Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO and majority shareholder in the firm that makes Gibson guitars, has outlined what he thinks is wrong with music stores in the modern world. Gibson Brands, Inc. was recently reported to be facing bankruptcy within the next four months under a large debt burden and amid sluggish sales, especially in its electronics division.

In an interview with Billboard, Juszkiewicz argued that the music retail industry as a whole had suffered severe damage during the 2008 financial meltdown, and had failed to recover to the levels enjoyed beforehand. And he insisted that stores had to take their share of the blame.

“There are problems with the guitar retail industry," he said. "All of the retailers are fearful as can be; they're all afraid of e-commerce, with Amazon just becoming the second largest employer in the U.S., and the brick and mortar guys are just panicking. They see the trend, and that trend isn't taking them to a good place, and they're all wondering if there will be a world for brick and mortar stores for much longer. It’s a turbulent world to be a retailer, and many of our retail partners are facing that same issue.”

He said Gibson has long protected their sales partners by refusing to have an online store, although he predicted that would almost certainly change. But he warned stores that they’d have to up their game if they wanted to survive in the harsh climate. “The first thing we are doing is try to teach the stores how to merchandise,” he commented. “I’ve been arguing with retailers for a long time that you have to be a place where [customers] can sit and take in the store, and be a destination that is friendly. If you walk into most music stores, there's nowhere to sit. Give me a break! Most stores aren't comfortable places.

“They put all of these guitars on the wall, and they put the best ones out of reach. Because you might steal one? Well, that's one way to look at it, but Apple doesn't look at it that way, and most of their stuff is more expensive than a lot of higher-end guitars. Their products are just out on tables for everyone to pick up and look at, and while they have some theft protection, its not like they have a security force in each store. We just have the whole thing wrong. If you want customers, you have to be nice to them, and give them a place where they are comfortable.”

“it's all about making the customer feel welcome," he continued, "and helping them out by being knowledgable. That's what the industry needs, because it doesn't have it. We have to get people involved in music, and offer them a helping hand. … We have to give people options, and we can use new technology to give better experiences to our consumers. Kids are out there creating their own music and their own videos; we have to find a way to be a part of their lives. We're losing by not being a part of their lives, and insisting that they become a part of ours.”

In addition, Juszkiewicz said stores had suffered by focusing on hardened musicians rather than making the shopping experience pleasant for first-time customers, particularly female ones. He added that, while established customers had no problem with visiting stores that might be in less pleasant parts of towns, younger people and parents were less comfortable with the idea. “You're not going to mom and dad; you're only preaching to the converted,” he said.


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