The Summer NAMM show, the National Association of Music Merchants' midyear gathering, was held in its unofficial hometown of Nashville TN from July 21 to 23 at the Nashville Convention Center, providing the occasion for new products to be showcased, industry mind-sharing to occur and plans to be laid for the remainder of the year and beyond. Upon the show's conclusion, organizers reported slightly fewer than 10,900 registrants over the three-day show, representing a 13 percent decrease from last year. A redoubled embrace of education and training opportunities, however, counterbalanced that overall floor-traffic decrease. Attendance at NAMM University courses increased over last year, with a number of dealers complimenting the sessions in post-event surveys. These were among the comments received: "Just the right information at the right time"; "NAMM U is a real wake-up call and just what I needed"; and "Best session I ever attended."
The NAMM University Breakfast Sessions saw a remarkable 27 percent attendance bounce over last year, underscoring the value to dealers of the information gleaned from them. The first day of Summer NAMM kicked off with NAMM U's inaugural Retail Summit Breakfast Session, held in the Renaissance Nashville Grand Ballroom, where NAMM President/CEO Joe Lamond welcomed keynote speaker Robin Lewis, a retail expert and author of the book "The New Rules of Retail: Competing in the World's Toughest Marketplace." Lewis discussed the drastic transformation of the retail environment over the past two centuries: from the 1800s, when consumers were difficult to reach and distribution channels were severely limited, to the electronically savvy global audience of today.
"There's a shift from lifestyle brands to lifestyle experiences, from mass markets to micro markets and mass marketing to micro marketing," Lewis told the audience of more than 500 NAMM members. "As a result, many of the big guys in the market are now spinning off into smaller stores. They need to get in physically closer to the consumer. When you see what's involved here, you begin to see why you guys have the advantage." During the panel discussion that followed, Lamond emphasized people's need for connection in today's virtual marketplace. He also talked with NAMM member retailers about how they have applied Lewis' recommendations to the betterment of their own brick-and-mortar stores.
On Friday, July 22, John Arnold, marketing author and columnist at Entrepreneur.com, presided over a session entitled The Top 10 Web Marketing Trends and How to Use Them, in which attendees were able to learn about utilizing tools like social media, search marketing, mobile devices and marketing locally on the Internet. And, on Saturday, July 23, Best in Show: This Year's Hottest Products spotlighted the cream of the crop in Nashville this year.
One of the many ways in which this year's show stood out was its hosting the inaugural Top 100 Dealer Awards on the evening of July 22. The program was created to spotlight the very best industry retailers and to share their strategies for success. "No one works harder than the local community music store," Lamond remarked. "And it's an honor to pay tribute to those who go out every day and help customers realize their musical dreams." The categories and their respective winners are Rookie of the Year: Fat Tone Guitars; Best Curb Appeal: Chuck Levin's Washington Music Center; Best Merchandising & Display: Artisan Guitars; Best Ad: West Music; Best Social Media: Candyman Strings & Things; Best Sales Promotion: Tobias Music; Best Web site: Simon Ripley's Music & Art; Support Music Award: West Music; Wanna Play Dealer Award: Candyman Strings & Things; Best Clinics & Events: Chuck Levin's Washington Music Center; and Dealer of the Year: Senseney Music, which was selected from the group of Top 100 Dealer Award winners and will join the prestigious Dealer of the Year Hall of Fame.
On the last day of the show, NAMM announced the election of its 2011-2012 Executive Committee. The election, which took place at a meeting of the NAMM Board of Directors, denotes a change in NAMM's volunteer leadership: Kevin Cranley, who is President of Willis Music Company in Florence KY, is taking over for outgoing NAMM Chairman Tom Schmitt, President and Chairman of Schmitt Music Company in Minnesota. The rest of the election results were as follows: Vice Chairman: Larry Morton, President of Hal Leonard Corp.; Treasurer: Mark Goff, President of Paige's Music; Secretary: Robin Walenta, President/CEO of West Music Company; NAMM Representative: Joe Lamond, NAMM President/CEO.
One of the measures taken by show organizers to try to shore up support for the show has been somewhat controversial among dealers—at least those to whom this writer spoke. Summer NAMM, which is, of course, typically trade-only, opened its doors to the public for "Wanna Play Music Day" on July 23, thereby providing musicians and music buffs an opportunity to get a sneak peek at new instruments, music-making technologies, and pro audio and lighting equipment that has not yet hit retail stores. According to NAMM figures, more than 1,100 public day attendees swarmed the exhibit hall and meeting rooms, distinguished by their special entry bracelets. Their attendance, to this writer's eye, led to a Saturday show floor whose traffic was nearly indistinguishable from that of Thursday or Friday, which kept the show hopping until the official close. However, during a lunchtime Independent Dealer Roundtable—portions of which will be published next month—with owners of some independent music stores, the air was thick with skepticism.
Although stressing their collective dedication to, and appreciation of, Summer NAMM, one of the participants said, "As a retailer, I should be the person who unveils new products to my customers. If a consumer comes to a show like this and he sees something new, and then comes to my store to buy it, if I don't have that product yet, how does it reflect on my business? As a dealer coming to this show, I know it might be a few months before a new product actually hits my showroom floor. But if a consumer sees a product at Summer NAMM, wants to buy it and doesn't understand why you're not going to have it for a couple of months, I may have lost a customer." Another owner who participated said, "I love Summer NAMM because I can get into the booth and do business with my vendors. I can talk to them, I can see the product and I can put my hands on it. But when a public day becomes available, that opportunity starts slipping away. And we have all witnessed firsthand our pricing being given out to the public. It's happened every year that they've done it, and that puts our business more into jeopardy than it benefits us."
Walking the show floor all three days of the show, exhibitor sentiment was a mixed bag, but one leaning more positive than negative. Even if the number of bodies walking the aisles was not quite as high as some manufacturers would have wanted, the people who did attend and make contact with the exhibitors were serious, qualified and there to do business. "Summer NAMM 2011 appeared to me to be a fairly tame show based on the number of people in the aisles," said Gerson Rosenbloom, Wechter Guitars. "But based on the buyers in our booth, it was a fabulous success." According to Rick Young, Yamaha, "It will take time for our industry to rebuild the attendance at Summer NAMM. However, the fact is that many of our retailers still look at this as a good time to attend and connect with their suppliers, as well as sharpen their business skills and network with colleagues. Given the lingering economic conditions, it makes good sense to use every way possible to build your business, and being a part of the show allows all attendees that opportunity."
NAMM's next gathering is the 2012 NAMM show, slated for January 19 to 22, 2012, in Anaheim CA. For next year's Summer NAMM, we will be returning to Nashville, July 12 to 14. Although next year's show once again will be held at the Nashville Convention Center, the completion of Music City Center, which will boast 370,000 square feet of exhibit space and carries a $635 million price tag, is scheduled for 2013.
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