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music trades

Learn about our brand new retail location in The Music Trades magazine October 2011 issue.  In this feature article, owner Tommy Colletti describes our approach to the new store, and what’s in store for the future.

Republished from The Music Trades

A recent Wall Street Journal piece on Apple’s retail chain detailed how the world’s most technology-driven company made a masterstroke of the old fashioned brick-and-mortar store. With cool aesthetics, helpful staff, and a buffet of gadgets to touch and try, Apple tied the wired side of business to an inviting customer experience. What possibilities could this blueprint hold for retailers in other sectors? The Music Zoo, a leading guitar dealer that caters to a tech-savvy customer base, is poised to find out. The New York City-area retailer, which does 90% of its business online, took a hard look at the Apple model as it mapped out its own ultimate brick-and-mortar spot this summer. Part warehouse and shipping depot, part artsy guitar haven, The Music Zoo’s new store in Roslyn, New York puts a new spin on the “bricks and clicks” model.

“The concept was multi-tiered,” says Music Zoo owner Tommy Colletti. “It was a reflection of how our business model had changed, from a conventional retail store to a base for our online business. But it was also our chance to get away from the slatwall and fluorescent lighting that you find in every other guitar store in the world. Musicians are quirky and artistic. If you put them in an environment that looks like Staples, I don’t expect them to respond.”

At 5,000 square feet, The Music Zoo’s new store occupies space in an industrial-style building overlooking Long Island’s Hempstead Harbor. Twenty-two-foot ceilings accommodate the store’s warehouse and bring a spacious vertical perspective to its adjacent 1,200 square-foot showroom. Warehousing and shipping space accounts for about 2/3 of its total footprint—roughly the reverse of what you might expect in a standard retail store. “Usually what you’ll find is a huge showroom out front and this tiny, dusty room for inventory in back,” says Colletti. “What our layout tells you is that we’re very focused on selling online.”

Compared to the conventional chain guitar store, the look of The Music Zoo’s retail side is more intimate and more streamlined, organized and user-friendly in the same style the retailer cultivates on its website. Only a selective sampling of the store’s “greatest hits”—its top selling guitars and exclusive models— are displayed on the walls. The remainder of its stock of more than 2,000 guitars is stored in its warehouse, carefully sorted by SKU for easy retrieval. Probably the store’s most unique feature, a web kiosk at the point of entry, lets cus- tomers search for any guitar from its inventory and ask to have it brought out for a demo. “It’s a very 21st-century concept,” says Colletti.

Founded in 1994, The Music Zoo previously occupied an 1,100-square-foot nook between a real estate office and a kebab restaurant in Little Neck, Queens. A consummate guitar specialist, its selection runs to high-end Gibsons and Fenders, with representation from more than 30 other brands. For more than a decade, Colletti has also collaborated with leading manufacturers on Music Zoo exclusive guitar models. Custom projects have produced some of the store’s most successful sell- ers—such as the Charvel Natural, a throwback to the no-frills, oil-finish Charvel electrics of the early 1980s.

An early e-commerce adopter, The Music Zoo was doing 15% of its busi- ness online within about a year of launching its first website in the mid- ’90s. From there it grew ever more sophisticated, refining its interface and search-optimizing to boost its page views—now topping a million every month. An on-staff photographer takes sharp, detail-rich closeups to accompany each guitar listing. For 2010, The Music Zoo placed at #89 on The Music Trades’ ranking of the Top 200 U.S. music retailers, racking up 90% of its $6 million in revenues through online sales.

While the retailer maintained a small but steady stream of brick-and-mortar business, the Little Neck store was eventually pushed to its limits. By this time last year a space that was barely large enough for one business was essentially housing two—a retail shop and a web order staging area—that were constantly stepping on each other ’s toes. “The old framework for how we were doing business was no longer working,” says Colletti. “You’d walk into The Music Zoo and there’d be 15 guitar boxes lined up where there used to be guitars hanging on the wall—and it became more important for us to have the boxes there because UPS was coming to pick them up.” Scouting for a new location, Colletti found the Roslyn, Long Island site in January 2011 and immediately felt it strike a chord. “It’s a vibey spot,” he says. “We had the right canvas to start with.”

The new Music Zoo opened in August 2011. Located on the outskirts of town in a complex known as the Waterfront At Roslyn, its new home is not your average retail district. Bordering the store on all sides are upscale “lifestyle” businesses including a reception hall, a yoga studio, and a karate dojo that serves members of the U.S. Olympic team. One of the building’s owners, antique car enthusiast Howard Kroplick, keeps a collection of Mustangs and old racers on the property along with vintage billboards, old-time gas pumps, and other memorabilia that makes a unique complement to the eye candy of a Fender Strat or a Les Paul.

Inside, the Music Zoo has combined the industrial look of concrete walls and steel beams with a rich color scheme, muted lighting, and decor contributed by its major guitar suppliers. Fender and Gibson have chipped in with logo-branded couches, tables, wall hangings and, in Fender ’s case, glass display cases built into replica vintage gas pumps to match the classic car theme. Gibson contributed a custom-built, gloss-finished front counter designed to resemble a Flying V guitar. “The focal point is the guitars,” says Colletti, “but we used the warehouse vibe and the cars and the steel and the Fender gasoline pumps to create this cool look.”

Why put so much effort into a brick- and-mortar store when 90% of your sales are online? For The Music Zoo, the goal was not to alter the online/in-store sales mix. It was to lay down the ideal infra- structure for warehousing and shipping while re-creating its signature vibe— sleek, artistic, and thoroughly guitar- obsessed—in a hands-on space the cus- tomer can experience. Among the new store’s appointments are a separate wing for lessons, a mezzanine-level room devoted entirely to Gibson Custom Shop models, and private rooms for customers to demo guitars. This last feature is a favorite for Colletti, himself a guitarist who has found himself overwhelmed by the noise, the blazing lights, and the over-aggressive staff he’s met with in guitar shops. “We give you some peace, which is what most people want,” he says. “They like to test things out without somebody standing over them— which isn’t the norm.

Maybe more than anything, the new store reflects The Music Zoo’s insights into how tech-savvy consumers tick. Its digital kiosk will be an intuitive feature type of computer directory—in every setting from major bookstores to retailers like Ikea and Best Buy—to help them isolate what they want and find it quickly. Beyond that, market research shows a majority of Americans doing research online before making a pur- chase (58% according to a Pew Research Center survey) and arriving in brick-and-mortar stores armed with more information than ever before. While whole seminars have been devoted  to  meeting  the  expectations  of  these customers, The Music Zoo has gone a step further, anticipating and catering to them. It’s expected that the average customer who comes to the store has already browsed its selection online and picked out one or more models of interest—which they can then locate at the kiosk and ask to see.

For The Music Zoo, the concept caps a tailor-made store design with a classic feel, clean logistics, and perhaps an answer to big-box overkill. “There was a period, which probably peaked in the ’80s, where excess was the norm in everything from cars to clothes to music—where everything was extreme,” says Colletti. “You’d walk into a guitar store be over- whelmed by 50,000 square feet worth of guitars, most of which you’ll never have a chance to physically look at. This place is different. It’s more user-friendly, and someone’s going to talk to you as soon as you walk in the door. In my opinion, things have come full circle.”

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