When it comes landmark businesses that help to propagate both the growth and sustenance of the musical community in the Great Lakes Bay region, Mid-Michigan Music has withstood the test of time to set both the tone and the timbre for what the blueprint of a full-service musical instrument and professional audio company should looks & sound like that has resonated successfully for 30 years.
Under the stewardship of owner Rick Allen, this bedrock of the musical community that is located at 240 E. Main St. in Downtown Midland has not only survived traditional business challenges, but succeeded as one of the few independent and ‘Michigan Made’ musical retail outlets left standing in a region that was once populated with dozens of locally owned operations.
Now the legacy of Mid-Michigan Music is at a new epochal crossroads, as recently Allen navigated a sale of his business and announced a ‘changing of the guard’ to none other than Steve Meyers – a familiar face and force within the musical community – that marks the beginning of an entirely new and exciting era for this landmark business.
In terms of musical pedigree Steve’s professional background is impressive, with a history that dates back to when he first started working for Rick back in 1994. “I first started working for Rick as a guitar instructor twenty years ago and then as a part-time and eventually full time employee up until 2007,” he relates. “Shortly after the Saginaw store closed I left to pursue a job offer as a representative with a pro audio firm for seven years, working mainly on the sales side of the world. Rick went from being my employer to being one of my accounts and I was selling stuff to him as well as stores and audio contractors all over the state.”
After that ended in late 2013 Steve vowed that he would never work for another audio firm again, given the changing complexities of the market. “I didn’t want to work for anybody else anymore, so five days after I was laid off I started Meyers Technologies, which specialized in audio design, sales, and pro-audio installation,” he continues.
“A few days after that Rick phoned and I explained that I wasn’t going to be his audio rep anymore, but that there was a way we could make money together by aligning with my independent endeavors; and it took him about 30 seconds to say this made perfect sense, but he was more interested in retiring. So he asked if I would be interested in buying him out.”
“After rolling that grenade on the floor back in October, we went our separate ways and after I thought about his offer I called back and explained that we might be able to pull this buyout off,” relates Steve. “Rick had made the decision to end the Bay City store and consolidate everything into the Midland location, so we started fleshing out ideas on how to navigate this buyout. Facilitating the Bay City closure was step one, so I came back into the picture to help him with that; and after we completed that task in mid-January, I came into the Midland store to wrangle with the inventory. We got that all squared by the end of February, so around March 1st we sat down with some honest numbers and worked on a business plan and brought the banks and lawyers and all the fun stuff into the picture.”
“We never let making money get in our way,” laughs Steve, “but the plates were starting to spin a lot and what took nine or ten months to consummate actually fell together pretty quickly.” Adds Rick Allen: “Steve played a huge roll in the success of Mid Michigan Music over the last 20 years and now that he’s the owner and I’m out of the picture is attitude about the present and future success of the store is incredible.”
As for short-term objectives, Steve has coordinated a facelift and cosmetic renovation of the store and feels that their online department has virtually unlimited growth potential. “The first of the year we blew out a wall and expanded the warehouse and doubled the size for that and have already made a new hire to help facilitate the online sales. In order to escalate the growth of our gross sales, the online division represents the future. Traditional retail is limited to four walls but presently our online sales represents 30 to 40 percent of our business and I see no reason why it couldn’t become 75 percent without losing any dips in the traditional retail component of the operation.”
Regarding the online activity at Mid Michigan Music, Steve notes how they do well with moving guitars and amplifiers online, but the key is finding the right product mix for online marketing. “Our online manager Joe Hughes has done an excellent job finding the right product mix. With traditional musical items like guitars or amplifiers people simply need to find the right place to purchase them; but we’ve established relationships with one of the nation’s biggest suppliers of raw speakers along with guitar and amplifier parts for repairs. Nobody thinks to sell these things and we have a warehouse full of them.”
“Apart from featuring major companies like Peavey, Eminence, Celestion and Jensen, we are always keeping our eye open to new companies,” reflects Steve. “I believe you have to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s coming into the market. On the one side the music industry can be the most old school business in the world when it comes to selling items like acoustic guitars; but with the electronics side of the world its cutting edge and changes every six months. You have to keep your pulse on both of these worlds, especially with new companies, because if a tiny company starting up catches on fire you can definitely reap the benefits.”
When it comes to forging into the future one of the largest challenges is the competition presented by large conglomerates such as Guitar Center or Amazon.com – a reality that Steve readily acknowledges yet also embraces.
“Amazon is the 1000 pound gorilla in the room,” he admits, “and nobody has really figured out a way to grapple with that animal other than manage their way around it the best they can. We don’t do anything on Amazon but have made decisions with the products that we do present that we focus upon to distinguish ourselves. And of course you can never underplay the importance of service. We offer a better service department than anybody else out there and will service just about anything under the sun.”
“In order to succeed you have to offer something that lets the customer know you can take care of them, as opposed to simply giving them their money back if they experience a problem,” states Steve. “I want to forge personal relationships with our customers that say we can take care of them once they walk out of the door. I believe its called ‘service after the sale’, which is a good catch-phrase but a very real element here at Mid-Michigan.”
One pivotal testimonial to the quality of Mid-Michigan Music can be witnessed by the fact they have a crew of employees that have withstood the test of time. “The crew we have right now is better than any I’ve seen in the past twenty years,” enthuses Steve. “We have a couple of new guys and one employee that has been here for a couple of years, but everybody else has been working here for 10-12 years. Longevity is a testimonial that you don’t witness in a lot of work places and employee turnover is pretty much non-existent here.”
With a long-term and committed work force and four instructors working with students eager to learn their instruments, coupled with their thoughtful choosing of an inventory mix that allows Mid Michigan to fight some of the big chains operating out in the marketplace, Steve is firmly positioning himself at the top of the hill as he moves into the future.
“If you don’t carry items that the competition is carrying, you lose the sales,” he comments. “I believe in letting them advertise both their and your own products, especially if you carry the same items. Many customers come straight to us first on a lot of items because they know they can’t find it elsewhere.”
In terms of music lessons, Steve says the biggest competition on that front is youtube. “People can go on youtube and learn to play an instrument,” he notes, “but we try to convey to anybody considering lessons the advantage of one-on-one instruction as opposed to sitting in front of a glowing rectangle. An instructor can correct what you are doing wrong, which is a huge advantage. If you fix your mistakes today you become a better player. You can’t get feedback between yourself and a screen and it’s a lot like taking a golf lesson. You can’t tell what you’re doing wrong, but an instructor can; plus a screen can’t teach you the tone and feel of an instrument.”
For both Steve Meyers and Rick Allen, this changing of the guard at one of the area’s longest standing and successfully running independent music and pro-audio stores is like turning a page upon which the future is unwritten.
“It’s bittersweet for me because this store has always been my baby and to let it go is really hard,” reflects Rick. “But I also feel like I’ve given it to a great guy. I’ve always been passion-driven with whatever I do and I believe this industry is entirely passion driven. People fall so in love when they are playing music that an incredible bond is developed.”
“When we started working out this transition some employees came to me and were concerned about what was going to happen,” he reflects. “But I told them that Steve was their hope for having a future because I’m at an age now that I can’t guarantee them another 20 years of job security. If something were to happen to me, what would happen to the store? So in reality, Steve is the key to the future.”
“Throughout this whole process I’ve kept my emotions in check fairly well,” admits Steve. “But then a week before we signed the deal the butterflies hit and I realized that this was really going to happen. I’ve never done this before but the best analogy would be skydiving. It’s the most exhilarating and scariest thing at the same time. Frankly, it’s a big deal and I’m very excited about it.”
“The fact that I can fold in the audio installation side that is my own expertise into this operation is an entirely new realm of business for the store. When you get into the world of audio contracting the music store is usually looked at low on the totem pole; but with us the customer is not calling only a music store but also a pro audio contractor. Most stores have an install division, but now we can offer a professional contracting company that happens to also own a music store. It’s really the other way around.”
“My main goal right now is to re-establish my own personal relationships with our customers,” concludes Steve. “When I was over in Bay City I ran into so many old friends it was cool. And I learned a long time ago and challenge anybody to prove me wrong that the three key elements in business that involves selling is relationships, relationships, relationships. If you can get two of those three right you’ll be just fine.”
“So yeah, I want to rebuild my relationships with the local scene and the musicians and community activities and events and become involved with all of that, because we do have this local scene going that is really good. It’s ironic in a way because the music industry to worse than the Mafia in the sense that nobody ever leaves the music industry. Out of the hundred of people I know involved with it I can think of maybe five that have quit it.”
“The changing of the guard has definitely happened and I tip my hat to Rick who spent 30 passionate year in a tough industry and came out successful. He has to be congratulated for his efforts and now we’re set to move forward for another 30 years.”
If you would like to check out the incredible online division available at Mid-Michigan Music then we encourage you to check out the website www.gainstagemusic.com along with the store’s regular website at www.midmichiganmusic.com.