Music & Sound Retailer August 2021, Vol 38 No 8

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For more than two decades, Brian Hansen has been serving the music community in and around Mt. Pleasant, Mich., first as a salesperson at Cook’s Music Shop and then, since 2002, as the owner of B’s Music Shop. It was the original owner of Cook’s Music Shop, Rob Cook, who convinced Hansen to open his own store when he was only 20 years old. “I started a little store with a tiny business loan and about 19 guitars in stock,” Hansen recalled. Over the years, thanks to an expert product mix, a growing roster of services and top-notch customer service, Hansen has been able to grow the business, which now occupies 10,000 square feet across two buildings in quite possibly the most convenient location in town. “Most stores around here are an hour or more away from us,” said Hansen, “so we like being a destination in the center of the state.” Today, B’s Music Shop stocks upwards of 400 guitars from some of best-known brands in the industry, including Ibanez, Epiphone, Yamaha, Schechter, Peavey and Reverend, which Hansen is proud to have carried for a long time. Customers who walk into the store are immediately wowed by sheer number of guitars hanging from bars on the walls and the ceilings. “It’s solid guitars!,” Hansen exclaimed. B’s Music Shop is not only a destination for guitars but also for pedals, as Hansen’s self-proclaimed fascination with pedals has resulted in an extensive offering of approximately 500 models. “There’s a real renaissance now with pedals, and we’ve gotten into some of the weirder brands,” said Hansen. “It’s kind of fun to have a little bit of everything.” One thing that surprised Hansen is that “a little bit of everything” has come to include vinyl records. This store within a store currently stocks thousands of the LPs coveted by the local college population, among other vinyl aficionados. “That blows my mind that I have a vinyl record store right now,” said Hansen, who said he, personally, only owns about 10 vinyl records. “But it makes people happy, and that’s what I want to do.” Hansen has also gotten into selling merchandise, with T-shirts emblazoned with the store’s logo proving more popular than ever. “I’m a weird dude with five cats who owns a music store. That’s why my logo is a cat,” he mused. “We sold a ton of pride tanks with a rainbow and the cat logo. We just have fun with it. We’re an industry that’s supposed to be fun, so let’s have some fun. To help customers navigate the deep and rich inventory, both musical and otherwise, at B’s Music Shop, Hansen currently employs 10 salespeople. Hansen makes sure that his staff is diverse enough to meet the needs of anyone who might walk through the door. “We don’t want to put people in boxes,” he said. “We work hard not to be a bro shop — one of those places where a woman walks in and is automatically assumed to be buying for her boyfriend. I 38

always thought of those places as creepy. It’s important to make the store better than that and, I think, the industry overall has evolved from that.” The main thing Hansen looks for when hiring is someone who can not only fill the role but also do right by the customer, helping them out without making a hard sell. “Customers can tell when you’re leaning on their shoulder as opposed to having a real conversation,” he said. “We’re a talking place, and my staff has to be able to talk to people and make connections.” Making those connections became more difficult as COVID-19 took most of the store’s interactions online. The pandemic forced Hansen to get serious about his online presence, overhauling the store’s website and hiring a professional photographer. “Photos are everything online,” he explained. “You can’t touch or play the instrument online, but you can talk specs and show them the photos.” Hansen also began leaning more toward limited-edition and hardto-find models, “things we know only a dozen or so dealers have, because it puts us in a better position to pop up and get the sale,” he explained. “It’s important to stand out and do a good job. It’s too easy to be a carbon copy of what the most popular thing is.” With half of store sales now originating over the internet, Hansen and his team have had to work harder than ever to keep up the level of communications and customer service that long-time patrons have become accustomed to in-store. “We over-communicate to make sure our online customers are happy,” said Hansen. “But if they are buying from us, it’s because they want to buy from a real store with real people. We’re still a neighborhood store, even if you’re in Texas or California.” He added, “The fact is, if they wanted to buy on Amazon, they would.” The pivot toward online sales has helped B’s Music Shop have its best year yet, even as so many of its contemporaries are struggling. “We’d be down if we didn’t swing into online,” said Hansen, who also moved his store’s lesson program online, with nine teachers giving lessons to approximately 100 students over Zoom. As disruptive as COVID-19 has been for the industry, Hansen AUGUST 2021