Hanging out with longtime customers and being there at the exciting moment when someone buys a first guitar are the joys of operating a neighborhood music store. Geoff Albert merged his own love of music with his livelihood, making those joys a daily occurrence when he founded rEvolve Guitar & Music Shop six years ago in Bartlett.
Today, the corner business at 5822 Stage Road boasts gleaming rows of acoustic and electric guitars, does a booming business in ukeleles, and stocks the occasional banjo, mandolin and other instruments. But, front and center, guitars are the heart of rEvolve’s operations.
“We do other instruments too, but face it, that’s what we know and that’s what we love and that’s what we do the best,” Albert said.
The independent store offers private guitar and ukelele lessons, sells supplies for guitars and basic band instruments, and accepts thousands of used instruments as trade-ins or purchases. Outsourced technicians manage repairs on guitars, amps and band instruments. And above it all there are long rows of colorful, glossy electric guitars hanging for sale along the walls, with the more traditional models in rich wood tones filling the acoustic side room floor to ceiling.
A diverse business means a steady business, and Albert also makes the store a welcoming environment for his customers.
That was one of his main objectives when he opened his shop, Albert said.
“Guitar stores in general have a really nasty reputation, and some of it rightfully deserved, of being somewhat intimidating and being kind of aloof. And we wanted to make it an un-intimidating place, family friendly, where people can come.”
While he talks, an employee chats with a familiar customer while others drop in and roam the store, touching smooth finishes, plucking strings and taking down guitars for a test strum. One customer took off work early that day and came by to hang out for two or three hours, Albert said.
He estimated that he knows about half of his customers by first name.
“That’s part of it,” he said. “It is relationships. And I enjoy talking to them, even if they’re not buying anything. That’s okay too. You know, seriously — these are my friends. I’m here every day, six days a week.”
The store’s small size is ideal for creating friendly relationships with repeat customers, because Albert and his staff can see and talk to them during their visits. Customers range from rank beginners to professional and semi-professional musicians, with a vast bell curve in between of happy hobbyists who stop by often.
“Guitar players are very, very loyal and they’re never satisfied, so they’re always looking for something else,” Albert said. “So we have a lot of guys who come here literally every day. Every day to see. They come in saying, ‘What new came in?’”
When his customers feel a sense of ownership for “their” music store, it pleases Albert. He wants to have the atmosphere of the local music shop of his youth.
“I kind of miss the days of good old-fashioned customer service,” he said. “… I remember being a 16-year-old kid going into my neighborhood music store and them talking to me and letting me play something, even though they knew I probably couldn’t afford it at the time. But when it came time to get my guitar — you know, my first good guitar — that’s where I went. And I got that one, and then I bought another one.”
He left school at the chance to manage a CD store. Over the years, he worked for many companies as store manager, district manager and regional director: Blockbuster Music, Turtles, Warehouse and Spin Street, to name a few. In 2011, he was ready for a change — investing in his own dream business.
“So I decided to put in my notice, take a little plunge and give it a try,” he said. “It felt like there was a need in the music instrument business. I wanted to go back to sort of like making music, and not the finished product of a CD.”
The CD industry was starting to wane anyway, and guitars had always been his passion. Albert said he had always been a bit of a nut when it came to guitars, gear and tinkering. So he gave his notice and spent months researching and planning.
Part of his plan was to use modest pricing in his store. Albert defies the misconception that small shops are always more expensive. He said his pricing is exactly the same that customers would find online or at big-box stores.
“It can be done,” he said. “If you manage your cost and you’re willing to work and you manage your inventory, it can be done.”
He founded rEvolve on a lifetime of loving guitars, years of managerial experience and, oh yeah, a 35-page business plan he took an entire year to craft. As part of that pre-work, he picked Bartlett deliberately. Data from the Small Business Administration showed that the city’s households spend quite a bit on musical instruments.
“You have to do the research,” he said. “You have to put in the time and effort. When you start a business, there’s a lot of ahead-of-time thinking through. And even when you do, it’s not a static thing. It changes. Just because I wrote it down doesn’t mean that’s how it worked out.”
Albert is a careful businessman who selected the little corner shop after plenty of thought, and he’s operated just as carefully since then. He pays attention to how the store’s foot traffic flows, places products deliberately, and watches whether individual lines of inventory are stagnating or selling like crazy.
Now in business for six years, rEvolve has continued to grow and thrive. Albert has built up to almost four times the inventory value of when he started in 2012, with a wide variety of major brands.
He explained that the store’s name is related to its inventory, its growth and evolution.
“You revolve your gear as you evolve in your plan,” he said. “Because everybody changes.”
That principle applies to customer evolutions too — one may come in with an old guitar to sell because he wants to upgrade.
After years of cultivating repeat customers and steady business growth, it would be easy for a store owner to get complacent. But Albert doesn’t rest on his laurels.
“We’re always looking for ways to get better,” he said. “We’re never satisfied.”
CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.