I went to Guitar Center to buy some audio cables the other day. They were special ones with banana plug ends. I had the spec written down on a piece of paper, and I was a little nervous going into the GC audio department never having purchased this type of cable before.
Even after thirty years in the music biz sometimes GC still makes me cringe when I step through the door. Boy, was I in for a pleasant surprise. Or should I say, surprises?!
Surprise one: They actually had the audio cables I needed, which I had worried I might have to special order. Good thing because I had a gig in three days.
Surprise two: My clerk in the audio department was a woman. Yep! She was helpful, with no condescension in sight. I felt respected, and it felt good!
Surprise three: Because I was beaming and not bumming after that particular Guitar Center experience, instead of leaving right away, I took my son over to the guitar department. He tried out a beautiful robins egg blue Telecaster and played that riff from "Smoke on the Water" about 100 times. (He's a beginner. It was the only respectable riff he knew!). Now he's dreaming of an $800 guitar for Christmas.
Why am I bringing this up? Because little did I know that this was a successful realization of a program that Guitar Center has been consciously working on for quite some time. That's right, GC knows that women (and sometimes even men!) don't feel comfortable going into their stores, and they are taking steps to change that.
Laura Taylor, chief of operations at GC, is spearheading this ambitious initiative.
"Our research shows that most women that shop in our stores have a great experience -- and that's in general in MI, not just at Guitar Center. But there's an important minority of female customers who feel that they are less welcome in MI stores, you know, both GC and their competitors. And there can be a lot of prejudices and assumptions from some males that the female musicians aren't serious or skilled. We're committed to combating those misperceptions."
Those are some long-term, serious goals, and I say, GC, what took you so long!? But as you know, Guitar Center doesn't do anything in a small way, so they've not only done their homework -- they are committed to acing the test.
Taylor digs deeper:
"Really, it's not a Guitar Center problem, it's an industry problem. And we're a big part of the industry, and we believe that by really driving the initiative we can make a big difference. There's a lot of diversity out there, whether we are looking at gender or types of music or whatever. Really our goal with this initiative is just to treat everyone with the utmost respect."
And how do GC employees feel about this new master plan? Taylor beams, "We've had a lot of our employees embracing it and saying, 'Hey, this wasn't on our radar.' And as we bring awareness to this issue, we are definitely seeing an impact and getting more positive feedback from our female customers."
So what does a kinder, gentler, more feminine-focused Guitar Center experience mean? Don't worry, boys; GC is still the same gear-filled, wanna-stay-all-day hang. Yep, GC still rocks! It just does so without the former condescending air.
If you've really been paying attention, you may have noticed that in GC stores the notorious Playboy Bunny-laden Guitar World Buyers Guide now sports a stylish, but opaque polybag, obscuring the scantily clad models from the eyes of patrons.
But Buyers Guide aside, GC's makeover covers all the bases, as Taylor shares:
"We're supplying training programs for our sales force that help them adapt to the needs of the female customer. We're developing promotional programs and customer-focused contests that are designed to appeal to women. We're working with promotional partners like Girls Rock Camp and talking to industry insiders Tish Ciravolo from Daisy Rock Guitars."
Taylor continues, "We're making certain female musicians are better represented in our advertising. We're focusing on our storefronts and our marketing communications. We are using female voiceovers. And just trying to be better balanced. Look, a lot of other industries have figured this all out. Now it's our turn."
I like balance. And I also really, really like being treated like one of the guys. Or wait; maybe I like being treated like a lady. Or not. Well, I know for certain I don't want to be treated like an imbecile. So, GC, carry on! And the rest of the industry, take notes!
So, ladies (and gentlemen) -- have you gone into Guitar Center lately? Tell us if you've noticed a change!
Laura B. Whitmore is a singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area. A veteran music industry marketer, she has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents 65amps, Acoustic Bass Amps, Agile Partners, Guitar World and many more. Laura was instrumental in the launch of the Guitar World Lick of the Day app. She is the lead singer for the rock band Summer Music Project. More at mad-sun.com.