Joe Lamond brought a wealth of experience to the table when he took over as president and CEO of NAMM in 2001. His years as a musician and retailer gave him a solid background in customer relations, market trends and economic uncertainties. Day after day, year after year, he works diligently and tirelessly to promote NAMM and music-making worldwide.
A few weeks before the 2013 summer show in Nashville, Lamond spoke at length about NAMM’s role, the industry’s future, music in the digital age and why the summer show remains a vital part of NAMM’s mission.
Following are some excerpts from that conversation, along with links to our entire interview for U.K. trade publication Music Industry News.
There is a quote in one of the summer NAMM press releases where you say, “Business is hyper-competitive today, perhaps more than any time in memory, and those businesses that are quickest to adapt will prosper.” How has competition changed, how has the Internet leveled that playing field, and what will it take for businesses to adapt to market shifts?
Going back in some of the NAMM annals we have here, you see the impact of the Sears and Roebuck catalog on the industry of the 1900s, where someone could purchase an instrument outside of their town, from a place far away, and it would show up on their front porch maybe a week later. Pianos were even delivered on a horse-drawn wagon, but the concept was the same: the idea that you could buy something outside of your own area. The Internet has refined that to an unbelievable level. That’s a huge change in retail when, because of your smartphone, you can have access to any bit of product pricing and information, and any number of places to buy that product. That gives the consumer unbelievable power. For any industry, not just the music products industry, that creates a new set of rules. There are some really successful NAMM member retailers that are navigating those changes quickly, pivoting when necessary, and coming up with whole new business models. In any given era, there are companies that get it right. Through NAMM University, the Breakfast of Champions at the Anaheim show, and a lot of the Idea Center sessions, we’ve been able to highlight those success stories so that others can learn from them, adapt from their strategies and learn from their mistakes, so that we can raise the entire field of music retail, improve it and provide better service, which takes us back to my other point: the only thing that matters is, are we taking care of the customers? If we do that, we will earn and deserve to have a robust and vital business.
Obviously, there are many ways to improve your service. Better use of technology, better use of customer relationship software, better inventory control, carrying what customers in your area are really looking for, being able to service after the sale, repair. A lot of musical instruments don’t lend themselves to just showing up on your front porch and working perfectly. A lot of times you’ll want to try several. I’m a drummer; I like to hit a lot of cymbals before I decide which one to buy. If you’re a guitar player, a month after you buy the guitar you’re going to want to have it re-set-up by a qualified technician. Some of our products require a lot more explanation or after-sale training. All of those are places for good, quality retailers to provide additional service and value and to earn their place in the sales equation. We have to earn our spot every step of the way. Our role is to highlight those best practices, share the success stories, and by doing so, hopefully inspire, inform and educate so that many other NAMM members are able to do the same or put their own twist on it, adapt some of those best practices their way, and maybe even take it further. That’s how we improve the industry. If we raise the bar for all of our members to provide better service and better value for the marketplace, that helps the whole industry grow.
You have managed music stores and now lead NAMM. Is leadership a natural skill? What does it take to be a good leader?
I still look around the room and wonder when the adults are coming back! That’s almost a question others have to answer. All I know is you get up every day and think about what your customers need and how you can do a better job for them. That’s really all I’ve ever done, and by doing that, this stuff just kind of happened. It was never planned, honestly. It was just getting up every day and saying, “How can we do a better job for our customers?” Whether it was the bands I worked for, played drums for, the customers in the music stores, exhibitors or retail members of NAMM, by asking that question, it seems like these really cool things have happened. I wish it were more of a divine plan. I wish I could say it was a strategy and that I thought all of this out, but it was nothing more than “How can I do a better job today than yesterday?” I still look at it as what’s exciting and what’s next.
Asking yourself how you can do a better job than the day before is a good business model that not many people follow.
Maybe the simplicity of it resonated with me. It’s a simple strategy, but in doing so, the trick is sometimes you make mistakes, and I certainly made my share of them along the way. But you keep pushing on.
In twelve years as CEO and president of NAMM, what is the most important business lesson that you have learned and what is the most important personal lesson?
It’s not something I learned specifically at NAMM, but over the years I have learned that things don’t stay fixed. It’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. You start at one end and get it all clean, and by the time you finish, you’ve got to go back to the other end and start all over again. As much as you try to put systems and strategies in place, in business, things don’t stay fixed, and it’s partly because things are changing so fast. You go into an area, apply a lot of energy, get it all dialed in, turn it on and it works, but within a year or two you have to go back and fix it because the world has changed. That has been a lesson, and I think a lot of our members feel that way. I know a lot of retailers who started after the Beatles boom and Woodstock, guys who started their stores in the late 1960s and early 1970s, now they’re 65, plus or minus, and a lot of them are really bummed because they thought that by now everything would be perfect and the store would be humming along from all that knowledge they’d acquired over the years. But a lot of guys in that position are working harder than ever. Because things change, the lesson there is that even after many years of doing something, you have to have that fresh approach.
I think the last ten or twelve years have been difficult for anyone who has been in business. I think history will judge this last decade, or decade plus, as one of the most extraordinary times in human history. Again, in the short run, changes on a graph look dramatic and bold, but over time they tend to level out. I think this last decade is going to be one of those moments in history that people write about. It was the technology age, the move to mobile, a smartphone can give you the access to the world. That’s a huge shift in humanity and a very dramatic time. So it was the lesson of how fast and how much things have changed, and how our roles at NAMM, and for anyone leading a company, have been buffeted by the changes.
My personal lesson over these years is “What a ride!” Good thing we buckled in, because it continues to be. This was warp speed. It’s been a great ride, but this was not a time for the faint of heart, whether you’re in politics or business or probably any field. This was a time of some pretty heavy turbulence. Sometimes I look back and say, “I wish I’d had this job in the 1990s. Maybe it was easier,” but then I think, What better time to have had it than this last decade? My fifteenth anniversary at NAMM is coming up in August, and I think, Who would have wanted to sit this last decade out? This was the time for people to learn, to get tested. The samurai sword that goes through the fire and gets hammered and hammered comes out a really sharp blade. Anyone who has been in business the last ten or twelve years has been through that process. And those that survived have come out much sharper!
Read Joe Lamond’s two-part Music Industry News interview here: