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kirc
11-05-2012, 06:28 AM
I don’t post very often, but thought I simply must let off the annoyance I’ve experienced recently whilst looking for a new instrument.

I have been practising my George Formby style play of late and felt it was time to buy a banjo ukulele… now that was when my troubles started.

First I visited a main dealer for Goldtone in the Cotswolds (a beautiful part of the UK for non UK peeps). Now the visit to this shop started oddly; I know this sounds unbelievable, but honestly the first thing the chap in shop to me wasn’t ‘Hello’ or ‘Can I help’ etc. What he actually said was ‘I just upset the previous customer” and then he just looked at me. When I asked to see the ukuleles he didn’t say anything and after three or so attempts by me to gain a response, he finally responded saying I should get them down myself from the wall display (which is fine but still a strange way to deal with a customer). Having got them down (an open back and a deluxe resonator one) I found the deluxe had a very noticeable scratch on the chrome work and the open back had what appeared to be glue or something similar on the fretboard (I hoped that these glue marks would come off easy enough). I tuned the ukes myself (good job I brought my own tuner as I wasn’t getting any assistance from the sales chap), and as it happened I liked the open back one enough to want to buy it. Taking the open back uke to the cash desk I mentioned the marks on the fretboard – initially the guy claimed he couldn’t see them (we’re talking a 2 -3mm circular mark for the worst mark here, so it was very easy to see them), but eventually admitted they were present at which point he rushed upstairs and came back maybe some 40 seconds or so later saying the problem was fixed and that he hadn’t had to use any cleaner to remove them. Then he added that the fret board was now ‘just a touch shiny’. What he done I have no idea, but the areas of the fretboard he had ‘treated’ (scrubbed I’d say) were now both bright and shiny and also scratched. Somehow he managed to both damaged (scratch) and polish the wood at the same time. Sadly this ended my visit to the shop as they did not have any other ukes in stock and he implied there was nothing wrong with the uke I had wanted to buy that it was my ‘problem’ if I wasn’t happy they had now damaged it. To be fair, I accept that I could have cleaned the fretboard up myself at my leisure at home after purchasing it. I could have got it back to a reasonable condition with a bit of effort, but I felt there was no way an instrument should be in that condition when sold new and at top dollar price – hence there was no way I was prepared to purchase it.

Next I visited a shop in Bristol (this time one part of a national chain) to see some Ashbury banjo ukes. I rang ahead to check they had stock and got them to check the instruments over whilst I was on the line for any blemishes or marks as I it was a fair trip for to visit the shop and I didn’t want to waste my time if they were scratched or chipped anywhere as I wouldn’t buy a new instrument that was not in top condition. I was told they were perfect and I made my way over to have a look at them. When I arrived the member of staff ‘tuned’ the open back and resonator style ukes I was interested in and left me to it (which was fair enough). I then went to play them I found neither was even close to being in tune and had to retune them again myself – which is irritating but not a major crime. As I tuned them I immediately saw on the neck of one of them that it had been knocked against something which had chipped the glossy coating and meant the neck was no longer smooth (it also looked pretty poor too - so much for my ringing ahead). Luckily the one I was interested in was undamaged, but I found the tuners which were geared peg style were fitted so close the nut that they stopped me from fretting easily near the top of the fretboard (good job I didn’t order one of these mail order or it would have come a surprise to find I couldn’t play it for such a reason). That said, I was interested enough to ask them about swapping the tuners to standard friction tuners (which I am happy with) so I could see if the instrument could work for me with those (I was sure it would as they are so much lower in profile). I waited about 10 minutes while they tried to fit them, after which I was told it was impossible to fit standard friction tuners - and suddenly that was the end of the visit. I have to say I felt there was that there was a strong sense of disinterest throughout my visit although I couldn’t completely place my finger on precisely what it was that gave me that feeling.

Since these visits I have decided to opt for a Goldtone like the one I first played that was subsequently damaged by the shop assistant, and I have ordered one from a very reputable chap mail order. He does a full setup and changes some parts for better ones when he does so. So hopefully I’ll be sorted in a few days. What saddens me though is you try to support local music shops, and when you do they treat you really badly and offer 2nd rate goods and top dollar. I know not everyone has experiences like this (thank goodness) but my feelings are that actually no one should get such bad service.

Anyway rant over… The Ukulele is still a great instrument isn’t it :-)

hoosierhiver
11-05-2012, 06:54 AM
I feel sorry for retail music shops that rely on walk in traffic to survive. It's hard enough to find a decent employee that shows up for work when you schedule them, but then you need one with some musical experience (preferably with several instruments). Just spoke to a music shop owner in NC who just had a former employee steal a bunch of stock as well as the store credit card. Then you've got folks who want to scratch up your instruments just to show you that they can play something or they let their kids play with the stuff.
I'm not dismissing your rant, but owning a music shop does not seem like an easy way to make a decent living.

kirc
11-05-2012, 07:23 AM
I feel sorry for retail music shops that rely on walk in traffic to survive. It's hard enough to find a decent employee that shows up for work when you schedule them, but then you need one with some musical experience (preferably with several instruments). Just spoke to a music shop owner in NC who just had a former employee steal a bunch of stock as well as the store credit card. Then you've got folks who want to scratch up your instruments just to show you that they can play something or they let their kids play with the stuff.
I'm not dismissing your rant, but owning a music shop does not seem like an easy way to make a decent living.

I think you've made some very valid and interesting points. Also I have to say that as someone that has ordered stuff from you directly and had it shipped across from the USA to UK, how very good the service you gave me was. I'm not one to 'dis' everything and everyone, so credit where its due :-)

OldePhart
11-05-2012, 07:31 AM
Are you sure you weren't in France? (Heh, heh. Just kidding but I did read an article lately where a poll of French citizens found that a great majority of them felt that people in their country were too rude.)

Anyway, the story is pretty much the same over here. I had a good rant a few months ago when I went out of my way to try to toss some money to the local music shop a mile away and ended up having to go to Guitar Center anyway because not only could no one at the shop be bothered to open the pro-audio section - they tried to get me to hang around claiming that the pro-audio guy had "stepped next door" for a moment and would be right back (meanwhile, the pro-audio section was closed and dark and had a cardboard display propped in front of the door...).

There are still good stores around, and as Mike says I don't envy somebody trying to earn a living running any kind of local shop, but it seems like good service is getting more and more rare these days. You'd think with the global economy being in such a poor state that owners and employees alike would be bending over backwards to try to keep customers...

John

mds725
11-05-2012, 07:49 AM
Sorry for your disappointing experience. I always assumed that people who owned and operated music shops did so for the love of music and musical instruments, but I know that even people like that can't be onsite all the time and have to rely mostly on their employees to be the 'face" of their shops. I'm lucky that a lot of the music shops in which I shop -- Music Works in El Cerrito, Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, Guitar Solo in San Francisco -- have owners and employees who seem to care about the instruments they sell and the people they sell them to. I shopped for my first ukulele at Music Works, and the owner literally let me play as many of the ukuleles I wanted to play for about three hours, and even played a few for me so I could hear what they sounded like from in front of them, and then I left without even buying one. Of course, I did go back a few days later and to buy a Kala solid mahogany concert. I still buy stuff there because of the great service I've gotten.

It's also got to be frustrating for ukulele makers who, without knowing it, may lose sales in retail outlets like those you visited because the help there is indifferent or rude. I'm sure that owning a music store is difficult. Instruments are often fragile and are just as often handled by people who are new to them and don't appreciate their fragility or simply don't know how they should be handled. I imagine that these days, there are also many people who go to music shops to test drive (and possibly damage) instruments they intend to buy on the Internet.

mm stan
11-05-2012, 08:31 AM
Well you have to come to Hawaii Music Shops...HMS, Pua Pua, Island Guitars, Easy Music Supply etc....I only heard of one uke shop with little Aloha....and I'm not saying:o
I am sure the Con US shops have so Much Aloha too:) as it is a Happy Job making customers Happy Happy...:)

Lalz
11-05-2012, 09:32 AM
Sorry to hear about your bad experiences. I'm also the kind who prefers to shop in small businesses and I've had a share of bad experiences as well in audio, guitar and records shops, where it has happened several times that the clerks would basically laugh at my face if I asked them a question and then they'd just walk off (!!!). Or give me answers that make absolutely no sense. Or start getting agressive if I didn't take their words for the holy gospel ("I told you this is the one you need to buy, the function you're looking for is activated by pressing that button right there on the back of the casing, why are you asking me that I don't have time for this" - and there'd no button on the back on the casing). Or ask if I was "buying this for my boyfriend".

Once I was asking someone at a guitar shop about a uke set-up (the one I usually go to was on holidays) and the answer I was given was (in short and with some subtitles but still quite literally): "I've been working with guitars for 30 years, and even though I know nothing about ukuleles and have never worked on one, I sure know more about them than you do and when I say this uke doesn't need to be set up, it doesn't need to be set up you little brainless woman". I had seen that guy interacting with male costumers earlier, it was a completely different thing with them, but as soon as I opened my mouth there was a look of disdain on his face, so it was quite obvious what the problem was... I left, went to a different shop, asked the exact same question, got the service I was asking for and didn't get any of that attitude there.

Most music shops I go to the people working there are really lovely and helpful, and call you by your first name, so these bad apples are still a minority. But for some reason it always happens to me in music and audio shops (can't say there are many records shops left these days), and never in say furniture or book shops. Weird.

tjomball
11-05-2012, 10:41 AM
Ok.. I get your issues.
But like previously mentioned. Small brick and mortar stores continue to loose out to the malls and chainstores.
Please support the local shops. In the case of the sales clerk. Have a chat with the owner instead.. ;)
My two cents..

Cooper Black
11-05-2012, 11:40 AM
Well you have to come to Hawaii Music Shops...HMS, Pua Pua, Island Guitars, Easy Music Supply etc....

^This. Island Guitars treated me very well as a guest, as did PuaPua (from whom I purchased). HMS has been my online source now that I have UAS.

Plainsong
11-05-2012, 12:42 PM
Ok.. I get your issues.
But like previously mentioned. Small brick and mortar stores continue to loose out to the malls and chainstores.
Please support the local shops. In the case of the sales clerk. Have a chat with the owner instead.. ;)
My two cents..

But what if the local shops hate customers? Seems like the type of shops being complained about here deserve to go out of business.

I know of only two music shops locally that don't have a seething hatred of customers, but they don't do ukes.

Nickie
11-05-2012, 01:25 PM
There has been a big shift from B&M stores to online buying. I have been slow to adapt to this. I still enjoy the "real" shopping experience. When I bought my Kala from Mim, I wasn't able to try that specific uke, but she showed me kindness and real interest and a wealth of knowledge about the product she sells. Not to omit, she knows ukulele players! She made me feel comlpeletly at ease with purchasing from her, and I was ready to buy even though I wasn't really in the market.
This is above and beyond the normal shopping experoience for me. I've gotten less attention from an automobile salesman. But nowadays, this is what it takes. I still seek out a LIVE person to buy from, unless it's something not avaialbe in stores, LOL...
And I expect to be treated well, if not, I walk, even if I was ready to reach for the plastic when I walked it. I might add, that no music store is complete without a compentent, polite, knowledgable WOMAN to wait on other women. It sure makes me more eager to buy...

Hippie Dribble
11-05-2012, 01:44 PM
But what if the local shops hate customers? Seems like the type of shops being complained about here deserve to go out of business.

I know of only two music shops locally that don't have a seething hatred of customers, but they don't do ukes.

Ha ha Kim...reminds me of a line my dad always used to pull out when he went to a shop and didn't receive due attention from the salespeople:

"The customers get in the way of the business" :)

OldePhart
11-05-2012, 02:19 PM
I've thought more about the OP and it seems like maybe something I've noticed and "credited" to being unique to the US is actually a world-wide phenomenon. When I was a youngster we were taught a few things not only from our parents but from our school systems - among them were a lot of concepts that I guess have gone out of style.

We were taught that when someone was paying us a wage they "owned" us for that number of hours and our best interests were whatever advanced the cause of the business we were employed by. It seems that these days there are many people willing to put in a good day's work - but they want a week's pay for it. When I used to have to go in the office every day I witnessed this over and over - so called professionals that probably put in a good solid five to ten hours of useful, productive, time a week were not the exception, they were the norm. Oh...they could manage to look busy enough for maybe six hours a day - but actual productivity told a completely different story.

We were taught that the customer was always right, especially when they were wrong. These days the customer is someone who interferes with your real job of looking busy whenever the boss happens to be looking your way.

We were taught that when you were at work - especially in a customer-facing position - you had a responsibility to present an appearance that would not embarrass your employer. In the last few years there have been several times that I have gone somewhere for lunch and turned around and left because the wait-staff or counter-staff looked like they either crawled out of a coffin or out from under a rock.

I'm usually asked to help interview new candidates for our department - it's something that's kind of fallen to me for years as the "old man who's done it all" - it's almost scary how hard it is to find someone that I even want to interview, let alone hire. Give me a crazily inflated resume, call in ten minutes late to the conference bridge for a prescreening interview with either no apology or a lame apology, try to stall me while you google for answers to questions I've carefully crafted to be difficult to google, try to snow me with ridiculous BS after I call you on the googling (for gosh sake, the last guy was reading the google search results under his breath on the phone, how incredibly stupid did he think I was?) - then, after all this, act as if I was wasting your time when I inform you, as politely as possible, that we have other candidates to screen (i.e., don't call us, we'll call you).

John

Harold O.
11-05-2012, 03:38 PM
Guitar Merchant (in the Los Angeles, California area) is a small operation by any measure. The owner/operator is there more than he is home, I am sure. Each month is a struggle with the bills, etc but there is no where else he would rather be than at the store, doing what he does. We've talked about that very issue, especially when the City or IRS comes around with yet another audit/request for papers. The payoff comes when people walk in for the first time and comment on the vibe, the relaxed atmosphere, and realization that this place even exists. They are typically fed up with the Big Guys guitar stores.

I've seen all kinds walk in to Guitar Merchant. Just today, they had me linger (my wood shop is next door) for a couple of hours in the showroom while tending to a very large man in a wheel chair who came to buy an electric piano. The man brought cash but was loud, pushy, and stayed for over two hours. My role was moral support.

When it comes to ukuleles, I have convinced them to get few Ohanas and they have sold fairly well. When someone comes in looking for ukulele, I am summoned to the front and I go through the routine. We recently got a few mid-level models to test the waters on stepping in quality/price. It's tough getting guitar guys to consider ukuleles as an instrument for playing or selling. Unless you are near a beach, it can be a hard sell.

[We] have found that it's best to let a new customer wander alone for a few minutes. Then introduce ourselves and the store, letting the guy know we can answer any questions and that it's OK to hang out for (almost) as long as they want to. That said, a lot of people wander in and wander out. There are a lot of people who would like to play music but are intimidated enough to avoid the process altogether.

Local independent music stores are worth checking out. If they do not meet expectations, I can see no reason to support them. But if they know their merchandise, can help you find what you are looking for, and are at least competitive with Big Guy pricing, do what you can to keep them open. The same can be said for your local sandwich shop.

dhoenisch
11-05-2012, 05:21 PM
In reading these posts, I can definitely see both sides of this. OldePhart, I agree 100% with what you said in your last post.

But, there are still some really good independent music stores out there. I stumbled on one over the summer, Uncle Johns Music. It's a father and son owned business. Both are partners in the store, both are active musicians, and both are knowledgeable with what they sell. Also, I don't think they have any "employees" except for their music teachers. The father, son or wife seem to run the sales area. You can go in to buy a guitar pick, or go in and buy a top of the line guitar set-up, and they treat you the same. Total respect, and a great conversation. The best part of the place... half of the store is caked in ukuleles. They have a stand of nothing but dolphins (for those of you who like them... I can live life without them), and many others. I felt bad taking my mom to a big box store to purchase her last uke instead of going to them, but then, I didn't know they existed. The will be the go-to people for me.

Dan

Ben_H
11-05-2012, 07:54 PM
I've had some very good experiences with small shops and some poor ones.

The best one included helpful but not intrusive advice or attention and offers of cups of tea as well as being left to noodle away on ukes in the corner (and in charge of the store on the odd occasion). I didn't buy a uke because I was still trying to find out what I wanted but I did spend quite a bit of money on sheet music so didn't feel guilty of time wasting. - Franchise music shop run by a musician

The worst one was in a well known independent uke store. Although it was 3pm on a Friday they're open till 8pm. I rang the day before to confirm what stock they were holding and was assured that they had the baritones I wanted to look at. When I got to the shop the chap behind the till was disinterested, made a very poor attempt to tune the uke when I asked him to and then ignored me to the point of rudeness, appearing to go out of his way to avoid having to deal with me and my questions.

He made no attempt to find out what I was after or enter into discussion about the relative merits of the ukes I was trying. They also didn't have many of the the ukes they had claimed to on the phone. I had been prepared to buy if I had found something I liked but was completely put off by his attitude. A friend of mine joined me in the shop after 20 mins and felt exactly the same. He also had cash in his pocket to buy his first uke but left the shop empty handed though he had found one he liked. I was very disappointed as I had managed to combine the trip with a work meeting to save on the train fare but still had a 5 hour round trip travel wise. I think the worst thing was still being in the first flush of uke enthusiasm I expected to edal with someone who actually wanted to sell me something.

I put it down to the chap having a bad day but later spoke to friends from my uke group who had used the shop and they said their experience was similar or worse. Independent, uke only store run by ???

tjomball
11-05-2012, 08:29 PM
Ha ha Kim...reminds me of a line my dad always used to pull out when he went to a shop and didn't receive due attention from the salespeople:

"The customers get in the way of the business" :)

Makes me think of a movie quote..
Kudos to whomever gets it..
"It would have been a perfect job, if it hadn't been for all the costumers"

But in all seriousness.
I used to run a small bike shop. 3 employees.
Every single one of us had a burning passion for our trade. Bikes.
But one thing has been neglected to mention here.
Problem customers. I have had more than my fair share.
Now I'm a contractor. Still have ignorant customers.
But I am in a line of business where the customers rarely if ever knows what they're paying for.

bazmaz
11-05-2012, 11:26 PM
UK experience is similar - a mixed bag. I personally have a strong dislike for the 'chain' music shops - the pile em high sell em cheap brigade who will do anything to get a sale, even if it means selling crud to a new player. I once spoke up in one such shop where a dealer was trying to force a crappy acoustic guitar on a set of clueless parents - clearly because they were trying to shift them. I took them to one side as I had spotted a mint condition used guitar on the rack for only 20 quid more than the shop wanted for the el cheapie. They went with that one. The manager of the store came over and told me not to interfere!

Anyway, on the indie store side - they too can be a mixed bag, but you shop around and I have certain stores that I like and will go to again and again. One store with a well known name in UK (I wont embarasss them here) sold a uke to a friend of mine with a setup that was appalling and scratches on the back of the neck. I very nearly emailed them to call them on it. Not good.

For me - a good music shop should sell the best instrument the customer can afford, not necessarily the one they want to shift out of the stockroom. They should ensure that all instruments are setup as well as can be expected, meaning the new player should have to do little else. They should change strings for nothing if requested (well, pay for strings, not the string change if you see what I mean). Instruments that are shop damaged from playing should be discounted, and never shipped mail order as 'new'.

I know shops that meet all these standards, and I dont think thise standards are too high. AS such, they are the shops that I stick to.

Lalz
11-05-2012, 11:56 PM
I'm not sure how this became a discussion about local independent shops vs chain stores vs online sellers. Isn't it just a question of bad sellers vs. good sellers? There are a whole lot of lovely people in all three of the above categories. All I can say though, is that guitar shops - whether big or small - seem to have a higher rate of misogynistic clerks than other branches. Must be some kind of guitar hero complex some of them have. But it doesn't mean the rest of them - the majority actually - aren't nice and serviceable. It's just that it does happen more often there for some odd reason. Go figure.
At least it makes you appreciate the nice ones all the more!

RichM
11-12-2012, 05:31 AM
Sorry to reopen a mostly ended thread, but I have had wonderful experiences (and some bad ones) at every type of music shop. Some of the good ones:

1. Ukulele Source in San Jose, CA. The owners are friendly, warm people who clearly love ukuleles and spend a lot of time with customers to help them learn and become comfortable with the instrument they are going to buy. The don't have the lowest prices I've ever seen, but provide an awful lot of value. After spending an afternoon there, I had no problem spending a few extra bucks on a uke, because it was worth it.

2. Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, TN. Some people have complained about condescending treatment there, but my experience was the exact opposite. Very friendly, very welcoming, very willing to let me play high dollar instruments. As a result, I ended up buying a very expensive mandolin there, which I might not have done at a place that kept it under glass.

3. Troubaour Music in Wayne, PA and Todaro's Music in Lansdowne, PA. Local shops in the tradition that seems to be dying. Friendly, knowledgable proprietors who make you feel welcome and genuinely help you out.

4. Gryphon Music in Palo Alto, CA. Another shop with lots of high-end stock where I've never felt anything but welcome. Gryphon is perhaps the classiest operation inthe business.

5. Elderly Music in Lansing, MI: I've never set foot in Elderly, but I've spent thousands there. These guys totally get it. May they live forever!