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Dale City Music expands in the face of challenging retail times

DALE CITY, Va. — With the internet changing the retail world daily, Dale City Music closed its doors too in late March and moved to a new location a few doors down, doubling the size of their store.

The folks at the 40-year-old local music shop aren’t reevaluating their business model or pointing fingers at Amazon for changing the way instruments and just about everything else is sold these days — they’re expanding music lessons and instrument rental capabilities while nurturing relationships that they built when Bob Parker started his legacy store in in 1977.

“We have a wonderful fan base,” said daughter Stacy (Parker) Armistead. “I’m taking it to another level,” she said.

Expanding was a plan her father had all along until he died a few years ago.

Their “other level” in their new shop a few doors down in is a 4,000-square-foot store in the Center Plaza shopping center at Minnieville Road and Dale Boulevard. They’ll still look forward to everyone from “moms to musicians” coming in and visiting their shop, said Armistead.

But independent music stores have been closing all over the place in the last 20 years due to the nature of consumer habits and the internet. Instead of records, music is on the iPod and MP4s.

Veneman Music was a local chain with an outlet in Springfield that closed years ago but a large part of their business was selling vinyl records. It was the same with the store Penguin Feather.

Then there was Mars Music, a big-box store that opened in the same Springfield shopping center, that closed too after a few years, and finally, a local giant Kemp Mill music which closed their last store in Temple Hills, Md. last month. The resurgence of vinyl wasn’t enough.

Erich RussekRobbins of the NOVA Music Center in Manassas acknowledges that the impact of the internet and the way it has changed the way people shop.

“I don’t think it is any different than what other small businesses face,” he stated via email.

Enhancing the customer experience is a significant part of the independent music store said George L. Hines, President of George’s Music Stores Inc. that has a handful of stores in Florida and Pennsylvania.

Enhancing the experience means having “guitar events where customers can try different instruments to determine the best fit and sound to their playing style or Uke events where people can get together and meet other musicians and learn about accessory add-on items to make playing the uke more enjoyable,” Hines stated in an email. “The independent retailer can overcome internet competition by creating these new unique customer experiences where human interaction cannot be commoditized.”

At Dale City Music, they know this, said Ryan Link, the manager.

“There are a lot of customers that like to come in and touch before they buy,” Link said.

When a guitar feels right, the Dale City team makes adjustments to the strings, frets, and bridges to the customer’s likings. “More personal service,” he said.

“We’re very family oriented, we strive on warmth,” added Armistead.

On “Chain Store Age,” a commerce website, a May 2016 study by entitled “Study: E-commerce having a negative impact on retailers’ operating earnings,” noted that the brick-and-mortar stores can compete. They “can engage customers and meet their heightened expectations, while offering complete visibility of inventory availability,” while being lucrative in reducing markdowns and improving inventory productivity.

Hines agreed on the personal aspect. “Independent music retailers need to play the people game as the internet normally wins the product and price game,” he said.

Another factor in Wilson’s study was that online returns hurt profitability.

Renting instruments like saxophones, drums, violins and others to local school chidlren is big busienss, and Dale City did close to 1,000 rentals last year, which pays the bills.

“We rent to all the local schools,” said Link. At the new location, there is twice the amount of lesson studios, and they had the walls of the studios set up acoustically as well. The drum room was treated with “the egg crate looking” (sound proofing). The new place is “going to be more compartmentalized,” Link said.

As the guitars were being mounted on the wall and the boxes of music books were carted in, Link saw the job ahead. That was Thursday, and the plan was to open the following Monday, April 3.

“It’s all getting down here, putting it away is going to be another fiasco,” he said.

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