Ben Borkowski of Marich Music and Taylor Harnois discuss how Ben found a way to take his skills as an instrument repair technician and built a successful business.
They discuss how software solutions helped him focus his business and shed the load of paperwork and other hassles. Ben shared what he learned about how to grow a nearly 50 year-old local music shop into a thriving online business using tactics and strategies that you may not have expected.
- Search for technology that helps you fulfill your dream.
- Invest in team members that enable you to differentiate your music shop.
- Figure out what your core competencies are.
- Let technology solve your problems.
- Automate what you can.
- I’m going to tell you what I did before Music Shop 360. I spent hours and hours combing the web for any kind of rental management software. I tried everything. I did so many demos. I tried so many different things.
- Nothing can replace a good repair technician. They’re indispensable for music stores, brick and mortar stores.
- I love customers. I love talking about music gear with people. That’s one of the best parts of the job. And I love working on instruments. I want to spend as much time doing the things I love and as little time as possible on the other things.
- Two years ago, I paid a lesson coordinator, you know, for several, you know, several hours each week you know, year round to manage, you know, take all the people, parents who want lessons and match them up with a teacher and, you know, handle getting the billing information and everything. And it was semi automated once we got to that point, but you needed something to, you know, kind of handle all of that.
- You got to have dependable software that can streamline your process, automate everything, anything you can get a robot to do, get the robot to do it.
Ben Borkowski’s mother and father in law opened Marich Music in 1974. After studying instrument repair at Minnesota State College, Ben Borkowski bought the business from them in 2019, which turned out to be a very interesting time to start a retail business.
[00:00:00] Taylor: All right, everybody, welcome back to another edition of the Music Shop Podcast. I’m your host, Taylor Harnois. We are very excited to have with us today Ben Borkowski with Marriage Music coming in from New York. How are you today, Ben?
[00:00:35] Ben: I’m great. It’s finally a nice day and there’s no more wildfire smoke coming down from Canada, so.
[00:00:43] Taylor: It’s made its way into other places, I think. But yeah, you guys were struggling for quite a while, so glad to hear you’re breathing, breathing well now, so it’s great.
[00:00:51] Ben: Yeah, it’s a great day here.
[00:00:53] Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. Corning is kind of an interesting place. So let’s, you know, here in the West we’re out of Utah. So looking at the map, like, I’m not quite sure what to say. I don’t know if I say upstate New York, cause you’re definitely not in the city, but you’re also not really upstate. You’re kind of in the center. What do you guys say out there? Whereabouts in New York are you?
[00:01:13] Ben: All right. So, well, our particular region is called the Finger Lakes region.
[00:01:17] Taylor: Okay.
[00:01:17] Ben: There’s 11 lakes in total. They’re a mile or two wide, but they’re, some of them are 35 miles long, and they just kind of, kind of cut across it, and if you look at it on the map on New York State, you’ll just see it looks like fingers on a hand. And so that’s where we’re located, I guess. I mean, it would be like Southern central. The whole region is getting a lot of attention for wine industry.
[00:01:45] Taylor: Oh, really? Okay.
[00:01:46] Ben: Yeah. Even the California wineries are buying up a lot of real estate here because I mean, we have an unlimited supply of water, California does not. Yeah. So, yeah, it’s a good place to be.
And Corning is just below the middle finger. If you look on the map and you see the fingers, find the middle finger and then just go a little bit south. That’s where you’re gonna find us.
[00:02:12] Taylor: Seems appropriate.
[00:02:12] Ben: Yeah. Yeah. There you go.
[00:02:13] Taylor: That’s cool. Uh, That’s funny. Well, good. Well, yeah, we’re super excited to chat with you. We um, so just to kind of clue everybody in or give a little bit more context, we had a chance to chat with Ben and his team a little bit out at NAMM here back in April. Yep. It’s been a few months now. And as we were chatting with him, we talked quite a bit about his rentals program, and we thought it would be a good idea to kind of do more of a long version of the interview and give a little bit more context there.
And so, we are going to shift a little bit today. You know, in the past for people of, you know, our regular audience, you know, we frequently talk to a lot of stores across the country and get some of their history and kind of some of the unique things that they are doing. And that’s always been really fantastic.
We loved hearing those unique stories. We’re going to shift gears a little bit and that we want to focus on, kind of, one specific area that the store is doing well, or they’ve been very successful with. And so we thought Marich Music might be a good opportunity to talk about running a successful rentals program and online school rentals and that sort of thing.
And so, yeah, like I said, we’re very excited to have you with us today, Ben. So if you would give us a little bit of background on, on Marich Music you know, what you guys do there, kind of highlights of the business, how’d you get started and that sort of thing. Yeah. A little bit of background.
[00:03:32] Ben: Yeah. So Marich, first of all, we have to start with the name. Marich is not a family name. It was Marilyn and Richard. Who kind of merged their first names?
[00:03:43] Taylor: Got it.
[00:03:44] Ben: Those are my mother and father in law and they opened the store in 1974. And I bought the business from them in 2019, which turned out to be a very bad year to get into a business like this.
Wow. Yeah. Yeah. So, um. I’ve kind of gone through the ringer, this whole thing, and my personal background, and this is kind of cool, but, is instrument repair. So I went to Minnesota State College up in Red Wing, for band instrument repair; brass and woodwind, it’s kind of my thing. I love working with my hands. I love fixing things.
So I, you know, I bounced around. I worked for a couple larger music stores around we lived in Minnesota, we lived in North Carolina, then we moved back here to Corning, my wife and I. We decided to take this step and run the music store as well. It’s been quite a ride and you know, I can tell you flat out, my background is, like I said, I’m a repair guy who learned very quickly how to run a business and how to survive, you know, a global pandemic and, you know, all of that, it’s crazy.
It’s crazy. And so I, you know, I spent part of my, you know, I spend the day during the hours that were open working on the business and handling all of those other things and then after hours, like I come in early in the morning, we don’t open here until noon. And so those hours in the morning, I’m the repair guy, so I’m kind of, kind of doing both things.
[00:05:26] Taylor: Yeah, I mean, you sound like a business owner, right? I mean, you’ve got a lot of irons in the fire and having to do a lot of different things to be successful. Now, I guess what we’re hoping is that the skill sets you picked up of running a business during a pandemic, hopefully we never have to tap into those skills again, but boy, what a time to start a business. And uh, you talk about trial by fire, right? I mean, really learning on the run there. That’s pretty interesting.
Now one of the things that I saw on your website that was really interesting, and I think it actually plays quite a bit into what our discussion is going to be about today is your mission statement. And it’s more to start, fewer to quit playing music. I love that. More to start, fewer to quit playing music.
[00:06:11] Ben: Yeah and that comes directly from NAMM, you know, that’s why NAMM’s big mission statements, but it’s perfect. I mean, that encapsulates our entire industry. That’s it. Our world is never going to be worse off with more musicians. It transcends language, transcends religion. The closest we’re ever going to get to world peace is music, hands down.
[00:06:34] Taylor: you know, in speaking of, the pandemic and one of the positives or silver linings of it is I do feel like it brought a lot of new players into the space or a lot of people who wanted to start learning, picking up new hobbies cause they couldn’t go do all the things that they were used to doing and so, you know, having that kind of idea of, Hey, let’s get a lot of people going in this, but then we can’t lose them out the back door. We can’t, you know, they need to stay here. They need to become you know, players and really pick this. It needs to become more than a hobby, you know? Or something that just kind of comes and goes.
So, I thought that was fantastic. I love that tagline: “more to start, fewer to quit playing music.” And rentals to me, rentals are a really big part of that. And like I said, today, we’re going to talk a little bit more extensively about your rentals program and specifically your online rentals program.
so I kind of want to gear it towards that. It’s like, you know, what’s this experience like for new players or people who are learning these instruments? What’s it like for parents who are involved in the rentals process? What’s it like working with schools and that sort of thing.
And I think all of that discussion revolves around getting more people to start in music and having fewer of them again, walk out the back door. So that kind of sets the table for what our discussion is going to be today. So, with that being said, I kind of want to ask a little bit, you gave us some background on the store itself and that sort of thing. Rental specifically, how long has the store been doing rentals? How long have you guys had a rental program?
[00:08:01] Ben: Okay, so, that one I’m not totally sure about, but years and years, however, I should say we were basically working as a third, we had a third party involved that owned the instruments, and then they got shipped to us, and they signed a contract with us, and we got a commission out of that, but at the time we weren’t really, the store wasn’t equipped to manage its own rental fleet.
I mean, historically there were all sorts of things, right? Someone basically would have to, you know, keep track of payments, you know, even with credit cards, you know, recurring payments and that kind of thing, that’s all just recent. The technology has really changed since I don’t know, 17, 18, somewhere in there, you know, chip cards and contactless payments, that kind of thing, and e-commerce, you know, I think that’s, you know, e-commerce has changed the entire retail landscape. So when I came in 2019, it was like, okay, well, I think that was the problem with the business is like, okay, well, retail is failing. And so many other small, and I have to say this, we are a very small music store.
And you know, I’m going to guess that in our county, probably humans are outnumbered by livestock. So we’re talking, you know, it is a small area. So our city proper is maybe about 10,000 and our metro area is maybe 25,000. Okay. Okay. It’s not a large area by any means.
So, you know, everything we’re talking about is happening on a small scale, but it’s all scalable now. Yeah. We started with a third party you know, providing the instruments. Yep. Now, I knew when I took over the business, that one of my first goals was like, okay, we need our own rental fleet.
For one, I’m able to service them myself. I don’t have to pay any employees or anything to, you know, to clean up instruments, to fix broken instruments, et cetera, et cetera. That’s, I think, probably the biggest barrier that companies face if, you know, they’re deciding to do a band instrument rental fleet.
[00:10:12] Taylor: The maintenance piece of it.
[00:10:14] Ben: The maintenance piece And nothing can be, you know, I could speak from you know, my experience, but nothing can replace a good repair technician. They’re indispensable for music stores, brick and mortar stores.
[00:10:28] Taylor: Absolutely.
[00:10:29] Ben: So I have that going for my advantage And the next thing, the next puzzle piece is like, okay, how are we going to track everyone’s payments? You know, what do you know, how do you keep track of all this stuff? And so that was the big software struggle.
Yeah. And at the time we were using Square for our register because it was free, I mean, you know, minus the credit card processing. There was no way to manage it that way and what I decided I wanted to do was I wanted to, you know, they signed a contract online, they’re signing up for recurring payments.
Our other company, they would, you know, you fill out a paper contract, they would do a credit check, they pass the credit check, you know, that kind of a thing. And you could, you know, you could come in with a payment booklet and make your payments that way, or you could put a credit card and there were too many options.
And I get rid of all that. And I said, Nope, I’m just going to do credit card. And I just, I want it to be as simple and as hands off as possible because where I’m going to make up for that is on the surface side of things. You know, I’m going to have more time to, if someone’s instrument breaks, I want to be able to fix it right on the spot.
And we do have that. If you have any problem with your rental instrument, you bring it in. If we cannot fix it on the spot or within 24 hours, we issue you either a new instrument or we give you a loaner instrument. Yeah. I can’t tell you any time in the last two years that I had to issue a loaner instrument.
[00:12:00] Taylor: Wow.
[00:12:01] Ben: Something comes in, it’s top priority and I’m able to work on that because software is working for me, you know, so that’s, that’s a, you know, that was a big one. And I’m going to tell you what I did before Music Shop 360. I spent hours and hours combing the web for any kind of rental management software. I tried everything. I did so many demos. I tried so many different things and they were all expensive. They all, you know, were lacking something, you know, either they wouldn’t track serial numbers or, you know, and our particular program is a rent to own. Yeah. Which also, you know, adds complexity to the software and finding something where, you know, you could do a rent to own where we start automatic payments and then end when they reach the purchase price of the instrument, kind of a thing. Yeah. And I got, I was so frustrated. It was incredible. Everything was missing something. Music Shop 360 did basically have most of that, which was great. But to be honest with you, it was expensive. Okay. I looked at it and at the price that Music Shop 360 costs, I wasn’t in a place, you know, three years ago, you know, I was nine months in when COVID hit owning a business. And I could not afford it. I just could, I couldn’t afford it. There was no way it was going to happen. I was that tight for money. I was so stretched for money.
What I ended up doing was I hired a programmer, WooCommerce programmer. I paid him about $2,000 and they wrote out, basically, I said, here’s what I want to do. I want to do rent to own. They’re going to sign a contract. you know, it’s going to bill them this much each month and then, Oh, the other thing is the, you know, the monthly maintenance, you know, an insurance fee and that kind of thing. So I ended up going that route and it barely worked. Okay. It did what I wanted to, but it was not flexible. You know, the way the code was written, it wasn’t pretty, I couldn’t go in and, you know, add pictures and text and that kind of a thing. So it was just a rough shell that barely did what I wanted it to do. And I actually still that’s on its third year right now, and I still have just a small handful of rental instruments that are still on that and they will age, yeah, they’ll age out in the next couple of months because all of those will have converted to a purchase and then I can finally be done with it.
So, so yeah, You know, and at that point I didn’t, you know, I didn’t know what the response was going to be when we first bought our own fleet. I had to kind of estimate like, okay, for us, for a small store, it was a huge investment.
[00:15:00] Taylor: Oh yeah.
[00:15:00] Ben: I mean, those instruments, it was crazy. Yeah. A crazy leap of faith. And the response was overwhelming. We were upwards of 90% rented our entire fleet.
[00:15:12] Taylor: Really?
[00:15:13] Ben: Yeah, and school doesn’t start here until after labor day, but I would say by the first week in October I mean, we were out of clarinets, we were out of flutes, we’re out of trumpets. Like I had a handful of, you know, maybe elbow saxes left or something like that. But we were fully rented. And at that point we just said, well, sorry, but I think that, you know, that gave people incentive. And then, you know, then came the summer and we said, Hey, make sure you reserve your instrument today. And there was, you know, think if we think back to the summer of 21, there was a huge supply shortage, right? You couldn’t even get instruments from manufacturers. Okay. So all of this was happening and, you know, and now I think, you know, people are like, oh, it’s, you know, school’s going to start in a month. We need to reserve our instrument now. So that’s working for us. So the whole point, coming around to Music Shop 360 was, after that first year, you know, everything was rented and things were starting to, you know, I think pretty much everyone will tell you, you don’t turn a profit your first year, like best case scenario.
[00:16:22] Taylor: Tough to do. Yeah.
[00:16:23] Ben: You break even, right? But after that first year, I was finally starting to see the revenue come in from that and it’s not insignificant. Yeah. I mean, it’s great revenue and that’s why a lot of music stores are doing it, right? Yeah. And at that point it was a no brainer, like, wow, I can just, you know, at that point I looked at Music Shop 360. It did everything I needed it to for rentals and I’ll tell you that’s besides the website and the point of sale and everything. In fact we even considered just using Music Shop 360 for rentals and keeping our Square system and everything in the store in tact. It was worth the price for the software just to manage rentals.
[00:17:12] Taylor: Just for the rentals piece, yeah.
[00:17:14] Ben: Just for that. Everything else was just bonus. And and then we, you know, and we thought about it, I was like, okay, well, you know what? It’s not going to hurt. Let’s do this. We’d get better reporting, tracking inventory. I love, like, online ordering. We do a ton of repair here. So the work orders module, we use the heck out of that. Just constantly, it’s great. We can assign technicians. You can, you know, you click a button and see what’s going on in the shop. Hey, how’s Brett doing on his string? You know, I can click a button and see what’s in progress. What are we waiting on parts for? What are we waiting for customer approval for? This stuff is beautiful! And like I said, I’m approaching all of this from, that’s all bonus. It’s worth it. It’s worth paying for Music Shop 360 solely to manage your rental fleet.
[00:18:02] Taylor: Just for the rentals. Yeah.
[00:18:03] Ben: It’s amazing. I don’t have to worry about that stuff. And if someone’s card gets declined or whatever, I, you know, I’ll have a notification, it sends them an email, they enter in their new, it just takes care of itself. I barely have to do anything. I show up to a couple of schools for rental nights. And that’s it. And in fact just the fact that they do all of that online. In fact, we have a computer downstairs on our sales floor. Someone comes in to rent an instrument, they can go to that kiosk and do it right from our website. When we go to schools, we have a QR code on a banner. some of our other competing companies that come to these band nights, they’re handing everyone, you know, a booklet with information about how it works and a, you know, a three ply contract and a pen to fill all that stuff out. And I hand them a card with a QR code and it takes them to our website. There’s a cute little video. We did a nice video that, you know, in two minutes explains everything you need to know as a parent about renting a band instrument for your kid.
They watch the video, they reserve it right on their phone and, you know, at the end of the band rental night, you know, some other parents are waiting in line at the other tables, blah, blah, blah, blah, but my phone just dings every time I have a new rental. I get a text message alert and says, hey, you have a new trombone rental.
My phone’s just, you know, I’m, I’m not, I don’t have a bunch of stuff to pack up those nights. And my phone is just going bing, great. It just, it takes care of everything for me.
[00:19:37] Taylor: Well, that’s the end of our podcast. You covered everything. That’s it.
[00:19:42] Ben: Exactly. Exactly.
[00:19:43] Taylor: No, that’s awesome. That’s really cool. You did cover quite a bit of some of the things I want to talk to you about so we’ll circle back on some of those and you actually, right out of the gate, you got into something that was kind of at the end of what I wanted to cover with you, but I want to jump there anyway, since you talked about it first.
So, it’s been interesting. So, I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of people who have not made the switch to Music Shop 360. You know, a lot of people are looking at the system, looking for a better way to do things and that sort of thing. One of the things that we see often is that there are a large number of stores who are in your exact situation where they either a don’t have a rentals program for numerous reasons, one of them being is they can’t afford a fleet or they don’t want to manage a fleet or they don’t have somebody to repair it. You know, whatever the case may be, they don’t have a rentals program. That’s one group of people.
Another group of people are those who are doing what you did, where yes, they offer a rentals program, but it’s not really their rental program. They’re outsourcing it to another company and then collecting, you know, a cut of the revenue there. Not nearly as much as they would like, but they are getting some revenue from it, but it’s being managed by a third party. And then you have the folks who do have a rental program who have taken that step, but due to lack of tools or whatever it may be their programs are not running really efficiently and sometimes it’s even costing them money to have the program going. They’re not generating the revenue when you account for all the time they’re investing into it and that sort of thing.
So you see those kind of buckets of people. Who are all at, kind of, different places on the spectrum of, you know, having a rental program. And so that was interesting to hear that one of the very first things that came in for that you want to do when you came in was streamlining that process and getting it to a spot that it would allow you to go do the things that you wanted to spend your time on, whether that was working with customers and for you, it’s doing a work order service and repair, you know, providing a really high level of customer service on that front. But streamlining as much of this rentals game as you can to allow you to go do what you actually want to do with your store.
So we see the path that you took. What advice would you give to somebody who’s in each one of those buckets? Somebody who’s doing a third party thing, they don’t have a program or maybe they do have a program and it’s really struggling.
[00:22:06] Ben: Well, one, it is, it’s a huge financial investment. I kind of come from the… I love customers. I love talking about music gear with people. That’s one of the best parts of the job. And I love working on instruments. I want to spend as much time doing the things I love and as little time as possible on the other things. So, you know, as far as software goes and it’s same thing with our lesson program, we were using my music staff or our lesson program that was before, I think, yeah, before the integration with Music Shop 360 and same thing. So anything, you know, prior to two years ago, I paid a lesson coordinator, you know, for several, you know, several hours each week you know, year round to manage, you know, take all the people, parents who want lessons and match them up with a teacher and, you know, handle getting the billing information and everything. And it was semi automated once we got to that point, but you needed something to, you know, kind of handle all of that.
Anything that does not generate direct revenue that can be done by a robot you know, it has to go. So that was, you know, everything now you want to take a lesson with us, great. You go online you sign up for an account and you book it yourself. And it’s all, you know, it’s all prepaid. You enter in your credit card, you read the automatic payments or whatever.
We don’t have a lesson coordinator anymore and the software is doing a better job than a human could do. I mean, there’s just so much to keep track of, you know. But the robot does a great job. So I, you know, in that same vein with instrument rentals, you need, as far as the third party goes, it does require a human. It requires a good repair technician who can service your stuff.
And even if that has to, prior to me being here, when we lived out of state, even this music store, just sent their instruments to another music store to get them repaired, you know? So, you know, you can do that. It’s okay. The point of that is You’re still going to make money. Even if you have to pay full price for repairs from someone else, it’s still profitable running a rental business if you have your own fleet. It’s still profitable. You know, especially, you know, we have an extra monthly charge, you know, we have the rent, but then we have a 5 monthly charge. You know, for each instrument and that covers, you know, maintenance and that kind of thing. So that’s, you know, you look at that’s 60 a year with a brand new instrument, I’m probably, I mean, beyond a cleaning, maybe the customer brings it in for cleaning over the summer, a brand new instruments, not going to need repairs more likely than not in the first two years. Yeah. After that, yes, it may need some servicing.
Now this is assuming you’re renting quality instruments. Okay. And I don’t, you know, I’m not wasting time with the others, so I can’t really tell you what that is, but you’re renting a quality instrument. Basically you know, beyond cleaning and small little things here and there, it’s not going to need really a ton of maintenance to it. You need someone that can, you know, turn them around if you get a rental return to get it ready for another customer, that kind of a thing. And by the time they get to the point where they might need some maintenance or light maintenance, we’ll call it, you know, because we have an instrument that’s maybe, what, three years old now. It might need some light maintenance. The instrument is paid off. It’s paid for and the customer now owns it. So the customer is going to come to you and pay you full price for the repair anyway.
Yeah. You know, so, looking at that, you know, I think the only way it works is if you have access to band instrument repair that is trustworthy. You got someone who is going to do a good job. Okay. Beyond that, I mean, that’s it. I mean, you’re, you got to take a risk. You got to have dependable software that can streamline your process, automate everything, anything you can get a robot to do, get the robot to do it.
And then you know, yeah, there’s a huge startup cost at that. You can, I mean, pretty much, I think there’s a general consensus, you know, usually about a year into a rental program, you start to break even.
[00:26:50] Taylor: Start to turn it. Yeah.
[00:26:53] Ben: For us, it’s either 10 or 11 months. It varies from instrument to instrument, but 10 to 11 months Where the instrument is paid for, and now we’re starting to profit. So even, you know, if you’re a community music store, you can go to your community bank, say, you know, hey, we need 30 grand to do this thing, put it on a 12 month, you know, you could do a short term loan, put it on a 12 month loan, okay, and go to them and say, here’s what we want to do. Yes, you’re not going to turn a profit until, you know, it’s paid back. Okay. But you know, even with interest rates going up, I can’t see that being an issue after, you know, after 12 months.
Now, everything there, you have, you know, customers are either going to keep renting the instrument and you start turning a profit or they’re going to return it and then you get to turn around and re-rent that to someone else and it’s paid for now, okay? So, you know, that first year is rough. The second year you’re getting the profit from year one, right? But then you’re also going to spend another 30 grand to get more instruments for year two, right? So you’re kind of repeating the whole thing over.
So, you know, basically, and we’re starting year four now. So year three is great. You still have some income from year one, you still have income from year two. The profits for those, if you earmark that and you set it aside, pays for year three’s instruments. You’re not having to finance that or anything. Okay. Then at that point, you know, and on year four, now you’ve got year one, year two. I think, you know, most of our instruments pay off between two and three years. So you’re still going to get some residuals there, but I’m basically at my max kind of profit cycle right now. So yes, if you’re doing, you know, if you’re doing third party, like I said, we were doing it and it was nice to have a little bit of, you know, cashflow for the little amount of work that we did with them.
But it’s a night and day difference. And I think, you know, customers like knowing like, Hey, the, you know, these instruments are from this store, they’re for this store they don’t see another company on the byline of your contract or that kind of a thing and it also gives me liberty to, you know, be flexible with parents maybe around Christmas time they want to, you know, convert it to a purchase or something.
We can offer incentives that the third party can’t, you know. We can do those kinds of things. You get a lot more freedom from having your own rental fleet and either way you look at it, if you know, if you run the numbers, even with today’s interest rates, it’s still profitable.
It’s still a good idea. Yeah, the first year it’s going to, it’s going to hurt your cash flow probably a little bit. Like I said, second year it gets better, third year it’s great. And now just having that passive income, everything’s automated. Like I said, everything’s going to be in Music Shop 360 after the next couple of months. I can just see all of that in one place on a revenue report. It’s all right there. I can keep track of everything. It’ll do serial number history. It’ll show me, you know, how many previous people, all of that. It’s great. It sounds overwhelming, but you know, I think now the technology is finally caught up where yes, you, a small music store owner could actually do this. You can actually do this yourself now.
[00:30:29] Taylor: Yeah. I mean, you really, again, you really kind of nailed it with it’s about, maximizing your efficiency while also decreasing your cost, right? And the time cost as well that you’re putting into that. And that’s the design of a system like Music Shop 360 is look, we’re going to automate all of your billing. You’re not having to chase delinquent accounts all the time. The system’s going to handle a lot of that for you. They put the card on file, it charges that so you’re not having to chase the payments. You just watch the revenue come in.
Now, of course, there’s a lot of work that goes into that. There’s a commitment, financial commitment upfront to get the products in and that sort of thing. But at the end of the day, I mean, if your game is, it’s a long term game of, Hey, we don’t want to be around for a year or two years. This is something that we want to be doing you know, since 1974, like you guys you know, it takes that longer view of, Hey, we need to make a sacrifice now, put in the work now to be able to reach the benefits.
Now the cool thing is like, you know, you speak on the longevity of a business, somebody who’s been in business since 1974. Well, I wanted a two year commitment to make this really great profitable, you know, component of your business. That’s not a long time. It really isn’t. You know, when you look at the grand scheme of things, well, if you can work through years one and two, and then from there, it’s becomes a whole lot easier for, and you’re seeing that revenue coming in and you’re not having to go to the banks every time you need to make an investment in a new fleet and everything like that.
Boy, What a great thing to do early on in a business to help you be successful. And I think to be honest with you it’s a fear of a lot of those unknowns that’s kept stores from even doing the third party thing. They don’t, they just, you know, they look at rentals like, wow that’s kind of this abstract idea that my store is too small. We’ll never get to that point. The tools and you hit, you said this multiple times, the tools are available to you today for you to be successful in doing this.
[00:33:34] Ben: Yes!
[00:33:35] Taylor: If you’ll make the commitment to getting it done.
[00:33:37] Ben: And I’m not like, I mean, don’t get me wrong. We are, we have been barely making it, you know, since COVID, like, yeah, it’s been rough.
Yeah. And, you know, and right after the Olympics, when the Ukraine thing started. And inflation shot up, it was looking even worse. I can tell you without a doubt, if we did not have our own rental fleet, we would have been out of business by now. We wouldn’t have made it. We would not have made it without that monthly income coming in.
So speaking to those small music store owners, You can’t afford not to. Your retail sales, Well, maybe they’ll go up, but your profit margin is going to keep going down. Okay. Everybody’s going to, everyone’s going direct to consumer. You’re going to, I mean, our retail and our store breaks even. We’re not making money selling stuff. It’s, you know, it’s our repair shop, you know, that’s kind of my thing that I love doing. So, that’s our big focus, and then lessons, and rentals that’s where the money comes in. As a brick and mortar store, we say store, but it’s just, it’s a, you know, sometimes I joke that it’s like an amazon. com showroom, you know. Like people come in and they’ll try our guitars and then they go home and buy it online, you know, but you can’t count on that.
But yeah, you know, when you are renting to a student, when you are renting to a family, You know, that has two fourth graders or something, and they have someone in town that they can trust and they can come, they can ask questions. Okay. And you make that connection. You know, they’re going to come in for lessons. If they, if something happens with their instrument, they’re going to get it repaired here. You know, they’re going to rent their instrument from you. All of those things that’s where, you know, it’s all it, for me, it’s all about service. I can’t count on any retail to turn a profit anymore and I don’t plan on it. I carry stuff. Yeah. I carry stuff to get people through the door.
[00:35:41] Taylor: To check the box, say we do it, we offer it.
[00:35:43] Ben: I carry just a little bit of everything. I hang them. It, you know, it kind of pays for the space that it’s in, but I’m not counting on that for a profit because I know where my profit centers are and they’re all in service. They’re all in service. Yeah.
[00:36:00] Taylor: I want to go back to one of the things that you mentioned about uh, so, school nights, rental nights out of the schools and that idea. So, I’ve done this before. I have children who have started school, school band and that sort of thing and boy, you talk about something that’s not typically a great experience for renters and parents.
How has that changed for you? I mean, this is something obviously that you kind of started with offering this online, but you mentioned that you’re walking in with a different offering set than what some other people are. You’re not going in with tri-copies and receipts and handwriting everything out.
These folks are doing it all online. Right. I mean, you’re, and you have that kiosk at the store. So what’s that night like for you and you’ve, you talked about a little bit, but if you could expand a little bit, what’s that like for a parent who’s working with a store that’s utilizing a system like you are versus a parent who’s who’s in a different situation. They’re renting for a child and from a store that’s not using any of these automated tools.
[00:37:04] Ben: Sure. Well, for one, the pitch is a lot longer you know, for the other stores and, you know, holding up the contract and showing you, you know, okay, this is, you know, this is information. This is how it works.
And I can basically say, I can walk up there and say yeah, ours is basically what that guy said. But you can just do it on your phone right now. You can just do it while you’re sitting here waiting, going through all the other stuff. Like, I mean, parents, You know, and we’re talking about rentals, like it’s, you know, it’s the greatest thing for music stores.
Okay. You know, and we’re making money on it, but guess what? It is is the best thing for the parents too. Okay. They’re not buying a garbage instrument from an online retailer. They’re getting a good quality instrument. If their kid wants to switch instruments or God forbid, they decide they’re going to quit, okay, they are not stuck with an instrument. Okay. Our rental program is fantastic for families. Absolutely. No, Hey, you, all of the money you pay in rent can we do that. So it’s a hundred percent all the money you pay in rent goes towards the purchase price of the instrument. you can convert it to a buy out and you save a bunch of money because we’re basically kind of financing it for you.
So, you know, the sooner you pay it off, the less you’re going to pay, but it’s a great advantage for parents, you know, you play clarinet, you know, I, this happened, it doesn’t happen here, but when, you know, the music store I worked for down in North Carolina sixth grade, you could play clarinet, trumpet, or flute and it didn’t matter, like, if you want to play alto sax, that’s fine. You get started on clarinet, you know, for the first year kind of thing. Which to me just, you know, it goes every against everything that I’m for in music. Okay. But there are, you know, there are districts out there that do that kind of thing. I know some in Florida. I know of a couple in Wyoming that do that, and that’s just reality because they can only afford so many teachers, and they streamline it, and one teacher who can teach those three does those three, you know?
So, you know, what about that person, you know, they need a clarinet to play at home, but ultimately they want to go to a saxophone. Well, great. You rent the clarinet for the first year, trade it in for a saxophone, and all the money you paid for the clarinet goes to the saxophone. There are so many advantages. There’s so many advantages for the families too. So it’s not, you know, we’re making it sound like it’s the lifeblood of, you know, of my music business anyway. But it’s so good for the families. It’s a win for everyone. Yeah, so I think, you know, when you get there to that night, the parent is anxious and they’re thinking, there’s one thing on their mind, how much is this going to cost me, you know, and I think…
[00:39:52] Taylor: and how quick can I get out of here?
[00:39:54] Ben: Yes, exactly. And instead of, you know, you fill out the forms and then we’ll, you know, do a credit check or whatever. Hey, just a QR code, you know. A business card. I don’t need a flyer, I don’t need contracts. Whatever a business card with a QR code does it Or a banner with a QR code. You’re used to filling out credit card info on your phone constantly.
With everything else in your life. So why shouldn’t it be what should be any different? Okay. Yeah So I think that’s so easy. You just sit in your seat while the band teacher is rambling on about, you know, lessons or whatever, just write your instrument right there and we’ll deliver it to you. Now we deliver it to the school the next day or you can come, you know, You get a choice you can pick it up in the store or we’ll deliver it to the school for you And what it’s so easy.
It’s all done. It’s all right there. You know, all the terms and conditions, everything gets emailed to them instantly. They have a copy of it. They get their serial number, they get, you know, a digital copy of the serial number. So if their kid loses it or whatever, they know, you know, where to look for that.
It’s all right there. It’s so convenient for everyone involved. It’s better when it’s time to take advantage of the technology.
[00:41:06] Taylor: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:41:08] Ben: Yeah. That’s what it boils down to.
[00:41:10] Taylor: That’s the bottom line. Yeah. And you’re really a step ahead of me. I mean, these are all questions I had lined up to kind of asking you, you’re hitting each one of them before I get to
[00:41:19] Ben: them.
I warned you, I like to talk. So…
[00:41:21] Taylor: No, but this is exactly what I wanted to talk about. It’s again, it goes back to you’ve got to create a unique experience for your customers. And in this case, it’s the parents, they need to have that same type of experience. And when they do, they’re going to come back to you for everything else that they need music related, because they had a really great experience with you when their kid very first got started playing an instrument. And again, I think, you know, that perfectly.
One of the other things that you kind of, started alluding to, but I want to ask a little bit more and then we’ll get close to wrapping up. But developing relationships with band directors, schools, school districts, and that sort of thing, how have you gone about doing that? What’s your game plan there? What’s the secret to, you know, the secret sauce on that?
[00:42:05] Ben: Oh. I’ll let you know when I find it! I try to introduce myself, but look, as I, you know, we are such a small store. It is me, two part-time employees. I think I have like five or six teachers. But I’m the one who’s here all the time. We’re not a big enough company. We don’t have a road rep. We don’t have someone going out and around. we’ll try to make phone calls and, or emails and say, Hey, just so you know, I’m here. If there’s anything I can do for you, you know, and I will, you know, if, you know, you need me to pick up some instruments that need to be repaired or whatever, you know, I don’t give them the business line. I give them my cell phone. Yeah. That is one difference. It’s, like I said, it’s a small enough community, but that we can, that I can actually do that, you know, manage that.
[00:42:59] Taylor: Well, but that’s a situation that a lot of these stores are in, right? It’s not only you running your store, you also have to be the ed rep. Right? You also have to be that road rep who’s out making these connections and that sort of thing. And that’s not an easy game. It really isn’t.
[00:43:14] Ben: And I have to be a parent and a member of the community and, you know, all those other things and again, it comes down to, hey let’s automate this. I have a dedicated email address. And only, you know, only the school band directors get and you know, if they ever need anything, they shoot me a line on that or they have my cell phone and, Hey, I’m here for you. And you know, to me, that’s the extent of it. I don’t have school contracts. So I’m not like an exclusive anything, you know, and our state, it’s a little funny how school districts are allowed to go about that kind of thing. So, you know, it is what it is.
And, you know, I do have competitors. I mean, there’s, I have a competitor I say competitor, but they’re also a great music store too. And I know those guys and they’re great. They’re great people. They’re a larger chain and they have a road rep that, you know, goes around to the school that’s two blocks from my house. You know, and, you know, they’re looking for business that way too. And, you know, but again, you know, if you can, if a band director can wait, well, you know, wait for the Tuesday or the one week, one day of the week that the bus comes and then, you know, take it far away and have it repaired and then wait for it to come back on the bus. You know, that’s one thing, or, you know, you can send a text and say, Oh, Hey, I have a problem, whatever. And, you know, I live around the block from the school. Hey, just, you know, drop it in my garage. Here’s the code and I’ll bring it in the morning and work on it and I’ll deliver it back to the school.
You know? So, you know, there’s some of that just, you want to make it as easy as possible, I think that’s, you know. That’s it. You know, teachers are just, they’re getting crushed with responsibility. They’re losing their prep time. They’re losing their planning time. They’re expected to do more hours, more paperwork. It’s not gonna get any easier for them and so anything you can do to take a load well, really off of anybody the teachers, the students, the parents it’s all about easy. That’s the game. I don’t want to spend those band nights. I don’t want to spend the time explaining to you how the program works and blah, blah, blah, blah.
No, you just do that online. I’d rather, you know, talk about your, you know, how’d your kid’s soccer game go last night? Like, I want to talk to you as a member of the community. Yeah. Cause that’s what’s important to me. The rest is, you know, just make it as easy as you can.
[00:45:48] Taylor: Yeah, and that’s one of the kind of the unique positions of Music Shop 360 as well as like, a store like yours has access to the same exact tools that, you know, we have stores that are 10, 11 locations that have a big staff of ed reps that are out doing, you know, hustling business. You’re all using the same tools. You have access to the same tools that one of those 10 or 11 locations stores is utilizing. And it really, again, it comes down to those two things, streamlining operations, making it efficient for you. So you can spend time doing the things you want to do, making life easy for the students, making life easy for the parents, making life easy for the schools and the teachers. And that’s really it. And that’s the name of the game. So, yeah, that’s awesome.
Last thing before we wrap up you’d also mentioned you know, delivering Instruments and that sort of thing. That’s also been one of the, kind of, cool things that we’ve seen is the flexibility and the usage of stores and offering different fulfillment options. So, whether it’s local delivery, order online, pick up in store, or we’re going to bring it to your school tomorrow, that’s a big deal too. And as, as a parent, again, speaking from a parent’s point of view to have those options available to me, that was a big deal when I was trying to figure out, okay, well, where am I going to rent this this instrument for my child, how am I going to actually go pick it up or get it fulfilled? And that’s what I elected to do. I went to, you know, we have a local store who’s using Music Shop 360. I went online, did exactly what you talked about, ordered it online, walked in the store, and walked away with my instrument. I’d done all the work before I even walked in. And so that was awesome. What’s that situation like, or how has that changed? What unique things are you doing on the fulfillment side to draw people in that way? Or is that not a big deal? What, I mean, what are your thoughts there?
[00:47:33] Ben: And now I’m going to circle back to something you touched on. Like I said you know, I hired a programmer to, you know, write this code to manage my rental stuff on WooCommerce. That was not scalable and we did find the first year, but it was not scalable. Music Shop 360 is like you said, places with 11 locations. To me, knowing that, Hey, the sky’s the limit. You can grow with this, you know, everything that’s in there is built for that. It’s built for you to grow. So that’s a good thing. Yes. As far as fulfillment options. I think, you know, last year it’s just me a lot of the time.
So, you know, when I went to a band night at a school that was, you know, 20 minutes away, I said, Hey, if you order it, you know, if you order it by Friday, I’m going to make a delivery on Friday with all the school instruments. Make it by Friday. I’ll bring it right to the school. If it’s after that, come pick it up at the store, kind of a thing.
So, you know, I’ve been able to be flexible with that. I’ve dropped them off at people’s houses before. You know, if it’s just around town. I can take the time to do those special things because I’m not caught up in all the paperwork and the business part of it, you know, who’s not going to, you know, someone says, well, I’ll tell you what, we close at six. I know you work till six. Why don’t I just bring it? I’ll just drop it off at your house after dinner. Who’s going to say no to that guy? Who’s not going to do their business there? It’s not like a website that doesn’t care or you get an automated message or whatever. I would rather do those things, you know, and that to me is like being a good member of the community and I have time to do those things because I’m automating as much as possible.
[00:49:25] Taylor: Everything else. Yeah, that’s awesome.
[00:49:28] Ben: That’s, That’s how you make a difference is one person at a time making a connection.
[00:49:33] Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. You got it. Well, that’s cool. Well, we really appreciate your time, Ben. I know we took quite a bit of time for me today, but I thought you were a really fantastic kind of case study for how stores can get started and be really successful and it is always interesting. Look, at the end of the day, it comes down to providing a really unique, special experience for your customers and that’s what’s going to get them coming back to you time and time again.
So everybody please take a few minutes and go check out Marich Music. Ben, if you can kind of give us your address both physical as well as your web address contact information for anybody who’s watching and wants to reach out to you.
[00:50:09] Ben: Sure. Yeah so my name is Ben. Marich is M-A-R-I-C-H. I know some people hear it like “marriage” but anyway, marichmusic.com. We’re in Corning, New York in the Finger Lakes region. It’s a huge tourist spot. We have the, you know, Corning, Corning glass?
[00:50:28] Taylor: Yep.
[00:50:29] Ben: I’m sure you’re eating off of that stuff. That’s here. That’s where the town get it’s name. So all your Pyrex measuring cups and stuff is made just a couple blocks down the street from where we are. There’s a Corning Museum of Glass. Just a wonderful, great place to visit if you ever get the chance. I guess that’s my pitch right there.
Come visit Corning. It’s beautiful. It’s just drop dead gorgeous here. Everybody’s super nice. And it’s just a beautiful place to visit. So if you ever get in this neck of the woods, stop in and see me and, hopefully, I’m planning on being here for years to come.
[00:51:08] Taylor: Ok. Thanks again, Ben. We really appreciate it.Look forward to chatting with everybody again. Have a good one.
[00:51:11] Ben: Hey, thank you. Take care.