Canadian Music Trade December / January 2023 | Page 22

they can help each other because if there ’ s no books or materials needed , or somebody breaks a guitar string , everything we need is right there . That ’ s how the store helps the school . And the school helps the store for basically the same reason , because our customers that are taking lessons are constantly walking right through the retail store . So , it ’ s the keyboards and guitars , drums , everything that they need .
CMT : For you , how did the pandemic change the way lessons programs are designed and operated long-term , if it did ?
Risko : Well before the pandemic , we were using virtual lessons . Before the pandemic , we were doing that just as a benefit to people taking lessons with us , because they could have all the benefits of a virtual lesson staying at home , not having to travel in bad weather , or be living too far away to drive to us every week . So , what has happened as a result of that is , when we used to use it before the pandemic , at that point , we were really teaching people what things like Zoom , were — people didn ’ t even know what it was . Then during the pandemic , of course , everybody found out what it was because they had to . But what we found , after the pandemic , we had a lot of people that wanted to just continue in virtual lessons because of the convenience . It basically gave us an opportunity to scale more , because now people know what it is . And we have teachers from around the country , and we have students from around the country taking lessons that are in school , virtually .
CMT : With people having more free time to learn an instrument during the pandemic , did you see any unexpected business , and how has this kept up since the pandemic has cooled down ?
Risko : We got a lot of booms in business , during the pandemic , from people that obviously had more free time at that point and wanted to pick up an instrument . More people at this point want to , I think , take their lessons in person , but we still have a very healthy virtual lessons program because so many people love the convenience factor of it .

Pete Gamber

Pete Gamber is an expert on music lessons programs and a regular NAMM U presenter on the topic . He started out working in music retail stores , and after pursuing a degree to teach music , he found he wasn ’ t satisfied teaching in public schools . Gamber ran his own business teaching lessons and running a music retail business until he sold it in 2012 . He remains a leader in teaching music retailers to run successful , profitable , and quality lessons programs within their stores .
CMT : What are the main components of running a successful music lessons program as part of a store ?
Gamber : You have to treat it not as an add on . I always talk about a cupcake . A cupcake doesn ’ t have to have icing and doesn ’ t have to have sprinkles . It ’ s still a cupcake . A lot of music stores treat their lessons like sprinkles , like it ’ d be nice to add sprinkles . The lessons are an ingredient in that cupcake , not the sprinkles or the icing . It ’ s part of the flour or whatever you want to call it — it ’ s part of the cupcake .
I think too many stores treat lessons as if it ’ d be nice and don ’ t treat it as a major component of their store . I treat it like a department , which is an integral part of the store , and if this is not working , the store can fail . I also look at it as your number one product line . Lessons are the only product line that you ’ re not going to have a supply chain issue with . It ’ s not something you ’ re going to say you can ’ t carry anymore because it ’ s the only true brand you have as a music retailer . If you can approach it that way , I find that the lessons are way more successful , get more signups , you have more retention , and it can become a huge part of your business .
CMT : What are the benefits and challenges of operating a lessons program as part of a retail business ?
Gamber : The advantage is you have foot traffic coming . And depending on if you treat your teachers as independent contractors or as employees , one of the number one things I always look at is , even if you have a small print department , it ’ s a huge , huge asset . But you have to stock stuff that the teachers use . The whole thing with retail music is coordinating everything . I think that ’ s the challenge . I think if you don ’ t stock books that the teachers use , you won ’ t sell the books . Did you ever ask the teachers what piano method do they use ? I ’ ve heard that with a lot of other stores , that they don ’ t sell any books . When you get a new teacher on , find out what they use and stock it .
The other thing that I do in that area is cross market . If someone ’ s looking for a beginning guitar book , it means they possibly could be looking for beginner lessons too .
CMT : How can the sales and lessons departments help each other ?
Gamber : Retailers assume that people are going to come in and know they have lessons or they assume that people come in for lessons . And they assume that they ’ re going to buy a product , but there ’ s never this communication of letting the consumer know you teach lessons . You ’ re not talking to students , you ’ re assuming they ’ re going to buy products . You can ’ t assume , you ’ ve got to have some kind of program , some kind of communication . A simple thing that I do is when people call , I use a sort of registration . And the number one thing I have on it is the question , do you have an instrument ? That ’ s the number one question we ask . Retailers are often assuming people are going to have it . Now 50 % don ’ t have an instrument ! They ’ re calling you about lessons and you ’ re assuming they know that you have instruments for sale and they don ’ t . They ’ re going to go to Costco or go on Amazon . A simple question like that can help you communicate , but there ’ s too much assumption .
CMT : For you , how did the pandemic change the way lessons programs are designed and operated long-term , if it did ?
Gamber : During the pandemic , definitely . We found as things loosened up and the calls would come in and we ’ d say , “ Do you want to do online or do you want to come in ?” and 90 % of the people were saying ,