Robin Walenta (left) and DeDe Heid sp
Shane Nolan, Aviate Audio
Jonathan Spangler, Ciari Guitars
in a never-before-seen situation. “It went from ‘the world is ending,’ to ‘no it isn’t,’ to ‘I cannot get anything,’” relayed Ash. “It was very simple. If I had more gear, I could sell more gear. Profits went up because deals went down. If you had an instrument, you sold it. People were not saying, ‘I can get it elsewhere for 10 percent less.’ Since everyone was buying everything, we moved stuff we have not moved, like certain high-end instruments. They were gone.” Regarding lessons learned during the pandemic, Ash said nobody is larger than life. “[We] are not some elusive, rarified-air company,” he said. “… Understand that your customers are your life force. Without them, you are nothing. I think we met the challenge. Many customers have thanked us for meeting the challenges.” Ash handles many of these customer compliments himself, as well as any complaints the 96-year-old retail company may receive. “Many customers are impressed we respond the same day — not a chat box,” he noted. “We are a family business. Somebody with the last name of Ash has to be directly involved with customers. Right now, there are six Ash boys in the fourth generation of the company — five of them full time, making it their career. I have to make sure there is a business for them like my father made sure there was a business for myself and my brothers. “This was the world’s greatest hiccup,” Ash continued. “We suf22
Crystal Morris delivers a Smart Women in Music (SWIM) speech.
fered the pain financially as well as emotionally.” Nick Rail Music’s Laura Penrose also offered her perspective on the pandemic. In September 2019, Penrose took over a chain a California MI stores. Six months later, the world changed forever. “For the first six months, we compared it to drinking from a fire hose. There was so much information, growth and fun,” said Penrose. “I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do with my life. [Nick Rail himself] was by my side. We were planning a six-month anniversary party. I was planning food trucks. But then, the governor shut everything down.” When California schools were closed, Nick Rail Music lost all of its school music rental income, so the retail chain had to pull off a complete 180-degree pivot in its business model. “We said we are doing sales training, product training, management training and leadership training,” said Penrose. “We focused on a lot of things we never focused on before. It was hard. We really pushed our staff. They had to change the entire way they thought of their jobs. For the most part, they stepped up to the challenge.” Penrose noted that the return to schools this fall will vary by state and region, but she thinks school music will make a comeback. “I have four kids. Any activity I can sign my kid up for to get them out of the house is great,” she joked. “I think people are excited to be in a group again. I love just coming here [to Summer NAMM] to see friends.”
eering Banjos' Jamie Deering recalled the past year, stating she had been through everything a CEO could possibly experience in their entire career in just 12 months. “You have to become a medical expert and a law expert, all at the same time,” she said. “… We had a focus of whatever happens, we are going to work our butts off and survive. Banjos is not an easy industry. My folks never gave up, and I watched them my whole life. It was inbred in me.” Banjos and related products saw immense demand during the darkest days of the pandemic. “Everyone was at home with nothing AUGUST 2021