5 minute read

In the Trenches


By Allen McBroom


Editor's Note: These are the opinions of the author only, not the Music & Sound Retailer.

Back in 2019, this column addressed a quote from the old Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. The quote was “The only constant in life is change.” Little did I know back in 2019 how often I’d be repeating that saying.

That brings me to the topic of this month’s column: change.

The social and economic upheavals of the last year are now resulting in higher prices across the board. Timber is plentiful, and lumber inventories are high, but the price of lumber at the lumber yard is two to three times what it was a year ago. The cause? People started spending more time at home and began doing major refurbishing of their living spaces. New housing starts are sky-high. In short, while the supply hasn’t diminished, the demand has gone way up, so lumber costs more.

As I’m writing this, our local groceries have a decrease in the chicken supply. The cause? Chicken breeders have plenty of chickens to sell, but because chicken plant employees are making more on state and federal unemployment than they did working, the plants cannot get enough workers to meet the demand.

Closer to home, we all perk up and pay attention when we hear news blurbs about shipping container availabilities. The cause? We know that a dearth of empty containers in the East has cut into our inventory availability.

Another sign of change: Last Friday, our store experienced a cavalcade of weirdos. I know, I know, music stores get odd folks on a regular basis, but not like this. In the course of three hours, we had a guy who wanted to upgrade the guitar he bought the day before, but he could only talk while holding up a Bible and reciting the definition of “talent” (that is, the ancient Mesopotamian definition of “talent,” as in 300 shekels). The next guy was about 45 years old, looked normal, but he babbled semi-incoherently and wanted us to all go out to his car to see his drumsticks. He invited us several times. Third was an extremely high stoner whose musk bore the strong essence of weed, and who bought a mic and some headphones based solely on their appearance. Fourth was the day’s winner: He was mounted up on a bicycle, dressed for a cold February (it was 80 degrees that day) and had a sheathed trench knife on his belt. When I mentioned that we were low on some inventory due to COVID-19, he jumped up and said, “No, it’s communism.” The next 45 minutes were dominated by customer No. 4, who told us all about the U.N., Bill Clinton, other politicians, and the movies he and his mom watched. He concluded with an explanation of how the U.N. was using homeowner associations to introduce socialism to America. He finally left a few minutes after complimenting our “Easter egg guitars with the wah-wah sticks.” I told my beautiful bride about the tour of oddballs that day, and she told me that referrals to mental health facilities were way, way up, since a lot of patients didn’t get the healthcare they needed during the previous year.

Predicting the future is a risky business at best, but I think I’m safe in saying we’re going to experience more and more change as we move away from last year into some revised form of normalcy. As store owners, we need to be alert to the shifting winds, so we can adjust our sails as needed. Employees may ask for time off for reasons that would not have made sense two years ago, and we need to realize that needs have changed. Inventory that isn’t available needs to be addressed by removing empty guitar hangers, moving product around so we look more full, and buying more than usual when product is available.

Change usually happens in two ways. First, we notice the change in the people or situations around us. Second, we initiate change ourselves, usually to adapt to those other aforementioned changes. To modify our store setups, our buying habits, our employee relationships and even the nature of what we stock, we need to be aware of the changes happening around us. We can’t respond to changes that we don’t recognize as changes. So how do we recognize change? We do that by paying attention. Talk to the customers you don’t usually have a chance to talk to. Talk to your banker. Talk to the cashier in the grocery store. Watch the business news. Read the local papers. Ask other folks how their businesses are doing and what they are up against at the moment. Go to church, or synagogue, or the local coffee shop, and visit with people you didn’t know until today.

Through those conversations, you may see some common threads that tell you how life is changing outside your store. These are the tides of change, and without noticing them, you cannot make good decisions about adjusting your store or keeping it as it is. The more people you can talk to, and the more varied they are, the more likely it is you’ll see the changes coming while you still have time to make adjustments. The changes you make based on your observations may be significant, such as dropping product lines or adding new products from existing lines. Or the changes may be subtle, but subtle changes can often have the biggest impact.

Let’s say the common thread you sense in your conversations is an underlying layer of anxiety about the economy or life in general. Good gosh, how can you change to address something like that? I’d suggest you get your employees together and tell them a warm smile and a sincere, friendly greeting is now how everyone will say hello in the store. Make customers feel a sense of relief that they are in your store, away from the worries of the outside world.

We have the authority and the ability to make the changes we need to make, so don’t drag your feet on responding to the trends you see around you. Don’t be afraid to respond to your gut feelings. According to our old friend Heraclitus, change is inevitable. The good news is, if we pay attention and get plugged in every way possible, we’ll be in a great position to spot the changes and make our adjustments before we end up being behind the curve.