Making Music is a musical instrument store and music school in Gorey, County Wexford, Ireland. The owner, Kevin Doyle, has been in the music industry since 1991. A drummer and guitarist himself, Kevin decided to open his own retail store 8 years ago. Today, Making Music touches the lives of many parents and their children who take guitar, piano and violin lessons and purchase instruments there. The company is known for being one of the best suppliers of top end instruments, such as Maton and Martin guitars and Pearl drums, in Ireland. They also offer PA systems and lighting for parties and gatherings. In this interview, Kevin told us about why he loves what he does, how he’s navigating through the Corona crisis, his journey to digitalisation and starting an online shop.
“We’ve got a lot of friends out of this little business”
Kevin: At Making Music, we grow with our customers and their children. Kids come to our store with their mommies and daddies and start with their first instruments. We guide the parents in the right direction. It’s just a lovely business to be in, and there’s a fantastic vibe in the store. We’ve got a special kind of bond with our customers and have built many friendships over the years. If a kid breaks a guitar string and thinks he’s going to get grounded because he’s “broken the guitar,” he gives us a quick call, where we tell him to bring it in so we can fix it, and then he’s no longer in trouble. He’s our best mate because he’s not going to get grounded. We’ve got a lot of friends out of this little business.
ePages: Like many other businesses, you’ve also had to close your doors during the lockdowns. How did that impact Making Music? How did you use the time during the store closures and the lack of footfall?
Kevin: In the beginning it felt like I got punched in the jaw by Mike Tyson. I was asking myself, well, how do I come back from this one? I locked the store up very quickly because looking at the news, there were people fighting to get into supermarkets to buy toilet rolls or to buy water, to buy pasta and so on. So, I pulled down the shutters and got home early. I looked after home first, that was perfect. Then I got out walking into fresh air and started thinking what the best thing to do would be. We did have an existing Facebook community. So, I put up a note on our Facebook page that the store would be closed until the 29th of March, which was the next potential opening date, but people could still contact us there on Facebook. We also left a message on the landline with our mobile phone number and directed people over to our Facebook page. That way, we were able to get a few calls and messages. At the very beginning of the crisis we were down 100% of revenue. Then, gradually we started to receive phone calls, e-mails, and Facebook messages. After about five weeks is where it all kind of kicked off again.
Organic growth through customer engagement
ePages: You’ve mentioned having an existing community on Facebook. How many followers do you have there?
Kevin: We have over 6000 likes on our Facebook page. We’d never go out and buy likes, instead we’ve let the number of likes grow organically over the years. It has definitely paid off now much better. The fact that we had the whole connection and the bond with our students, and we had the parents on our side, we were able to get involved in putting on prizes for the busking competition on Gorey Main Street. We’ve done that for the last couple of years. Every year, we put up a thousand Euros in prizes. We have customers who come from different regions for those busking competitions and the photos are just great. When we put them on Facebook people end up tagging themselves and through that we’ve reached a wider community that are shopping with us. That was really useful because over time we were able to get them into the store and it helped us ship some products out during the crisis. We also had parents ringing and telling us that their kid just broke a guitar string or a drumstick. We realized we have to get these kids occupied as they weren’t able to mix with their friends. It was a beautiful thing to do something about that. The guys who had been giving lessons in our store were available during the lockdowns, so we focused on moving the lessons online through social media and Skype. The groups we have doing lessons with us now are like family. It all worked out great.
The feeling of the physical store while shopping online
ePages: Are there some learnings going forward? How are you preparing for possible further store closures?
Kevin: We want anyone who has ever been in our store to feel as if they are in the physical store while shopping online. I think that’s an important factor. Previously, we just had an awareness page. Now, with eShop, I am able to mix Facebook, Instagram, Website, ecommerce all into one place. That is just ticking all the boxes for me. When people want to get in touch, we can schedule an appointment and meet them anytime; in the store, during office hours or outside of work. That is just amazing.
ePages: Through which channels do you communicate with your customers? You’ve mentioned notifying customers via the Facebook community and by changing the automatic response on your landline phone. Apart from that, do you use newsletters or similar measures?
Kevin: We don’t have regular newsletters yet. That’s something on our list which hasn’t gotten ticked. Currently, we’re working on our Instagram page. Facebook is pretty much open for everyone – mommies, daddies, uncles and grannies, but there are a lot of younger kids using Instagram as opposed to their parents who are on Facebook. There is higher dividend for us coming from Facebook but we’re making our way toward getting more active on Instagram and TikTok. We’re going to announce the launch of our new online shop on Facebook and Instagram. Before, I would have taken photos of musical instruments and just published them on our Facebook page. Now, I’m taking the image from the eShop and posting it on our Facebook page. I think that’s going to drive traffic straight to our online business.
“Our competitors are very price competitive, but we have our students and their parents on our side”
ePages: How did your customers order from you while the physical store was closed? Did you deliver the products yourself?
Kevin: We had a website for raising awareness of our brand. On our website we did manage to get some traffic and e-mails. We followed up with them and we took some credit card payments over the phone. There have also been people who paid cash on delivery. It worked out pretty well. Basically, we were one of the lucky ones able to stay trading whereas there were pubs and restaurants in Ireland totally closed down. I was able to get in and get out and deliver myself. When I say that, I mean I was dropping pianos off at the doors where beforehand I would have gone into the living room and set them up and so on. The customer was aware that they are shopping local and that if they need help or to walk through the set-up we’re just a call away. That really worked well.
ePages: How did you hear about the eShop offer?
Kevin: It was brought to my attention by Elavon a couple of months ago. For us, the online shop was always the elephant in the room. I was thinking to myself “I need to do this, but I don’t think I have enough time to put into it.” When Elavon introduced me the eShop product I perceived it very positively. When I had questions, they followed up on it and made things clear to me. This worked well for me. The fact that all of the payments are going through Elavon is a convenient factor. That took a lot of pressure off our shoulders. I don’t have to worry about ensuring it meets all the security requirements, that’s already taken care of. My competitors are very price conscious; in seconds they can bring up the price and drop it. I was always concerned about getting into that kind of operation. My main thing is customer service; if a customer comes to me, I ensure they get the service they need, for example we look after the setup of their guitar, and make sure that the kids or the parents are going to be able to play it. I take care of my business, and I let Elavon look after the payments. I have been an Elavon customer since I started the business 8 years ago.
“This is everything and more”
ePages: How long did it take you to set up your online shop? Did you have previous experience selling online with your website?
Kevin: I didn’t personally set-up our previous website, a friend of mine did it for me. Back then we used a mainstream website builder. That didn’t really work to be honest. I didn’t feel it was a powerful enough tool in comparison to Facebook or Instagram. I think the eShop is much better and more professional. The ecommerce side of it is very powerful and will take some weight off my shoulders. I feel more at ease and confident to work behind the scenes, update the products that we have coming in. An online shop is always a bit of work in progress, and it’s going to grow with our business. I am actually more excited about this than I was about starting on Facebook, and that was a huge project. Now I am just thinking: “My God, this is going to be amazing. This is going to really work for Making Music.” I can’t believe how good my new website and shop are looking and I am very happy about it. I was talking to my brother Patrick about our new online shop and said: “This is everything and more.”
ePages: It seems your customers have a particularly close relationship to you and the store. Maybe some have been to the physical store before, had a conversation with you. They will now have the chance to interact with your brand online, check out the content you’ve created in your online shop. Is that a differentiator for your business?
Kevin: Yes, I think we’ve cherry-picked the right sellers and products for the money to feature in the online shop. Most importantly, we’re making sure the instruments are set up right so when they land at the customer’s door it all works perfect for them out of the box rather than buying a guitar on Amazon or eBay, where the photograph looks much better than what they end up receiving. It’s up to us to deliver the real deal when it arrives into our customer’s hands.
ePages: How many products do you sell in your physical shop and how many of those do you sell online?
Kevin: We have over a thousand products in our physical store, but I don’t want to clog my online shop with too many of them. I’m starting with the best sellers which means a range of around 200. I think that will be better for us.
ePages: Right. Are you changing anything in your physical store, maybe different rules in terms of distance and how many people you let in at the same time?
Kevin: Yes, we we’ve created social distancing signs. We’re lucky because our store is quite big. We have four separate music rooms. When people want to come in and try musical instruments, we have room for them.
ePages: Do you intend to invest more in your online presence in the future?
Kevin: It’s so hard for a small company to survive in the current situation. While having the physical store for that one-to-one interaction, I definitely see the importance of developing our online presence with the online shop and social media.