The New Abnormal; It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel hopeful.


Help for Niche Businesses
Marketing in the Covid Era

When the end of 2019 drew nigh the goal setters, resolution makers and big dream dreamers had already been salivating over the idea that 2020 - the year of perfect vision - was going to be their year. Hindsight is 2020 they say, and as we sit squarely in the beginning of Q3, we have to conclude that maybe this year is not all we cracked it up to be. But, never the doomsayer, I am here to talk about hope, not fear.

Let’s start with the obvious; well sure, while it has not been what we planned for, there have been some surprisingly bright spots. One thing that we have more of this year than any in recent memory is time. Some business owners spent every minute pining over the next step, the changing strategy, or maybe how to pay the bills. Others had extra time with family, spent time re-merchandising, fine-tuning “Curbside service”, and cleaning up those dark corners of the stock room. The most forward thinking began to overhaul their web presence - websites, social media, third-party platforms, and maybe even mulled over search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM, PPC) and Social Media Marketing (SMM). There is never a shortage on the Things-To-Do list.

Speaking of web presence, before we talk numbers, let’s be especially clear: this is thee most pivotal thing a niche retailer can do in 2020. And if you haven’t yet made e-commerce the centerpiece of your Q3 / Q4 strategy, now is the time. Like, right now. I mean today.

Here’s why:

We’ve finally hit critical mass. Americans now prefer e-commerce to a more traditional retail experience. According to data provided by Digital Commerce 360, total online sales in the U.S. were $73.2 billion in June. That, my friends, is up by a whopping 76.2% year over year. Consumer Electronics are up by about 5% month over month, but those of us who tread the deep in the Musical Instruments space have likely felt like yo-yo’s with a twisted string… we have seen surprisingly strong months followed by tumbleweeds and dust. Statistica is reporting the MI market as a whole to finish just about on par with 2018 revenue figures. Not the revenue growth we hoped for, but not the devastation we first assumed, either.

It is important to consider that although savvy consumers are finding their way to online market places and your website in record numbers, they are also having to make their dollar stretch a lot further than over the last several years. According to data by Adobe Analytics, it’s not significant, but enough to explain some of the leaps in entry to mid level product. So at the same time online sales are exploding, some business owners and data miners have seen that the size of the orders are smaller in terms of dollars. Entry-level keyboards, guitars, ukuleles, PA and DJ gear and recording equipment are topping the lists, while acoustic pianos and acoustic drums are trailing the hardest. Stuck at home? It’s a good time to pick up a new hobby - or relive the old dream - with a new acoustic guitar or home recording kit. On the high-end, there will always be the guy who can finally afford that dream guitar he let slip away in order to afford to buy beer for his buddies twenty-five years ago!

As I’ve interviewed Musical Instruments store owners and managers, I have heard the gamut of scenarios. From heartache to hope. From utter frustration to sheer determination. With each anecdotal story, I am reminded how important it is to pivot - not just an online strategy or a plan to sanitize guitar strings - but each of our own mindsets. In the endless cycle of bad news, political divisiveness, racial tension, and pandemic response, I can only assure you that panic is not a strategy. But to break a mold, I’d like to offer this: Hope IS a strategy in the new abnormal. Yes, plan! Of course, take take action! Absolutely, gird your loins and dig in deep! But do it with optimism. Real grit has never risen above the power of hope that inspires it.

Owners and CEO’s often tend to work in silos. Sure, you have industry friends and trusted confidants. Sure you have great staff with great minds and superior skills. Sure, you’ve made it through other hard times. But 2020 is a different beast. Maybe consider picking up the phone to see how your like-minded buddy across the county or country is holding up. Maybe you’ll glean from one another. Call me! I will happily advise and share my experiences, offer some insights or help with your online endeavors. Call someone. True strength, they say, is the courage to ask for help. I’ll leave you with this quote by Simon Sinek, Optimist Extraordinaire: “None of us can get through this (or anything else) alone. As social animals we need each other. When we find the courage to admit that we're struggling, ask for help or accept help when it is offered, we become stronger. It also opens a door for others to let us in to help them, too. The courage to go first then be there when others follow is what leadership is all about.”

Let’s do this, friends. Together.

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