A Year in MI Retail: Launching a brand-new specialist music store mid pandemic

|

This week, we’re delighted to be rounding up 2020 with our ‘A Year in MI Retail’ series. Running a music retail business in 2020 has been an experience like no other. There’s been challenges, but there’s also been opportunities. We’ll be bringing you interviews with retail businesses and sharing their thoughts and reflections on one of the most unique years in MI retail.

Today, the MIA’s General Manager Alice chats to Olivia Wild, who has launched her own Woodwind & Brass Specialist Shop called Windology Music in Telford, Shropshire.

Q: What made you want to open a brand-new music store, especially in the middle of a pandemic?

A: If you had said to me in January this year that I would own my own specialist music shop in Telford, Shropshire by the end of the year, I wouldn’t have believed you; but as it did for many people, COVID-19 had a profound effect on the way the year turned out.

The first lockdown was tough, not just because of the mental impact, health concerns or lack of routine, but also because of the lack of outside space. Living in London in a small one-bed flat with no outside space was something about my life that I wanted to change anyway, as both myself and my partner Adrian are very outdoorsy people, so the sudden constraints on going outside had a huge baring on deciding that it was time to leave London.

That said, I love this industry and have no desire to leave my career behind. When planning what life outside of London would look like, it became clear that it might just be feasible to launch a specialist brass and woodwind shop in the Midlands. Luckily, the area we aimed for is relatively under-catered for so it seemed to make sense that moving back to my home town would be a good option.

A combination of my experience in the MI industry and my partner Adrian’s work, coordinating imports and exports in Musical Instrument retail too, made for the perfect conditions for the new music store to be born.

Q: Tell us a bit about you, your background and your experience in the industry?

A: I’m a saxophonist and clarinet player from Shropshire. I studied in London at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

I have worked in the Specialist Music Retail Industry in London for nearly 10 years, as Deputy General Manager / Clarinet & Saxophone Department Manager and Marketing at the renowned woodwind specialist, Howarth of London. I had several highlights throughout my time at Howarth, giving professional advice and instrumental knowledge to both professional and amateur musicians of all ages. I consult on choices of instruments, mouthpieces and accessories, finding solutions to the issues that apply to our international client base, meeting their varied and unique specifications.

I was an early advocate for social media in business, building an organic strategy that complements the business and customer relationships which has proven to be one of our more vital marketing tools in todays world. I am also a photographer, graphic designer and web designer – I’ve had the pleasure of creating marketing campaigns within the music industry, working closely with some of the major brands to deliver really effective messages.

Playing-wise, I am a serving musician in the Army Reserve with The Band of The Mercian Regiment and previously The Band of The Honourable Artillery Company. I perform on engagements that have national significance, playing at a professional level across the UK and the world. My passion for music, and more specifically, wind bands and original wind band repertoire lead to be being invited to become a Trustee for the National Concert Band Festival, and I enjoy performing an active role in supporting the banding community in the UK.

Q: he Coronavirus pandemic has had a huge effect on the wind world. What do you think retailers that specialise in wind and brass instruments can do to continue to adapt in 2021?

A: Opening a new business in the middle a pandemic does present the obvious challenges but putting stringent health and safety protocols in place means we are still able to provide excellent customer service, the ability to test instruments in store and to continue to support musicians and the music industry. I feel that if the Music Industry is going to come out out fighting from this, then our first and foremost concern is to make sure the customer feels comfortable. Without their trust, the industry has no hope.

For sure, the pandemic has challenged our ability to make music together, but you only have to look at the thousands of virtual recordings, streamed concerts and innovative ways that people have made music over the past year, to know that people are stronger than that. One thing is for sure – people will make music no matter.

Having seen how the Military and Educational Establishments have been able to continue to make music in a safe and controlled way since the first lock down ended, I see no reason why these approaches can’t be adapted to enable amateur organisations to get back to the band room, which is a key action that will help music shops recover.

The lockdown has presented the music industry with a change in who our customers are. Whilst professional musicians are waiting for the green light to start working again, and some musicians may have put down their instruments for a while, the lockdown was a catalyst for people to nurture what they love and come back to hobbies that have otherwise been forgotten or neglected.

There are many who have revisited the idea of playing an instrument this year. So, by digging out the dusty instrument case from under the bed, it Is breathing some much needed new life into the industry.  We must celebrate the positives in any situation, and this is certainly one of them.

I remember vividly from the MIA Conference in May 2019, the message of ‘the added extras within your business are the key to success.’ It is no longer enough to just operate as a shop – the internet giants are ensuring that a music shop’s place in the world is a threatened one, but we must find new ways to remain relevant, needed and to champion our value. I am a strong believer that if bricks-and-mortar shops stick together as a team, we will continue to survive in these challenging times.

It is also important that businesses play their part in promoting the importance of arts and culture in society. From grassroots to professional, all musicians are striving to make a living in a sector that is so undervalued and yet relied on. If we don’t support musicians, they can’t support us.

Q: What can you tell us about your new store, Windology Music?

A: Windology Music is a Woodwind and Brass Instrument Specialist shop, providing sales of instruments and accessories to both student and professional players across the UK and globally. The business is run from a retail showroom in Much Wenlock, Shropshire where we also operate an effective online mail-order service.

Based near Telford, Shropshire customers can visit, make purchases of new/second-hand instruments & accessories, test out instruments, seek advice and have their instruments repaired. Both UK based and International customers may place orders via the Windology Music website.

The staff are trained musicians with an extensive background in specialist music retail, perfectly equipped to help and advise, by phone, email, online or face-to-face consultation in store.

Windology Music are also passionate about supporting the banding community in the UK.

Q: Other than COVID, what do you feel is the biggest challenge for Windology Music in 2021, and what is the biggest opportunity?

As we know, the pandemic is going to affect us all for far longer than the actual virus will; combine that with Brexit and the uncertainty that will bring – there is a challenge for everyone. I am quite optimistic however, that as a fresh business, it means that we are hitting the ground running with the new practices.

The location of our shop gives me hope of an opportunity. Having grown up in this area, with a rich musical education and network, I am confident that this is the right place to be. This venture gives Windology Music the opportunity to be part of crusade to support and nurture the musicians of tomorrow.

www.windologymusic.co.uk