A Year in MI Retail: Presto Music experiences its biggest ever boost in revenue


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 Chris O’Reilly, CEO of Presto Music. Presto Music are the leading e-commerce site for classical and jazz recordings, sheet music, music books and musical instruments.

Booming sales of recordings, sheet music, books and instruments gave Presto Music its biggest ever boost in revenue in 2020. In this interview, Alice finds out about the journey that Presto Music has taken this year.

Q: This year, Presto Music saw its biggest ever boost in revenue, with an overall sales growth of 63% in the past six months alone. Tell us a bit about the journey you’ve taken this year?

A: We started the year very strongly continuing from a stellar 2019. Then as lockdown 1 hit, the combination of people spending more time at home, and no opportunity to spend money going out, translated into big spikes across recordings, downloads and sheet music.

Over the last few years, the new areas which we’ve moved into like books and jazz, starting from low bases have seen triple digit growth this year. We didn’t furlough any of shop team, but instead repurposed them to improve the website, working on data and adding product images.

We’ve sold instruments and accessories in our shop for 18 years and have always planned to offer them online, and this year seemed the ideal opportunity to accelerate that. It is a testament to our inhouse IT team and our editorial and product team that we were able to take that from initial plans to launch in less than 4 months. There is still a long way to go, but we’re thrilled with the trajectory which we’re on.

Q: Sheet music sales soared by 25% during lockdown, and there was huge interest and enthusiasm shown by consumers for playing a musical instrument this year. What has Presto Music done to capitalise on this opportunity?

A: We saw strong growth in sheet music during the first lockdown, partly as shops were closed, and partly due to a lot of great things we’ve been doing as a business over the past few years which were really paying back. Since then our sheet music business has been more flat, as continued growth has offset by choirs not ordering as they usually would. We’re confident it will bounce back quickly in 2021 though as and when things return more to normal.

Q: How will you be ensuring that you retain all the new customers that have engaged with you in 2020?

A: We have a very loyal and growing customer base who love Presto and the level of service which we offer, from the great website experience through to the speed of delivery and quality of packaging. My colleagues here at Presto are brilliant, many are musicians themselves, and they care passionately about getting even the tiniest details correct. We appeal to customers who also care about the tiny details and we aim to exceed their expectations at every step of their journey.

Q: Aside from COVID, what do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the MI industry?

A: I feel the biggest challenge is fighting for attention, particularly amongst young people. Learning an instrument is time-consuming and difficult, but is hugely rewarding and will definitely pay back the effort. The industry needs to be better at communicating and demonstrating that, and I think that starts at a community level where learning and even basic mastery can be demonstrated and celebrated locally. Sure, we all wish that creative subjects were more central to the education curriculum in this country, but that alone will not create more musicians, nor inspire or motivate people to invest the time and effort they need to get the most out of learning an instrument.

Q: What do you feel is the biggest opportunity for Presto Music in 2021?

A: 2021 marks the 35th anniversary of our shop in Leamington and the 20th anniversary of our website. We’re looking to relocate and develop the shop next year into more of a destination-experience, making it the centre of the musical community in our area, with events and classes and a place to be inspired and amazed rather than purely somewhere to buy things. Our new focus on instruments and accessories online is undoubtedly also a big opportunity for us, and along with a streaming service which we’re developing for our recorded music customers is part of our continuing desire to amaze and delight all those who choose to shop with us.