A highly respected retailer in Edinburgh, Imported Instruments finally completed its expansion into the ‘Granite City’ of Aberdeen at the end of October. Adam Savage found out what sets this business apart from all the other dealerships out there…
While trying not to start this piece on a bit of a ‘downer’, there have been more major music store closures this year than perhaps we would have expected, and one of the saddest of all was the winding up of the iconic Aberdeen-based business, Bruce Millers. A torrent of sympathetic comments on the MI Pro website was evidence of the shop’s reputation across the country, but then the blow to the Bruce Millers staff was softened somewhat when Edinburgh-based store Imported Instruments announced shortly afterwards that it was planning on opening an Aberdeen store, and that it would be taking on ex-Bruce Millers employees.
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That was back in July and the plans have finally come to fruition after a few problems relating to the store’s location. Now based in the Academy Mall, Imported Instruments Aberdeen is open for business and although it’s still very early days (the launch date was October 29th), how have the local people taken to what is effectively a replacement for such a renowned retail outlet?“We started looking at Aberdeen about 18 months ago and talked about it, but then when Bruce Millers happened, we knew it was the time to do it,” said Imported Instruments’ owner and director, Jon Clark.“It’s going extremely well so far, we had plenty turn up on the opening day and we had three times as many people visit the week after that. The Edinburgh store is a sort of hybrid between a traditional and modern shop and Aberdeen leans more on the traditional side, but with a wider product mix. We also occupy a huge proportion of the mall with the new store.”“We’ve taken on four from Bruce Millers: Clark and Jamie Clafton – our two local managers – along with guitar specialist Billy Duffie and also Scott Gordon.”Not only is this a classic case of helping out your fellow man when tragedy strikes, getting this team onboard meant Jon Clark could already feel confident about the strength of his sales force before the shop had even opened. Ramsay Clark and Clafton were also well known figures among Aberdeen musicians. Excellent customer service as well as a good product offering is of course essential when creating a pleasant shopping experience in any retail environment, but when speaking to Clark, it becomes obvious that Imported Instruments really understands the importance of making sure that shoppers feel comfortable.We’ve surely all been in music shops whereby staff interest has taken a nosedive when they realise you’re not a shredding master. This might be more common in high-end boutique or vintage guitar centres, but I’ve been in a few general stores that sell entry-level instruments where the assistants have acted in this way also. Clark ensures me this won’t happen in either of his shops, though.“We want people to enjoy the experience as shopping for instruments should be pleasurable. As we’re in a mall location, we wanted it to be bright, clean and family friendly and we don’t want to put people off if they’re not accomplished musicians.“We’ve got a quiet room in the Edinburgh shop and we’re also opening one in the new shop soon as well. We built it because of the high ambient noise that you get from being in a mall, but also because it’s good for privacy.”Being able to put in a facility such as this is just one of the perks of having 4,500 square feet of space to play with, but even stores with similar or more amounts of room rarely have features such as this. Giving punters even the most basic of areas to try out gear by themselves can lead to a lot more sales and repeat customers and it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to create one. Another benefit of the large shop floor is that you have the option of doing something a bit different from the norm, like putting in a small stage for artists to play on, which is just what they’ve done here. It’s clear that Clark and co have really tried to make this not just a shop, but a centre for music making. “Customer service is more important to us than pricing, but we make sure we let people know that we will happily price match with any other business and our online prices are always the same as they are in store.”A quick look at the Imported Instruments website reveals that its online presence is better than most in the MI retail sector, but it’s refreshing to find a dealer that is happy to tackle the online competition head on, when some others choose to give up without a fight. Price matching with the Internet big boys is nothing new, but if you can afford to do it, it’s one of the best ways of convincing your customers not to go straight on Amazon when they get home. Although Clark is promoting the new store as a bit of an all-rounder, the list of Aberdeen-exclusive brands now being sold there shows that perhaps it’s the acoustic market where it can be considered strongest.“No one else in the city sells Godin, Simon & Patrick, Seagull, Gretsch and Martin. In fact, we get people travelling from miles around just to see the Martin Heritage Centre.”As mentioned briefly earlier, it was originally supposed to be located in Aberdeen’s Union Square, but due to some technical difficulties, the firm decided to set up shop in the Academy Mall instead.This meant that the firm was forced to give its suppliers only a brief notice period in order to make sure it could open before the crucial Christmas period. Clark was delighted with the work put in by some of its distributors to make sure the opening wasn’t delayed further.“The suppliers have been great with us, particularly Fender and Westside,” Clark remarks.Finally, the owner and director hinted that this new opening might not be a one-off and that we could see more Imported Instruments stores pop up in the near future. Watch this space.