BluesAirmen Guitars have served the Metro Detroit music scene for a decade.
In the modern-day of big box stores and online storefronts finding a music shop that can deliver experienced, knowledgeable, and personal customer service can be trying. Independent music retailers have had to find ways to adapt to the competitive world of online commerce and a consumer base that is always searching out a great deal.
BluesAirmen Guitars is one of those stores that has survived and flourished where others have failed. By employing a staff that not only possesses in-depth knowledge of the gear they sell but are also musicians themselves they have enjoyed continued success as an independent brick and mortar store. This June they celebrate ten years of success with an in-store party with special deals, food and music.
National Rock Review spoke with owner Nick Marocco about his approach to music sales in the digital age, his band work with The Twistin’ Tarantulas and his approach to keeping customers coming back for more.
NRR: Blues Airmen Guitars celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Tell us about your business, how you got your start?
Nick Marocco: I started working here in 2007 for Dave Goldsworthy who originally opened the store in 2005. I was 16 when I started here, still in high school and Dave gave me a job when I really needed one and for that Iâ€™ll be forever grateful. In 2011, Dave decided he was ready to retire and spend some time with his family. We came to an agreement for me to buy the store from him. I was 20. For the first couple months Dave still came in and helped me with stuff so I could get on my feet and in a routine. Dave continues to support the store and we still play together in BluesAirmen (The Band that the store is named after). Heâ€™s awesome and Iâ€™ll always be grateful for everything heâ€™s done for me.
NRR: How has the business evolved over the years and what have challenges have you had to face and adapt as a music business owner?
Nick Marocco: Over the years, Things come and go. We sell mostly used equipment so sometimes itâ€™s hard to compete with Guitar Center because we donâ€™t have 10,000 items in stock. So that can be frustrating sometimes when you donâ€™t have what the customer is looking for. Since I took over we have tried to bring stuff into the store that wasnâ€™t here before, like used vinyl. We have a huge selection of used records. We also started bringing some new product in the store from companies like Electro Harmonix Pedals, Peavey Amps, Ernie ball and we are currently in negations with a couple other companies to start stocking their items as well. A little at a time.
NRR: What are the most striking difference between the music equipment business now compared to when you started?
Nick Marocco: Obviously the economy plays a big factor in the business itself. Itâ€™s hard to sell people equipment if they donâ€™t have work or worse, no gigs! I remember when the economy crashed in 2008, it was like pulling teeth to get people in here. Luckily it looks like we are past that now and people are back to being on the hunt for equipment you canâ€™t find everywhere.
NRR: As a musician yourself, what is the most satisfying thing about owning a music equipment store?
Nick Marocco: I think the most satisfying thing about owning the store is the ability to be able to help people. New and old find what they are looking for. Everyday I meet a 9 or 10-year-old kid that is just getting interested in playing and is super excited about that idea, as well as a guy in his 50â€™s thatâ€™s been playing for 30 years. Itâ€™s a cool experience. Itâ€™s also really cool to hear about peopleâ€™s past achievements and sharing in their memories of guitars and equipment
NRR: What sets you apart from the other businesses in the area?
Nick Marocco: I think the biggest thing that sets us apart from other businessâ€™ in the area is that the stock changes everyday. Everyday something new comes in. If youâ€™re here on Monday and come back Saturday, there will be at least 10 new things in here. Another thing that separates us is the staff. We have an amazing guitar tech named Greg Gdaniec who has been at it for over 30 years. He is super tedious when it comes to repairs and is always very friendly with all our customers, customers can come in and talk with him for hours and he doesnâ€™t seem to mind, other stores their tech is some pad locked room in the back and itâ€™s like trying to get in to see the doctor. Also, the manager of the store Joey Gaydos Jr. is great, heâ€™s super knowledgeable about all the brands and is always up on the newest and latest things coming out. I am super grateful to the staff here, I donâ€™t know where I or the store would be without them.
NRR: What is your perspective on internet music equipment stores and how do you compete with them?
Nick Marocco: Itâ€™s kind of hard to compete. Itâ€™s so convenient to sit at your house and order a guitar, amp, pedal whatever it might be, and have it show up to your door. But I know a lot of players that refuse to do that unless they can hold it in their hand, or hear it in person. That being said, the internet opens up a lot more people to know about your store. Weâ€™ve sold guitars to people in Brazil, Mexico, Ireland, Switzerland. Thatâ€™s a reach that 10 years ago people didnâ€™t have. Itâ€™s cool to have something someone has been searching for.
NRR: You have a 10th anniversary party planned for June 6th, 2015. Give us some details about the party?
Nick Marocco: The 10th anniversary party isnâ€™t going to be just about us. Itâ€™s about all the customers who have supported us though the years. We are going to have our guitar teacher Gary â€œThe Mod” Modlinski out grilling hot dogs and hamburgers for the customers. Pedal demos. All records will be 20 percent off. Greg will be doing minor setups for $10. Tons of sales. And of course a few surprisesâ€¦
NRR: What does your store do to support the local music scene?
Nick Marocco: Well we are all in bands so we know what itâ€™s like. I play drums in The Twistinâ€™ Tarantulas, The Ruiners, And Bluesairmen. Joey is in Stereo Jane, Greg Plays in Deep Cut, and The Great Mystery. Gary plays in Torque. So we are all out there busting ass just like the customers. So we do our best to get out there and support our customers when they are playing, the same as they do for us. We also offer quick turn around on emergency repairs, if someoneâ€™s amp goes down hours before a show we try to fix it for them while they are here, or lend them something. We try to give the kind of service that weâ€™d like as a gigging player.
NRR: What products are coming out or have recently come out that have excited you?
Nick Marocco: Thereâ€™s always something new and exciting coming out. As I mentioned a couple of questions ago, Electro Harmonix makes some amazing pedals. They are all Made In The USA in New York. They have new pedals once a month it seems like, those guys are mad scientists over there. Also T. Rex electronics has the first ever tape echo in stompbox form coming out in a couple of months. Iâ€™m sure everyone will love that. Genius idea.
NRR: Why should people come visit your store and shop there?
Nick Marocco: I think the most important reason why people should come shop here is that youâ€™re shopping local! Youâ€™re helping your local people succeed. We offer the old school vibe of one on one service, unique items, and knowledgeable staff. You canâ€™t always get that at the big box stores.
NRR: What are you favorite instruments to play and why?
Nick Marocco: Thatâ€™s hard. Iâ€™m a drummer (talk slower) but dabble in playing guitar and bass. I love big hollow body guitars, Epiphone Dots, Sheretons and things like that. I also have a major love for Gibson SGs. But we are all different here. Greg builds his own guitars so they are really custom fitted to him. Joey loves the vintage stuff but he has all kinds of different stuff. 1964 Epiphone Olympic, 1968 Gibson Melody Maker, A custom-built Reverend guitar, Gibson Firebird. Joey is the one who has the most variety in his collection without a doubt
NRR: Give us an example of a personal success story with your business that made everything worth it when you were ready to throw in the towel.
Nick Marocco: Iâ€™m a hugeÂ Kiss fan. In 2013, I sold a guitar to Bruce Kulick who was in Kiss from 1984-1996. That was awesome. To be able to shake hands on a deal with someone who you used to watch on TV growing up and listening to their records. That was really cool. I still talk to Bruce all the time and he has been super supportive of the store, and thatâ€™s a great feeling.
NRR: Any other comments you would like to add to this interview?
Nick Marocco: I just would like to thank everyone who has ever supported the store in any way possible. Please find us on Facebook and check out our website. www.bluesairmenguitars.com and I hope everyone can come out to the 10th anniversary party on June 6th!
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