doubt the result of the lack of cash function on the current system (sound familiar?)–and, as a customer, I find it no less annoying to have to bring the invoice for my eight-buck strings to the “girls in the cage” to pay.
And I have never received a single follow-up card, promo mailer, e-mail–nothing. It is a failing that used to be the way of doing business for everyone, but falls distinctly short in the harsh light of an increasingly competitive environment.
I suspect that it would be hard for Steve’s to justify an in-store upgrade, considering how busy it continues to be. When you boil it down to its elements, the store is trading on its name. And it’s a good one. Steve’s people are, to a person, fantastically helpful and knowledgeable.
But I have to wonder how long it might be before someone else comes along with a cleaner, brighter, maybe less expensive shopping experience, even if they don’t know as much about guitars; how long might it be before the junior rock star’s parents take him somewhere else?
For the automotive aftermarket, many jobbers have long lamented the lack of loyalty among their customers. To me, that indicates a lack of relationship. And, with staffing resources becoming tighter and tighter and competition going farther afield for customers, reaching out with technology to keep reminding customers of what you have to offer is one important way to keep building that relationship.
Ask yourself: is your current technology hitting sour notes with customers, or does it free your business to really rock?