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Archive for Friday, April 12, 1996

MUSIC STORES FILL NICHES TO DRAW NEW CUSTOMERS

April 12, 1996

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Friendly competition is the order of the day at Lawrence's music stores.

Whether a beginner, a weekend strummer, or a seasoned veteran, Lawrence's many music shops can not only supply the equipment, but also give advice, provide lessons and fix broken instruments.

Fueled by Kansas University, proximity to Kansas City, school bands, a continually emerging alternative scene and thriving bluegrass and folk environment, the operators of music stores are enjoying success without the sniping that often accompanies competition.

"The competition is this town is such that it provides good choices for customers," said Jim Baggett, owner of Mass Street Music. "Competition makes you better at what you do."

Baggett has been in business for 18 years, slowly building from a string repair business to a major retail site.

One of the biggest difficulties for Baggett was learning a new set of skills.

"I have the skills to fix and build instruments, but I didn't have the business skill to go along with it. Those have developed along the way."

The market has been kind enough lately to allow Baggett to begin thinking about enlarging the store.

"We are entertaining seriously expanding with in the next 12 months to have more retail space and a bigger repair space," he said. "One thing that differentiates small retail from mass marketers is the ability to deliver service. We draw a lot of business because we have been repairing instruments for 20 years."

Mass Street Music also generates much business through mail order, but Baggett said Lawrence's unique cultural environment helped business immensely.

"The proximity to Kansas City is good, but there has always been a good strong base of folk and bluegrass music in Lawrence. The alternative band scene has probably evolved because of quality music stores, good audiences and quality recording studios."

Besides a large selection of new and used acoustic and electric guitars, Mass Street offers PA systems, recording equipment, and keyboards.

"Whether you play in the garage, on the couch or with your kids, music is a creative outlet that anyone can do on their own level. There is no right or wrong way to do it."

Steve Mason, owner of Harmonic Arts, specializes in acoustic guitars, banjos and mandolins. After being in the music business from 1975 to 1981, Mason took a break to get his biology degree from KU. In 1989 Mason came back to the business he loves -- selling guitars.

"I got out in 1981, thinking -- like the rest of the world -- that I would like to get a different job that would pay better. Now I have no plans to get out."

In addition to selling both high-end and beginning guitars and banjo, Mason repairs stringed instruments which often bow and shift with changes in the weather and humidity.

Mason points to the large market of Kansas City as helping Lawrence sustain such a large number of music stores, and further, the maturity and wealth of the baby boomers has given a new interest in music.

"The guitar playing and musicianship are near and dear to the hearts of baby boomers," Mason said. "A lot of boomers have tried to influence their children to become musicians."

Dave Buller, manager of Whitey Music, which has been in business five years, moved last October to 1007 Mass. because the store needed more space.

The only full-line drum shop in town, Whitey's also sells PA equipment, keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars and supplies.

Buller, who has played guitar professionally for 12 years, said that the store didn't like to pressure its customers and that all instruments can be played in the store.

"The university brings in a wide variety of people," he said. "There are so many different styles that people are receptive to, which is nice."

Buller said it was sometimes difficult to keep up with quickly changing trends of the music industry, and that the store constantly worked to ensure balance so as not to cater too much to one instrument or style of music.

After 33 years in the business, Joe Hume, owner of Hume Music, 711 W. 23rd, shows no signs of slowing down.

Last year, he merged with The Treble Clef, and operates stores in Topeka and Kansas City as well.

Hume Music is a full-line music store, with an emphasis on school band instruments.

"We appeal to those people who want to participate in the joy of music." said Hume, a past president of the National Association of School Music Dealers.

The store also provides workshops, repairs and works closely with school districts.

"I don't feel any friction between us and the other music stores, Hume said. "My theory is that we all need to cultivate those people interested in music."

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