For the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity of a lifetime and tons of fun to work with a local guitar boutique that has defined a compelling way of merchandising and selling guitars to beginning, intermediate and professional players all over the world.
My adventure with Redbone Guitar Boutique actually started about 20 years ago when I started to listen to the store’s owner, Richard Turner, on his weekly Sunday with The Best of the Beatles with Richard Turner, on a local college radio station, KSYM – 90.1. For 18 years, Richard became a familiar voice that played not only some of the greatest Beatles works, but had a stash of snippets, outtakes, and cool audio factoids he would play for his listening audience. Next year, Richard will be celebrating the show’s 25th anniversary, making it the longest continuing Beatles radio show in the world. I got to know Richard, but only by voice. It was only when I heard about the store’s opening that I actually met him in person.
When I heard about the store’s opening, I was intrigued.
After all, how could an independent guitar shop make it in a major city that was dwarfed by big box retailers like Guitar Center, Sam Ash, and soon Best Buy. There were also online only sellers like Musician’s Friend, and of course eBay and Craigslist. When I saw the store in its development stage and then during its soft opening I was amazed at the store’s interior design – with part of it being a replica of the Cavern Club, where the Beatles got their start. Surround it with way cool Beatles memorabilia that Richard has been collecting for over 30 years and it became apparent to me that this was not just a guitar shop, but rather museum, cultural institution in the making and way cool place to hang out, that oh by the way,- sold guitars, amps & accessories and offered lessons for students of all skill sets who lived in the area.
Given this unique environment, it also struck me that Redbone had the opportunity to be in a class of its own and very much aligned with unique destination retailers from the area such as boot retailer, Lucchese; TV & Electronics retailer, Bjorns, jeweler, Moretti’s or women’s boutique, Julian Gold.
These are not just retailers; they are destination stores that serve locals, tourists and people in the know- who know that a combination of great products and services make places like Redbone a place to shop.
Even though Redbone sells high end and custom guitars, you can also buy introductory level instruments – just like you can at Guitar Center or Sam Ash. The difference is really four-fold: the user experience, competitive pricing, a very high degree of customer service and a culture of passion for great music. Redbone also has access to guitars like the one in the video below that are limited production runs by makers such as Fender – something you won’t find at big box stores.As I started to work with the Redbone team, it struck me that they had a very unique opportunity to scale the business on a national and possibly a global stage.
We began populating content on the social web and building a community of customers turned fans.
Along the way, Richard and the team developed guitar clinics that attracted members of Sir Paul McCartney’s band, Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson, as well as industry personalities such as Fred Gretsch, the grandson of Gretsch Guitar founder, Friedrich Gretsch.
We brought in local regional musicians and had some of the wonderful sales staff to do product reviews and demonstrations of some of the coolest guitars, amps and accessories on planet earth. In the case of the video below, we were helping to expose local players like Will Owen Gage who would come to the store and do some great pick’n on guitars from makers like Collings.Along the way, Redbone started being found on the social web and the phones started to ring.
People from around the U.S. and in some cases from around the world were finding the store on Twitter, Facebook, Gbase and YouTube. Recently a soldier still stationed in Iraq found Redbone and called to custom order a Gretsch White Penguin with custom pickups and a special Cowboy case.
As illustrated in the video above, every customer has a story along with its purchase. Every sale was not a sale, but rather the beginning of a friend and fan relationship.
When you go into Redbone on a Saturday, you’ll see regulars who shop, buy or just hangout to visit and be part of a community. During the week, you’ll see Moms and Dad bringing in their school age children for lessons. Particularly with the Dads, you’ll see them wonder off into the store down a trip on memory lane amidst all the wonderful Beatle memorabilia that Richard has amassed over the last 30 or so years.
You’ll also see a member of the armed services who volunteers his time at the store on Saturday’s who plays some beautiful jazz guitar. You’ll know he’s back in Afghanistan serving our country when he’s not there.
Richard remains a vital cultural and economic force in San Antonio and is being recognized by the industry as a thought leader and innovator in the way he has shown how a boutique, speciality retailer can combine the retail experience and the social web.
Redbone has successfully turned the art of just selling guitars into one of story telling.
With each instrument that leaves its store, there’s a story en route to its new home, that will build and tell another story served by a very happy and often times, evangelical customer that has been well served, loved and cared for.
If you own a speciality shop of any kind, or in any market space, you’d be wise to follow Richard’s lead and approach into building more than just customer relationships, but helping them tell and share their own stories.