(photography: Guitar Center, Ryan Hunter)
With nearly 300 retail music stores across the country, an extensive pro network and a vast online site with products ranging from the latest gear to vintage treasures, Guitar Center (GC) is undeniably a major influencer, advising everyone from beginners to veteran professionals on their latest equipment or instrument purchase.
While GC Pro’s team of sales experts interfaces with high-level professional and B2B clients on pro audio, video, lighting, installation and integration, the company is equally focused on the retail experience, serving the needs of pros and consumers of every level. Customers continually visit Guitar Center stores seeking guidance on PA systems, lighting, recording equipment and DJ setups, and we were interested in finding out how the company upholds its role as a trusted resource for buyers.
We recently spoke with Chris Hansen, Guitar Center’s Category Manager for Live Sound, DJ and Lighting for retail stores, about hiring and training policies that impact the customer experience. Chris is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and a saxophone player who plays bass in a U2 cover band (Blood Red Sky). In addition to working at Guitar Center, he is an independent producer and engineer and, as we learned, exemplifies the kind of music pro the company values as an employee.
[MM] Does Guitar Center have an underlying ideology about helping customers identify suitable purchase options?
[Chris] Our philosophy is to provide solutions that are appropriate for each individual customer and support either their system or their musical goals. Our intention is for GC to be a conduit for folks to realize their dreams, and our salespeople are carefully trained to help them with their purchases. We only recommend items that are appropriate for customers’ current system—whether it’s a live sound rig, a mobile rig, a home or project recording, or a recording studio setup.
[MM] Can you describe the training your sales associates receive?
[Chris] Initially, our management and field teams provide training, so employees understand the types of questions to ask customers and how to respond. As far as product training, we use a comprehensive e-learning program in which vendor partners can collaborate on content development and target a group or groups of individuals who would benefit most from training information.
Before we begin training on individual products, though, our sales staff goes through mandatory general category training. We’ll train on keyboards, on live sound or on recording, so associates understand the key concepts and technology before applying that knowledge to specific products. For instance, in recording, we teach employees about sample rate and bit depth, so when they start looking at different products, they can apply that information to individual recording interfaces or other DSP devices that use that technology. We also support in-store training and invite vendor teams to train our employees on an ongoing basis.
[MM] Do your sales associates typically come from music backgrounds?
[Chris] Absolutely. The GC retail experience starts with the wide range of expertise our employees bring to the stores. We have associates and managers who have attended the most popular technology and music tech schools in the country. We’ve got graduates from Full Sail University, The Recording Conservatory of Austin, Berklee College of Music and Musicians Institute. We have lots of associates who have had formal music educations and associates with practical real life experience.
At every store, we have specialists in all the different categories. We have specialists in the drum department who can help customers with drums, specialists in our guitar department who help customers with electric guitars, acoustic guitars, of course bass guitars and amplifiers. And then we have specialists in the technology team who help with anything from live sound, recording, keyboards—any of the categories we support at the retail stores.
Folks who work at Guitar Center may also have experience working front of house—maybe locally for a church or for a band that’s on tour. We have recording engineers that moonlight part time at studios and lots of people who play in bands. Everyone who comes to work at Guitar Center has a unique background and that helps ensure customers will be assisted by a sales associate who understands their particular needs.
[Chris] I encourage customers to contact our store management team. By talking to the store manager, assistant manager or an operations manager, they can be directed to the staff member who is best suited to help them with their musical pursuits.
[MM] Does Guitar Center also offer training for customers?
[Chris] The public doesn’t have access to our employee training portal, but our staff can answer most of the questions customers have. We’ve also developed a nationwide curriculum and hired full time staff and instructors for our GC Lessons program. We have a complete instrument and vocal training program, plus a curriculum of recording software addressing Ableton, Pro Tools and other platforms. Students can enroll in either group or private lessons from an accredited instructor. The public is also invited to take advantage of our online and in-person Workshops Series, which is geared for all levels of expertise and explores a wide range of music-related subjects. We also offer a comprehensive suite of training media as well—DVDs and books on recording, live sound and other technology fields.
Many thanks to Chris for sharing his insights on helping customers find solutions for their production and performance needs. If you work in music-related retail, how do you interact with customers to determine their needs? Share your experience in the comments.