Wednesday, October 31, 2007


A few weeks ago, Dawsons - a large music shop in Abingdon High Street - sadly closed its doors. The shop used to be called Modern Music, and had an enviable reputation for its range of musical instruments and expertise in all matters musical. It was taken over by Dawsons - a chain based in Warrington - last year, and it's a great shame that it closed less than a year after taking over.

Anyway, some of our customers were quite upset at not being able to order music in the town. We discussed it with them, and we also had the opportunity to talk to a major music wholesaler at the recent Gardners Trade Show. After some consideration, we said - why don't we offer sheet music and music book ordering as a service?

I mean, the books all have ISBNs. Said wholesaler says they stock loads of them. Some are even available through our usual book wholesaler. How difficult can it be?

So, a few weeks ago, with a bit of a flurry, we announced the launch of our music ordering service. It also gave us a wonderful excuse to beef up our music section.

The response was hugely positive. Lots of people were very impressed that we decided to move into this area, and we started receiving our first orders.

Which is where the problems started.

Admittedly we were a bit speculative about the whole thing, and realised that there might be a bit of a learning curve (ho ho) and some jargon to learn. Well, I've learned a lot. For example, when someone asks for a title containing the words "flute with bass continuo", I now know that "bass continuo" isn't a musical instrument. That sort of thing.

But I hadn't appreciated just what a challenge getting hold of books would be. Of the first six orders, one was available through our music wholesaler. We discovered that we would have to set up additional accounts with another 3 wholesalers (which we did, albeit on a pro-forma basis - they always want about 6 trade references, and our existing suppliers get a teensy bit hacked off when you keep asking them to provide a reference). One title was so obscure, it is only available as a print-on-demand title from an obscure source in the US and (technically) qualifies as a Googlewhack when you search for it.

So, 6 books, 5 seperate sources. As you can appreciate, these are hardly huge volumes we're putting through each of them. And it's a bit of a shock when you start seeing terms and conditions like "free postage only for orders above £2,500" (it's £100 for our usual wholesalers). So it started to dawn on us that our service was going to be slightly less appealing to customers if they were going to have to pay the full whack of delivery charge for just one of little Johnny's flute books.

But it got worse. We tried to order a piano grade book set by the UK's largest examination board (this is a reasonable popular title). The response we got was "we don't sell that book to trade anymore". I'm sorry? But how on earth can we get it then?

Anyway, with our first few orders fulfilled, and only two customers severely hacked off with the delay (to whom I have already offered our sincerest apologies) we are now committed to cracking the music wholesaler 'code'. Our strategy now will be to talk directly to some of the music teachers in Abingdon (some of whom have already come into the shop) and try to anticipate which books are likely to be in demand in the future. And we're going to establish a service-level in terms of timescales for ordering, which should allow us to bulk up orders ourselves and absorb the delivery charges.

Other than that, I may just take up the piano myself.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mark, another possibility is ordering Christian books for the local churches. I think some currently deal with St Andrews near St Clements in Oxford. Possibly with a small discount.