Tim Slater popped along to Miller’s Music, Cambridge, to check out how this venerable family-run music store continues to keep pace with modern retail trends without compromising its commitment to local musicians from all walks of life.
Traditional family run music stores are sadly now in decline but Miller’s Music in Cambridge is not only distinguished by its longevity – the largest music store in East Anglia, Miller’s originally opened in 1856 – it is also noted as the music shop where Pink Floyd stars David Gilmour, Roger Waters and Syd Barrett purchased the guitars that set them on the road to superstardom.
The store has changed hands several times over the decades, and was bought by current owner Simon Pollard last year, but the Miller family always retained close links with the business and director Barry Robinson is a direct descendent of the store’s original 19th Century founder, Albert Tubelcain Miller. Miller’s was always something of a hi-tech store, selling gramophones and radios during the 1930s and 40s and eventually branching out into TV and Hi-Fi products alongside the musical instruments that until the early 1980s when Radio Rentals bought the TV business, enabling Miller’s to absorb it’s sister store ken Stevens Music and bring musical instruments back into the fold.
Located virtually at the heart of the city centre and a short walk from the main bus depot Miller’s is something of an institution in the University city.
The store’s legendary zero per cent interest two year hire purchase agreements have enabled many a cash-strapped student or local muso to purchase musical instruments that might otherwise have been beyond their means. When PMT opened its Cambridge branch in the spring of 2013 some observers opined that this might well cast Miller’s future into doubt but Miller’s Music owner Simon Pollard disagrees. Pollard, who took over ownership of the family-owned store in 2012, insists that Miller’s facility to cater to everyone from youngsters buying their first guitar to accomplished classical musicians makes his store unique in the area.
“Cambridge is quite well represented in terms of musical diversity; we have everything from classical performances at the colleges to buskers festivals to scrapped pianos that were recently left out on the streets for people to play and there’s everything in between that. For me, Miller’s sits in the middle of our music community. We don’t stock pro audio gear, we are not specialist in brass, woodwind or strings but we can cater right up to semi-professional musicians and we offer a wide selection of accessories for those musicians, which I think is crucial.”
Pollard worked in accountancy before cutting his teeth in MI with Music Sales, believing that his background gives him a necessary objectivity when considering products, investments and where you are going strategically in business.
“I have staff here that are incredibly passionate and enthusiastic. In the music business in general we are not short of people who are fantastic players and musicians and even fantastic sales people but I think the ability to step away from time to time is quite useful. It’s easy to get carried away with a product and whilst products make our industry but at the same time they can make it incredibly difficult.”
Tackling the thorny subject of the web, Pollard admits that he uses the Internet to attract people through the door rather than developing online sales but he maintains a watching brief regarding people’s digital shopping habits.
“The Internet is not a significant part of Miller’s business. It has been more of an advertorial window to support the in-store business. However with the advent of smart phones people are now shopping in a completely different way, people will be coming into town looking for things on their ‘phones and I think that you have to have a mobile and web platform that will enable you to fulfill the requirements of those customers. I think it’s absolutely crucial to have a well- developed web offering to support the business and talking to other retailers and suppliers it’s becoming a crucial component in their businesses. Sheet music continues to decline at between eight-to-ten per cent every year for the past four or five years. It’s probably a manifestation of people consuming music via digital mechanisms - phone and iPad - and we are looking to see how we can improve our profile as a result of that.”