Music Inc Magazine May 2024

maybe not the logical choice because I didn’t have a retail background. I have a digital background. I run digital businesses. But, I’d spent enough time through my own personal background and through the time on the board where I actually had a really good idea of what Guitar Center needed to do to really recapture the magic of Guitar Centers’ ‘youth,’ while also thinking about the business in a future-centric way.” Dalporto was named the new Guitar Center CEO on Oct. 31, 2023, and said the journey so far has been “spectacular.” “I’m so honored and humbled to be part of this truly iconic company,” he said. “It’s a company that really needs to exist in many markets. If you want to experience musical instruments and start off or ac- celerate your journey as a musician, the world needs Guitar Center. Our customers need us and our vendors need us. But in order to earn the right to be here, we need to evolve and execute better.” DALPORTO’S THREE FOCUS POINTS Dalporto said there are three key areas that he and his team are focusing on in order to meet these evolutionary goals, starting with adding to GC’s premium offerings. “I think one of our biggest challenges as a company is somewhere along the way we forgot who our core customer was,” Dalporto explained. “Our core customer is the serious musician — the gigging artist or the passionate player where music is a big piece of their identity. That is the seri- ous musician, and that’s the customer that we’ve historically served in the past. But, over the years, we’ve evolved significantly into serving the beginner and entry-level customer — which is great — but if you walk through a GC store, you’re going to see an awful lot of $300 guitars and $300 digital drum kits. We have some premium product, but we don’t have enough, and it’s very hard to experience our premium product because we have our best guitars locked on the top row where you can’t easily get to them. So, if I’m a serious musician and I walk into a Guitar Center, it doesn’t feel like the right place for me anymore.” Dalporto said in order to fix this, Guitar Center has to rethink the experience it wants to deliver in its physical locations. “I want customers to walk into [a store] and have the same experience I had when I was younger and just be hit in the face with, ‘Wow, this is amazing. This is a playground. This is where I belong,’” he said. “And that means having a much more

premium assortment that’s more easily accessible where I can get in and grab a guitar and plug it in and try all these pedals and effects and just geek out and have a great time. So, first we have to get the right product in the stores and deliver an incredible experience where people are just having a great time and engaging with the product.” Delivering a positive experience to its customers leads into Dalporto’s second focal point: investing in Guitar Center’s sales team. “When it comes to our sales team, we haven’t really done them any favors,” Dal- porto said. “We’ve cut back on training, and we’ve cut back on hours. We need to invest in our sales associates. If you go into a grocery store and someone is set- ting out bananas, you buy those bananas because otherwise you’d starve to death. But if you go into a guitar store and you set out a $3,000 Martin acoustic, nobody buys it out of necessity. They don’t buy it until someone actually spends time with them and says, ‘You know, this wood is extremely rare, and it gives this incredible sound you can’t find anywhere else.’ Then, they’re more likely to spend the $3,000. So, we need to invest in our sales team, their training and [help them attain] really deep consultative skills, so they can help our customers really experience the magic of some of these instruments.” Finally, Dalporto’s background in digital business will play a key role as he helps fur- ther push Guitar Center into the digital age. “We were kind of in the dark ages of digital as a company,” he said. “There was a point in like 2008 where we were the dominant player, and then we lost our focus and seeded all that market share to our competition. That has been a high growth area that we’ve not had the right strategies to win in. Our competition has more engag- ing content that makes it easier to find the right product and buy the right product.” Dalporto said Guitar Center’s associates are its biggest asset, and by tapping into their expertise and providing them with the proper training and products to sell, Guitar Center is positioned to be a force to be reckoned with in 2024 and beyond. “Our largest assets are our associates,” he said. “We have the most amazing, most passionate people in the world. We’re by far the largest physical retailer of musical instruments in the country, and we’ve got an incredible brand and our customers and our vendors all are rooting for us. I think

we need to get back to basics and deliver an incredible experience with incredible product and really go and capture the digi- tal world.” FROM SHOPPER, TO CEO, TO ASSOCIATE As a former — and current — Guitar Cen- ter shopper himself, Dalporto said he’s better equipped to tap into what the GC customer wants. “I think it’s very important that the leadership of a music company under- stands the customer deeply, and what the customer wants,” he said. “I feel like being a musician and being a customer, I understand the Guitar Center customer on a different level.” To help him further this understanding, during his first week on the job, Dalporto rolled up his sleeves and worked on the “front lines” at one of GC’s more than 300 locations. “I checked people out, I packed and shipped boxes, I restocked product, and I experienced the company from our front- line associates’ perspective,” Dalporto said. “That was so amazing because I was like, ‘Oh my, our tools need improvement.’ I spoke to all these associates, and they’ll tell you what the customer thinks and what we need to do, and [when it comes down to it] they truly know because they’re talking to the customers every day. Probably the most constructive thing I could have done was to get out into one of our stores and talk to our associates and store managers because they know exactly what’s going on. So, yes, I’m a guitarist and a Guitar Center customer, but also spending time on the front lines really gave me a different perspective of the company.” Dalporto said assisting associates in fostering a deep customer relationship is at the core of his overall goals for Guitar Center heading into the future. “We need to be less transactional,” Dalporto said. “We need to be consulta- tive and relationship-driven. If I help you find the instrument of your dreams, and I give you a great experience and I check in on you and make sure everything is good, you’re going to come back and you’re not going come back to Guitar Center, you’re going to come back to me, the sales associ- ate at your local Guitar Center. That trust is built over long periods of time. It isn’t about selling that tuner today, it’s about that relationship over time. And if we do that, if we take care of our customers, we’ll be here 100 years from now.” MI

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