As we move further into 2023, it’s become quite evident that the industry at large continues to shake off a profound “Covid Hangover.” There is a mixed bag of results, with Live Sound posting a rebound, while other categories such as fretted instruments still wading through more inventory on hand than would be desirable at this point. As the consumer slowly comes back to the table, many of our core constituents are still feeling the pinch of inflation, deferring discretionary purchases. My guess is we will look back at this period a couple of years from now and realize this was a tectonic event, unlike anything we’ve experienced in the past. Yes, we have worked through wars and recessions, but nothing remotely akin to the tumultuous effects of the pandemic. We see a very cautious stance being taken by many retailers, while others appear to be seizing every opportunity. Unfortunately, some have balance sheets that are inflicting significant pain, causing restructuring or worse.
Consolidation and the Next Generation
During the past few years, we have seen major consolidation in certain areas of our trade, whether it be Commercial Sound and A/V distribution, to Musical Instrument retailers being absorbed by chain stores. At the same time, a new generation of entrepreneurs are embarking on their own retail and wholesale journey, stepping in where others have stepped out. This is a somewhat natural course of events in business cycles, but perhaps exacerbated by the unforeseen shockwaves associated with massive price increases and serious supply/demand imbalances. Right now, there are some shining stars who see open fields while others exude a “doom and gloom” attitude. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ve seen this before and as always would encourage industry participants to remain optimistic, using this time to refine their methods and go-to-market strategies.
The Role of the Rep Firm Has Evolved
Manufacturer’s representatives, now more than ever, need to add value. This means far more than simply emailing out price lists or processing inbound orders. To remain relevant, we must consciously move into the realm of “consultative selling,” where deep understanding, keen observations and cogent suggestions assist your customers. Think carefully about what you bring to the table in every meeting, then deliver the goods beyond the physical products. Expect that in times such as these manufacturers may be struggling and searching for answers (or cost cutting measures), so it is imperative that sales reps play a pivotal role in the “human supply chain.”
The Return to In-Person Retail
Far from suggesting that e-commerce will undergo a reversal, I do notice that people have a desire to interact with each other once again, especially after the early periods of quarantine, countless Zoom meetings and working from home. I’m sensing and seeing that encountering folks in person, picking up guitars and playing, and fundamentally joining together with patrons at a human level is coming back in vogue. Retail stores must provide an inviting, comfortable environment for this to occur, and be equally ready to offer knowledge and wisdom to visitors. Like reps and manufacturers, local merchants must go out of their way to make shoppers feel welcome and wanted, and this goes far beyond the transaction itself. The customer journey does not end when a purchase is made, rather that’s the new beginning of a relationship that will forge the fundamental success of your business. With all the turmoil we have gone through together these past few years, be of good cheer and maintain an “abundance mentality,” as that will carry you through the tough times, and back to the future.