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10 Music Retailers Talk About 2021 Business and Prospects for 2022
As we navigated the second year in the pandemic, Japanese government announced the second declaration of a statement of emergency on Jan. 8, 2021, and the third declaration followed in the ensuing months, which resulted in more than 6 months of self-confined life last year. Despite the prolonged restricted life and business styles, consumer looked gradually adapted to new environment. Also remarkably progressed e-commerce helped them to shop anything they want online. Thus, general economy damaged by the pandemic is recovering. Some experts say that good percentage of excess savings of 40 trillion yen may be spent in months ahead. We hope the frenetic shopping spree will boost industry business in 2022.
Music retailers in Japan report a silver lining in business as they feel return of customer and growth of net shopping but their comments differ depending on product category, area and demand.
Japan Music Trades interviewed key persons of 10 leading music retailers in major markets.
“Stay-at-home demands have calmed down, and shortage of product supply makes the retail market increasingly serious. There are few we can do to cope with the present conditions.
“While sales of digital pianos as well as recording and streaming gears remain strong, electric guitars sank without additional boost. “Find out market trend and movement through social media and meet customer needs with fascinating events and plans are what we must do in coming months. It’s also critical to keep appropriate inventory level.”
Ryuji Maruta, Sales Division Manager, Aikyoku Gakki, Nagoya
“2020 was a very exciting year for us, opening of logistics center and Ikeshibu store in Shibuya, Tokyo, and our website was redesigned. A very good start to effectively meet the change of the market, to say.
“Unfortunately, we could not take full advantage of the new Ikeshibu store by lack of massive live events because of the pandemic, but our communication capabilities much improved by keeping customer informed of products news and store events online.
“Role of music store ultimately changed today. Customer is not satisfied just seeing gears on the shelf. Fun shopping experience and captivating events can attract customer to stores. We launched Ana-Digi streaming, DTM and recording division at Rock House Ikebe, Ikebukuro, Tokyo last October, and Guitar Rec DTM division for guitarists and bassists at Premium Guitars in Osaka last November. We see fusion of analog and digital technologies is a key of future business.”
Masataka Yamada, Senior Vice President, Ikebe Gakki Co., Ltd., Tokyo
" Business much fluctuated last year. We sold more on online during the pandemic, but sales of acoustic guitars and streamlining gears stuttered after early May holidays. Today we see increasing number of shopper with musical experience come to us to buy instruments with true value. Those with higher disposable income likely to buy vintage and custom model guitars. U.S. made electric guitars at 500,000yen price range and models at 300,000 price range by Japanese makers are fast moving.
“We see the trend for valuable instruments and gears continue this year. Customer traffic slightly increased after the Japanese government lifted the statement of emergency last October, but customer remains conservative. Yet, serious musicians who have been confined at home during the lock down gradually get back for precious original models.
“In addition to intensive sales of guitars in trend, characteristic product selection picked up by our experts, we will concentrate on upgraded customer satisfaction including pleasure of purchasing and owning quality instruments more than price both at physical stores and online.”
Chihiro Kudo, Merchandise Dept. Senior Manager, Ishibashi Music Corporation, Tokyo
“2021 sales of some categories slightly declined after the demands soared a year before. It was good that we kept the same level of sales despite the negative retail environment. The largest problem was, as retailers all conceivably experienced, short supply of products. We were much disappointed without products to sell, especially digital pianos and entry model guitars when demands grew.
“Consumer is more and more quality-conscious and appreciates additional value, for example, in case of pianos, automatic playing and sound control functions matched to today’s lifestyle. Guitarists come to us for one off, used, custom-built and original models not found at other stores. Adding a selection of private-brand models, we are pleased to have more characteristic product lines than ever before.
“After we resumed live concerts and events last fall, we heard a lot of positive comments from customer saying, “Thank you for giving us this opportunity to perform.” Their words greatly encouraged us.
“Social media and website are essential for our business. We set up an independent division for expanding branding and communication abilities to better meet customer’s requirements.
“We understand that excellent teamwork based on personality of individual sales staff will contribute to increase customer satisfaction. Expanding private brands which reflect our expertise is another goal this year.”
Akira Tanii, Director of Sales, MPC Kaishindo Gakki, Toyama Pref
“Following lackluster 2020, we were much affected by COVID-19 last year. Consolidated damages of diminished demands from the lockdown, shortage of products and price increase of materials did not allow us to make plans to go ahead.
“Product-wise, guitars sold very well, particularly electric guitars achieved historical sales, but astonishingly sold ukuleles a year ago significantly declined. Hardest hit wind instruments are coming back to 60% level of pre-pandemic. Overall sales remained flat until September. After the second statement of emergency lifted in October, the business turned black led by excellent sales of guitars.
“We plan to rebuild seasoned physical stores in 5 to 10 years to provide the customer with upgraded shopping experience and services. We made sales with items not of our main lines during the last 2 years. Back to basics, we would like to concentrate on our key line, stringed instruments this year. Our plans also include more involvement in local musical events.”
Kaita Nose, Manager, T. Kurosawa & Co., Ltd., Tokyo
“Business slowly showed an uptick last year. Students began coming back to teaching studios. We had good sales the year before last thanks to incredible demands during stay-at-home period. Digital pianos follow the trend, but other instruments are flat these days. Wind instruments are struggling as students haven’t fully come back to band activities at school.
Online sales are increasing but not the level we expect.
“Our sales staff enhanced communication with customer via streaming in place of live events, but the problem is Internet environment of viewers differs.
“Another issue is distribution problem caused by shortage of chips and shipping containers which leads to loss of sales opportunities at retail scene. The only solution to these problems is to find alternative products or suppliers, and advanced order.
“Our goals for 2022 are upgraded electronic commerce, and hybrid events coordinating live and virtual technologies. They will help us build confidence and good relationship with customer.”
Yuuji Ikegami, Sales Dept. Group Manager, Jujiya Musical Instruments Co., Ltd., Kyoto
“We had no live events until summer last year but after fall, we held Electone Festival and competitions which increased motivation of teachers and students. Customer traffic is coming back these days.
“Stable demands among parents and children supported sales of acoustic pianos including used models last year. Number of adult pianists is declining. Sales of combo, wind instruments and related accessories are stagnant. Demands for digital pianos remain strong but manufacturers don’t accept purchase orders from retailers. That can cause price hike sooner or later.
“The market will remain soft in 2022 but we believe starting marketing activities we did before the pandemic again will be the way to get our business back to normal. Social media have proven effect in recruiting students at the teaching studio.”
Masafumi Sei, Sales & Planning Dept., Sumiya-Goody Co., Ltd., Shizuoka Pref
“Sales remained 70% of pre-pandemic level for the last 2 years. Then, we had a dramatic surge last November. We see that our efforts to better use of social media and communication tools paid off.
“Demands for tuba, flute, trumpet and trombone are robust. Customer is likely to come to us with specific brand and model in mind. Naturally, in most cases we close deals. It’s a new trend in the pandemic that payment by installments has decreased. Instead, they take time in selection of instruments before making decision, then visit us and pay all in cash. Average unit price generally goes up. We have enhanced cashless payment applications for increased convenience of customer. They are well accepted.
“We plan expansion of repair section this year. A complete set up of practice room, event hall, lesson rooms and repair service will make the space more familiar and helpful for our customer, I believe.”
Shinsuke Harada, store manager, Musical Instruments Shop DAC
“It looks people may have adapted somewhat to COVID-19. We see customer traffic increased even after the declaration of a state of emergency. In October, we were inundated with visitors as if the negative mood was swept away. Students of school bands came back finally. A bright sign!
“In 2020, the stay at home-generated demands boosted sales of entry model guitars among beginners. A year later, demands grew for upper-class gears. Online sales keep growing, and store sales are getting back. We feel business is regaining its traditional appeal.
“Effective use of social media and live streaming are what we continue after the pandemic is over. They are quite efficient means to product marketing and attract customer to physical shop.
“On the other hand, we further upgrade value as a physical shop, skill of sales staff, and after-sales services as well as live events we gave up holding these past years.”
Kentaro Ashiura, store manager, Big Boss Ochanomizu, Tokyo
“Music teaching operation and live events stalled, we had quite difficult time last year. As customer traffic began to increase in November, we have some potential customers visiting from outside Tokyo seeking high-quality original models these days. We are pleased that we closed the black Friday sale successfully.
“We understand branding is the key to attract and make loyal customer for us by improving communication skill and offering them exciting shopping experiences. We Are Sneaker Ages Contest we held as our exclusive event in the past years will celebrate the first national-scale contest this year. We expect further expansion of this event.
“We recently launched Public Relations Dept., to enhance branding and customer communication. Promoting original products handled by MIKIGAKKi Imports & Trading division will help us differentiate from competitors in the area.
“We will also concentrate to raise expert sales staff and build a team of professionals.
Toshihiko Miki, president, Mikigakki Co., Ltd. Osaka