Daddy’s Junky Music, a New England chain of musical instrument retail stores, closed its doors for good on Wednesday October 26, 2011. Citing the downturn in the economy, competition from the internet and a large labor settlement as causes, the 39-year-old business has called it quits. The once popular destination had grown to 20 locations throughout six states at its largest, and had been continuously one of the top ten retailers in the industry for years.
In the short time after closing, many people have posted on message boards and social media recalling their fond memories of Daddy’s and lamenting the loss of yet another independent music retailer. News media and public alike had opinions ranging from the lack of community support for local business itself, competition from national chains, and the failure of the federal government. While all of those factors did contribute, the ultimate downfall of the chain was determined by one man.
That man was Fred Bramante.
A charismatic leader, Fred Bramante was the heart and soul of Daddy’s from the time he opened the first store. From the 1990s on, Bramante began spending less time in the day to day operations of his business. His time was occupied with two unsuccessful runs to become governor of New Hampshire, eventually taking position on the Board of Education. While those pursuits are commendable, Bramante didn’t monitor the pulse of the business he created, and the business lost the visionary that had propelled it.
Another iconic regional business also went under recently – Friendly’s, the restaurant chain known and loved around New England for generations. Like Friendly’s, many customers and former employees have fond memories about Daddy’s. But those memories are from years or even decades back. There was no wealth of customers with an outpouring of love for the experience they had months or even a couple years ago. If there was, they both may still be in business.
As far as competing with the internet, Daddy’s Junky Music had chances three different times in their history. Before there even was an internet, Used Gear By Mail shipped musical instruments tax-free all over the country. For a time, the division was hugely successful. Due to shipping charges and a lack of profitability in the business model, the whole thing was scrapped rather than being fixed. The infrastructure to sell and ship used gear all over the world was dismantled, right at the time when Daddy's may have become a pioneer. A few years later, Daddy’s launched RockAuction.com. Somewhat of a clearing house for dead stock, by all accounts it was very successful and acquired a lot of new customers outside the area covered by the stores. Once again deemed unprofitable, the program was discontinued rather than improved or expanded upon. The last effort was in the form of Daddysonline.com. Seemingly weathering the storm that was internet sales, Daddy’s was in a position to take advantage of the sellers Ebay lost due to higher fees, customers tired of boxing and shipping their gear, and anyone that had a bad online experience because of PayPal or fraud. Possibly too little too late, Daddysonline.com never seemed to get the push the other web-based programs received and faded away with the rest of the business.
National chains certainly make an impact on the state of musical instrument retail, but Daddy’s Junky Music was large enough to get the same pricing as the big guys. Certainly by the 1980s, the chain was well respected and had access to any brand it wanted to carry. Daddy’s had numerous advantages that they just never seemed to be able to leverage. It is only in the last year that any national chain has started trying to offer lesson programs, and none of them have seriously taken on repair service. Daddy’s had a 39 year head start on both.
Even used gear itself, Daddy’s lifeblood since the very beginning, seemed to fall by the wayside. The internet would account for a few pedals and guitars, but larger amps, drum sets and PA gear still aren’t sold that way. Only recently has any chain made an effort to actively acquire used gear, and Daddy’s might as well just handed that business over to them. To attract musicians that want to trade in their old gear, there needs to be new gear they want. Daddy’s carried Jackson and Charvel guitars through the 1980s when nothing was hotter, and in the 1990s were one of the first dealers for Nord Lead synths, Modulus Graphite, and Mesa Boogie. All those brands went away, leaving a product mix that could be found anywhere. The product lines left weren’t supported with any depth. With only mid-level product offerings at best, the quality of used gear coming in spiraled down to where most musicians were hard pressed to find anything worth owning.
Daddy’s did settle a labor issue that cost the company between $600,000-$700,000. While Fred Bramante by most accounts is a fairly kind hearted business owner, there is no getting around the fact that this was money owed to his employees. The details were not made public, but the amount is just too large to have been a frivolous lawsuit. Averaging only two managers in each of the 20 stores at that time, it seems there must have been years of compensation that hadn’t been paid.
Any business survives on two things: its customers and its employees. Daddy’s ignored both. Reviews on Yelp.com show post after post by unhappy customers encouraging others to shop elsewhere, with only the most glowing reports coming in at three stars and stating “it wasn’t that bad.” While there were a few die-hard employees there for years, the company retained few others, having turnover that rivaled the big chain stores they were trying to beat. Many industry professionals got their start at Daddy’s, only to move on to work for manufacturers, rep firms or, unfortunately, the competition. If Fred Bramante had been in tune with the people already in his organization, he may still be in business today, and a few more people would still have a job.