We managed to come up with another sunny day in London for the third MI Retail Conference & Expo. Here we run through the edited highlights…
Many of us will have attended that very familiar type of conference. The 9am registration for a 9.30 start, with a break for coffee at eleven, lunch at one, and yet more speakers in the afternoon of the kind that leave you drowsy, if not in a vegetative state before the main act comes on at about 4.30, by which time you’re already thinking about train times and whether it was worth the £265 delegate fee in the first place.
It rarely is. And in the meantime you have taken a whole day out of the office – or in this case, out of your shop – and… for what?
So how about a 10.30am start with two speakers and two panel sessions and a keynote that you will still be awake to listen to, all finished by lunchtime and all for free. Sounds better, right?
That’s the thinking behind the MIRC conference. An espresso shot of content which is engineered to be practical for retailers to attend and be of genuine value, delivering knowledge and information that might be immediately employed to help bolster business, or inspire some ideas that might also improve matters on some level. In addition, it is the only industry gathering in the UK market right now and if nothing else, it is a great chance for retailers to share ideas, information and, let’s face it, the pain that a lot of shops are feeling at the moment.
A number of retailers were glad to be there for that reason alone – to know that the quiet hours in their shop are not exclusive to them, and that other retailers are experiencing the same thing.
The format of this year’s conference largely followed the success of the first two years, although, based on feedback, the panel sessions were extended slightly to allow for more questions and interaction.
The first speaker, Ruth Boulton, has been a retail analyst and consultant for a number of years. As a director of The Training Point, she has provided advice and training within the MI market for over 15 years, in partnership with the MIA and directly with retailers and suppliers.
Her session at MIRC – Your Shop, Your Future – outlined a seven-point plan for retailers to help increase footfall by making their shop a brand in their local area and, of course, online.
Boulton reassured retailers that “there are plenty of people out there who will pay more for personal service” and that they should “demonstrate and share passion with your staff.”
Not a lot new there, of course. Good MI retailers have always known that the personal touch is what brings people back to their store and away from an online seller. But Boulton’s seven-point plan was a good reminder to those retailers that they shouldn’t ignore the basics.
After the first panel session, online expert John Straw from Linkdex drilled down into the workings of Google and explained how its search system works and how knowledge of the system can help improve traffic to your site.
Simply including your details free of charge on Google Maps can deliver customers to your door. It’s not about the Yellow Pages anymore. Straw went down very well and laid down some nice tips for retailers to follow, demonstrating how On Page Elements (the words used on the site) can make a difference as to how high up your site appears in a Google search. Links to other sites can dramatically increase traffic too. Particularly links to academic sites, which can really drive hits.
And as for Google Glasses – specs which bring augmented reality to your eyes (imagine walking down the street with graphics, pics, maps, text etc added to your vision) – it was all too much.
The panel sessions are always well thought out, with the MIA’s chief executive Paul McManus doing a fine job both in coming up with the topics of discussion and recruiting the panellists themselves. They are always, however, dependent on the enthusiasm and participation of the audience.
As much as the panellists themselves can give great answers, panel sessions thrive on the to and fro from the audience creating energy and debate in the room. We tried to make it easier for people to ask questions this year, by providing a number of different ways to present them – email, Twitter, even cards on the table to write them down, but nothing works better than people in the room, standing to ask their question. Daunting though that may be for some.
The first panel, chaired by Roland’s Peter Heath, saw representatives from four major UK MI stores reveal the secrets of their success. All of them were winners in the most recent MIA awards.
Again, the advice mirrored that of the first speaker, as Alex Marten from Red Dog Music stressed the importance of having a store identity and becoming a brand owner, rather than simply selling other people’s brands.
“Try to be as proactive as possible and get involved with online networks,” said Marten. “Not many retailers focus on building their own brand and their brand value. For us, it’s friendliness, which has worked really well for us.”
Jonathan Myall from Just Flutes said building relationships with customers and tying them down for the future has paid dividends for the brass and woodwind specialist.
“We always keep in touch with our customers and have really upped our efforts with our website, as well as Facebook and Twitter,” Myall revealed. “We’ve tried to make ourselves a destination store and now most people who come into our shop go out with something.”
Musicroom’s Genevra Champion believes making customers feel comfortable is essential and that dealer training is crucial.
“We’re welcoming and non-judgemental and whenever we’re offered training, we see it as a fantastic opportunity,” she said.
The question of how to engage in value added retailing, which works so well on a promotional basis for High Street giants such as Currys, PC World, Halfords and so on, again came back to adding value with staff knowledge and passion.
But how best to recruit those staff? Tony White from Bonners believes MI retailers shouldn’t be afraid to recruit professional retail staff as well as musicians. Staffing is the most challenging element of a retailer’s job and getting staff who can sell better than they can play, has to be the right way to go.
The second panel kicked off with a question about warehousing and distribution. A dry topic that did little to spark debate. But what was interesting about this panel was the sense that retailers are not as militant as they used to be about sites like Amazon being supported by suppliers.
Roland’s European chief, John Booth argued, as he has done previously, that Amazon brings new customers into the market at the entry-level. Which is no bad thing, of course. Retailers will still argue that they are supporting price erosion, but the naive notion that suppliers should ignore such a lucrative channel, seems to have dissipated.
Questions on Amazon and Ebay have dominated the debate in previous years, but this year the session moved on quickly. In short, it seems the retail sector has accepted that Amazon is here to stay and it is just going to have to deal with that fact, whatever the arguments.
And so, proceedings moved on via Roland’s Tim Walter, who explained why he is once again spraying on the lycra to raise money for Music For All with another Three Men On A Bike cycling challenge, to the keynote speaker, Rick Wakeman.
Those expecting anything more than a few light-hearted anecdotes from the keyboard maestro would have been disappointed. He wasn’t there to give advice on staff training or inventory management, but more as a man who was, and very much remains, the target audience for an MI retailer.
He wasn’t, contrary to his own billing, grumpy in the least but what he did say in essence was to keep it simple and keep it personal. Don’t bamboozle customers with jargon unless they want it and do your best to inform, enthuse and empower your customers.
In short, to quote the opening instruction of the poorly-translated Japanese keyboard manual Rick told us he was once handed: “Turn fucker on.”
Much like the morning conference part of MIRC, the afternoon exhibition element is deliberately lean in terms of the amount of time there is to get round to all the suppliers exhibiting. We think it makes for a much more intense and business-like environment.
And there was plenty for dealers to see with probably the best line-up to date, including Marshall, JHS, Barnes & Mullins, Mel Bay, Monacor, Audio-Technica, FBT Audio, Peavey, SCV, Sony, Tanglewood, Elixir Strings, Rotosound, Casio, Yamaha, Gremlin, EV Dynacord, Soar Valley Music, Lamba, Intermusic, Pioneer, Rocksmith, D’Addario UK and Korg.
For Roland the show was mainly about promoting its iRoland website, which offers retailers loyalty rewards, which can be redeemed against products, training videos and promotional material and is all linked in with the Roland head office and consumer site to help retailers maximise potential sales.
Yamaha talked up products from its EKB, Pro-Music, and Hi-FI/AV divisions at the show.
“MIRC still represents great value for money in 2012, allowing Yamaha a useful opportunity to meet with many of our dealers and share plans and issues of the day,” said Yamaha director, Ricci Hodgson.
JHS showed a selection of products across several sectors, including guitar and amp, folk, pro audio, percussion and brass and woodwind. Brands demonstrated included Fret King, Vintage, Odyssey, HK Audio, Carlsbro, Antoni and Performance Percussion.
“With the best part of 200 valued customers the problem was having enough time to talk to everyone, our booth area during the expo was jam-packed the whole time,” said Alan Smith, executive director of sales and marketing.
“We like the more intimate nature of this event. It gave us the environment to talk to customers in a relaxed setting without the pressure to put on a show,” added Simon Turnbull, managing director of D’Addario UK, which ran a ‘Stars of MI’ promo, highlighting the 50 best-selling items across all its brands.
Soar Valley showcased its Dream Cymbals and a new range of cajons, not to mention an array of products from its world percussion brands.
“Glad the sun shone on at least one event this year! Thanks to all who came to our stand for the Leiva Cajón launch and to all who praised our Dream cymbals”, said SVM MD David Ledsam.
EV Dynacord showed a plethora of audio products, including the new Powermate Powered mixers and D-Lite loudspeakers, as well as the Live-X loudspeakers and live microphones from EV (Electro-Voice). It also introduced its new sales team to dealers.
Audio specialist FBT showcased its Vertas CLA (Column Line Array) system. It is comprised of two parts: the CLA 604A bi-amplified two-way active column speakers (400 + 100W RMS) and the CLA 208SA active subwoofer (600W RMS). It also had its Pro-Maxx powered speakers at the show too.
Marshall Amplification had a complete backline range at MIRC 2012, including its Eden bass amp range, which it acquired last year.
Elixir’s focus was on its Stainless Steel Nanoweb coated strings and its improved Nickel Plated bass strings.
Pioneer’s mission at this year’s MIRC was to turn dealers on to the possibilities of the DJ market.
It was evangelising its recently formed SD Consumer DJ dealer category that focuses purely on controllers, speakers and headphones, as well as new products like the recently released RMX 1000 that bridges the gap between music production and DJing.
Martin Dockree, UK sales manager for Pioneer DJ, said: “This is the second consecutive year that we have exhibited at the event, which was yet again, a productive and informative day. The set-up procedure was very fluid and importantly, we came away from the event with several strong new business leads.” Having teamed up with SCV London, Sony unveiled its new digital wireless range – a global first, no less.
The new 2.4 GHz DWZ series includes combinations of hand-held microphones, body-pack transmitters and rack-mount or compact size receivers, with the various components ideal for use by musicians, or in classroom, corporate and AV applications.
Acoustic guitar specialist, Tanglewood, brought its usual impressive and extensive range of acoustics, including its new ukulele stands, enabling retailers to sell a complete uke range off one display.
Lamba premiered a new range of PA systems, including a new line array and expanded its range of professional wireless systems to include Channel 38 and 2.4GHz models. In addition, there were new 3D and star cluster lasers.
Intermusic demonstrated its recently updated online retail services to dealers offering real-time availability, pricing and order processing.
The video games industry even made a rare excursion into MI with Ubisoft’s Rocksmith game for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. The game will work with any standard guitar with a quarter-inch jack and will be launched by publisher Ubisoft in October. MI retail is a big part of the firm’s plans and it is shortly to announce a dedicated MI distributor for the game.
For Barnes & Mullins, the show was about its Hidersine range of orchestral instruments and accessories, including violins, violas, cellos and basses, as well as essentials such as shoulder rests.
Marketing manager, Alex Mew said: “It was a good event. We met with a handful of new dealers and many that we already know. Those that were there were keen to learn about what we had to show them and to engage in conversations about products. We did a good amount of business on the day. People were up for purchasing and there is no other way to get that many people together.”
Audio-Technica brought its Allen & Heath range to MIRC for the first time this year, including its range of live and recording desks, which includes the new GLD digital system and popular iLive touring models.
Rotosound was flying the flag for British manufacturing and exporting at this year’s MIRC. The firm ran two-for-one offers on selected ranges and showcased all its 2012 new products, including the Paul Allender, Michael Amott and Mikey Demus signature strings, new accessories and the re-released Fuzz pedal.
Casio showed off its latest synthesizer technology – the XW series – at the event.
The XW-P1 Performance synth features 100 Solo Synthesizer pre-sets for reproducing classic analogue synth sounds, 50 Hex Layer pre-sets, 50 Drawbar Organ pre-sets and 420 PCM Melody and PCM drum pre-sets that have been sampled from a number of different instruments.
The XW-G1 ‘Groove’ synth provides a Step Sequencer with 100 rhythm patterns and a further 100 original patterns can be recorded as user sequences. Mel Bay promoted a number of new issues and publications and its new Business to Business website, which has a whole new back office system and eBook offering for the trade.
“It was good,”said Mel Bay MD Chris Statham. “It wasn’t as good ‘business-wise’ as last year, but still a very well organised event that was completely worthwhile attending and being an Event Partner/exhibitor.”
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