In the past couple of weeks, I have engaged numerous suppliers and other industry professionals in a conversation about what this New Year brings us. The most thoughtful among them agree that the current dynamics must improve before we see anything remotely resembling “normalcy,” or what we thought was typical in B.C. (before COVID). Many vendors are looking at 2019 numbers as a benchmark for 2023 forecasting, but of course no one knows exactly what lies ahead for the musical instrument and professional audio trade. Most would agree that the past two years were an aberration, but the circumstances vary significantly by category, and by the channel or vertical markets served by any participant. For fretted instrument manufacturers, we hope to see a true “return to the mean,” whereby the irrational exuberance of 2020-2022 resolves to a more manageable level of inventory movement, weeks on hand at retail, and willingness of the consumer to come back to the table.
The Aspirational Customer Has Been Sidelined
There is no question that one of our core constituents is the “aspirational customer,” who seeks to level up their equipment and musical endeavors. The advent of high inflation forced them to the sidelines, given that not all have the disposable income to keep purchasing when other bills are deemed more pressing. Add to that the drumbeat of economic woes mentioned in the press combined with product dumping by major suppliers, and you have the makings of music stores and warehouses full of gear. The situation appears to be improving in recent weeks, despite reports of a lackluster Holiday selling season. We can hope that the macroeconomics continue to improve, and that over time we will find buoyancy in both stock levels and the supply / demand ratio. I’d like to think we’ve been through the worst of it, but as the old saying goes, “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”
I’ll Put My Faith in Music and Our Resilient Industry
It’s been said that musical instruments tend to weather recessions better than other sectors. While that might be true, the real story is the sheer resolve of the people in our business. Musicians want to play, and merchants want to help them achieve their dreams. We as an industry represent a resilient band of musical marauders, never really beaten down enough to call it quits. At least that’s how I see it after 43 years in the trade. I’m still pinching myself about making a decent living as a college dropout, and that at age 58 I became a first-time small business owner by acquiring Reflex Marketing. At 61 I became a founder of a distribution company, and our first year in business as Music Ship yielded solid results. It seems that every time I turn around, another opportunity falls into my lap, including some surprises to be announced in March, and put on display at the NAMM Show in April. Rather than downsizing, I’m looking at hiring more people soon and am renovating a sizable space for our multi-firm office and the manifestation of a dream — to contribute to the cultural arts in our local community.
An Attitude of Gratitude
These past few years have taught an old guy some new ways to think about things. Dodging what were a couple of life-threatening moments, this while losing many friends and family recently have given new meaning to the word GRATITUDE. I’m not backing off, backing down, backing up or letting anything other than positivity rule my thoughts. Like most people, I have moments of doubt, but then I get behind the keyboard to write my monthly post, and realize how lucky I really am. I’m going to freeze this moment in time because it all makes sense to me. Right here, right now, this instant. I hope to see many of you at NAMM, my first show since 2020. Let’s bring it!