What are the best music stores doing right? And we’re not talking about the worldwide chains or Amazon Music – we’re talking about independent, family-owned stores that are seeing strong sales figures in a fiercely competitive market.


To find out, we looked at 5 of the top-ranked sellers from NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants. These superstars have participated in discussion panels at NAMM events, are innovators in music retail, and represent some of the top voices in the future of the music business.


In the detailed descriptions below, you’ll find a NAMM Dealer of the Year, the largest family-owned retailer in the U.S., a family business that dates back to the 1920s, one of the Pacific Northwest’s biggest independent retailers, and one of Chicago’s most famous school music retailers.


Ready to hear their secrets? Here they are.


#1: Sam Ash Music: Name Branding, In-Store and Online

Learn from Sam Ash Music

Sammy Ash, founder of Sam Ash Music, is an expert at blending the online and in-person music experience for his customers. Events like the store’s famous Open Mic Wednesdays are well-advertised on the site and social media – and open mic participants receive a $10 coupon for a future purchase, further extending the store’s connection with them.


When customers visit Sam Ash’s website, they’re immediately presented with a page-dominating discount offer that can be used immediately online. The website encourages visitors to shop online, browse used gear, find a store, or apply for a Sam Ash credit card.


The website also uses a prominent red “SHOP NOW” call-to-action button at the top of every page, and clicking it takes you to an online shopping experience that includes features like:


  • A discount code for an immediate purchase
  • Free 2-day shipping on orders above $9.99
  • A current sale, based on an upcoming holiday
  • A image link to their online used music and gear headquarters
  • A link to their Guitars of Distinction Gallery, so you can drool over high-end guitars
  • A prominently-placed phone number and Store Locator tool


Everything on their website is well-organized, has a consistent message, and sticks to the Sam Ash brand colors of red, white, grey, and black. The user experience feels smooth and uncluttered, yet there are plenty of things to explore within the site.


The in-store experience is similarly on-brand, with Sam Ash logos everywhere you look. The company has a strong customer service focus, and says it hires some of the most knowledgeable musicians in each of its local markets, found across 16 states, to serve as customer service reps and store managers.


Part of Sam Ash Music’s strategy is to emphasize its #1 selling factor: Its name. The name “Sam Ash” has high recognition among music customers, and the company is careful not to let this get lost, especially in the chaos of the online world. Every message is branded with a big Sam Ash logo.


“We use our name to differentiate ourselves,” Sammy Ash told the audience during a NAMM discussion panel. “We’re a family business, fourth generation. It’s one of the things that sets us apart.”


#2: Quinlan & Fabish: Connecting with Educational Influencers

Learn from Quinlan & Fabish

When you go to the website of Chicago’s Quinlan & Fabish, you see the same motto they’ve had for almost 60 years: A trusted partner in music education since 1959. Quinlan & Fabish markets directly to the music influencers in the community – band leaders, orchestra directors, and music teachers.


Of course, this makes one of the company’s biggest challenges turning renters into year-round buyers, outside the school calendar. They’ve done it successfully for six decades by positioning themselves as an authority in music instruction and instrument knowledge.


For example, the company recently invested in a niche flute business. Store owner George Quinlan Jr. explained their thinking to an audience of music retailers:


“We opened a high-end boutique flute shop, with the highest-priced instrument costing in the tens of thousands of dollars,” Quinlan said. “Our employee recently shared that she’s become the flute-teacher stalker, networking on social media to get them to come in. We attend the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference and try to tie into their program and support them.”


This is just one example of how Quinlan & Fabish makes deep inroads into existing educators’ networks. They connect with experienced educators, determine their needs, and show their true-blue desire to help. Rather than viewing them as a music seller, educators view them as a devoted music colleague.


A look at the Quinlan & Fabish website emphasizes this point. Customers are encouraged to “shop by school or director” and the company has created customized pages for each school/band to ensure buyers will get just what they need.


“Parents can go to that page on our website and buy the products recommended by that teacher or band director,” Quinlan said. “It’s a big project and challenging to get the information and keep it updated, but I think it will help us incrementally to get the second and third items that parents probably don’t buy at this point.”


#3: Amro Music: Memphis’ Master of Reputational Branding

Learn from Amro Music

Amro music is known as the #1 music store in Memphis, Tenn. and is one of NAMM’s top retailers. The store is in its fourth generation as a family-owned business under the Averwater family.


President Pat Averwater says the company’s success lies in understanding the power of reputational branding, or maintaining a strong reputation in the eyes of customers – both in person and online. He focuses on the fundamentals of customer service, hosts great community events, and always keeps an eye on customer reviews.


“There are only two kinds of customers: repeat or new customers,” Averwater told an audience during a NAMM event. “If you have repeat customers, then you’re doing the fundamentals right. People who have never been in your store before are looking at your Google, Facebook and Yelp reviews and deciding whether or not they’re going to stop by. Review all of your reviews, minimize the negative and maximize the positive.”


One way Amro Music maximizes the positive is by having a little fun with their customer loyalty programs. They have a popular “egg shaker” giveaway for point-of-purchase customers and Facebook fans.


“At checkout, we have a one-gallon fish bowl with egg shakers that have our logo imprinted,” Averwater said. “If you visit our page on Facebook, you get a free egg shaker. We go through a bowl of egg shakers a week.”


#4: Ted Brown Music: A Passion for Outreach

Learn from Ted Brown Music

When a local organization asks for a donation from Ted Brown Music, they receive something totally unique: A musical birthday party. President Whitney Brown Grisaffi says it’s a way to be a part of the community and build goodwill.


“We give away a birthday party – 90 minutes of structured activities in the store, valued at $150,” Brown Grisaffi explained. “We have a party room where we can host drum circles or karaoke rock ’n’ roll birthday parties. It’s a way to support people who are asking you to be part of their community by giving them something of value.”


This is just one of many charitable programs developed by the team at Ted Brown Music. For example, they also have a program that collects used instruments, fixes them at no cost, and rents them for free to students who otherwise couldn’t afford to be part of a music program. They’ve supported generations of young music lovers who have a lifelong connection to Ted Brown Music.


When Ted Brown himself started the business in 1931, he set a standard for passionate community involvement. In fact, it is in his honor that the staff created the no-cost music repair and rental program, called Ted Brown Music Outreach.


With all the charitable giving going on at Ted Brown, you might wonder if they have a solid business strategy happening behind it. Spoiler alert: They do. They’re one of NAMM’s top 100 music retailers and business is booming for them, both in-store and online.


While social media and online sales are a part of the company’s long-term strategy, personal interactions are still at the heart of their business.


“You can’t get our employees online,” Brown Grisaffi said. “You can get our experts by coming in, or by phone, and consulting with our staff. Customers want to come in and see their friends, make our store a hang spot and know that our staff is going to come see them perform.


#5: The Candyman Strings & Things: A Community Focus

Learn from The Candyman Strings & Things

Billed as “New Mexico’s premier music store,” The Candyman Strings & Things isn’t afraid to show off its quirky hometown vibe. Owner Rand Cook is featured in a page-dominating video on the front of their site. In the video, he talks about the importance of the store as a community citizen and home for local musicians.


This makes a fast, meaningful connection with music lovers and sets a tone for The Candyman brand. A website visitor immediately feels that the company cares about musicians and wants to educate and inform them, rather than just sell to them.


The Candyman Strings & Things has a wide variety of customer-focused programs:


The store holds a number of highly-successful events and is always adding to the calendar. Store co-owner Cindy Cook spoke at a NAMM conference, describing the success of their free public events.


“We entice people with food – Frito pies, invented in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and beer,” she said. “We post our events on Facebook and that they’re free. In our community, we notice that people will come out in droves to celebrate … We started a new community event that was hugely successful called the Beer and Gear event. It was held in our parking lot, and it looked like a flea market, with people bringing things from their garage to sell and setting up a booth.”


The store also maintains a strong connection to the community through philanthropy and charitable drives. Cindy remembers a favorite event that was meaningful to the community.


“We had a fundraiser in our store for a young student who needed medical treatment, and we had people come into our store who had never been in or wouldn’t have come in to donate,” she said. “It was a magical experience.”


The Candyman Strings & Things website prominently displays a fact they’re very proud of: Being the “most decorated music store in 104 countries” – a recognition that comes with being one of NAMM’s Top 100 dealers and a winner of the Best Customer Service award.


Ready for Even More Music Retail Tips?

NAMM will officially announce its fresh list of 2018 Top 100 music retailers later this summer, so tune in to Octave Media for an update.


If your music retail business needs a fresh marketing strategy that echoes one of the 5 top brands in this list, let’s talk. Octave Media works with some of the industry’s most successful retailers and offers free resources for companies that need a branding boost.


(photo by Lechon Kirb on Unsplash)