Career Information: Retail




Working in Retail

Retail music stores supply the needs of a wide variety of musicians, from beginners to professionals. They generally sell a large range of musical instruments and accessories (including electronic instruments), amplifiers, PA systems and processing equipment, music software and printed music. Large music stores in cities often have specialised departments to deal with classes of instruments (pianos, organs, orchestral and band instruments, guitars, synthesisers and sound modules, for example).

Many music stores also run music tuition programs covering the main instruments involved in their business, and possibly other subjects, such as music theory and music technology.

Music products retailers in Australia are typically small businesses serving their local community, and it is now typical to have some form of online sales operation in addition to a ‘bricks and mortar’ store.

There are very few large, or even medium-sized, businesses with a substantial workforce and highly specialised roles, although these do exist. It is more typical to work in a business with 10 employees or fewer, and to work across a number of areas in the business. This could include the shop floor, managing online sales, educational/institutional accounts, repair and maintenance, logistics and warehousing, marketing, and more.

There are several principal roles, including;

  • Store Owner / Manager
  • Store Sales Assistant
  • Store Logistics
  • Marketing
  • Store Merchandising

Music store sales assistant

Sales assistants in a music shop help customers with the purchase of musical instruments, instrument accessories (such as strings, straps, drums heads, metronomes, etc), audio equipment and sheet music. This involves demonstrating sound equipment or musical instruments, explaining their specifications and features (including the compatibility of items of equipment in equipment systems), and discussing different brand options.

The job may involve unpacking and assembling items of equipment, learning how to operate them, and displaying the items in the shop. Sales assistants also need to set up instruments (stringing guitars, for instance), troubleshoot faults and do basic repairs to products. Liaison with product specialists and salespersons from wholesale suppliers is another aspect of the work — sales assistants need to understand the range of products and the operation of products.

  • Skills
    • (Typically) musical performance skills in at least one of the products being sold
    • Good interpersonal communication skills
    • Personal qualities such as enthusiasm, dedication to work, punctuality, and good grooming.
  • Prospects
    • The prospects for finding work in this area are good for musicians, particularly those who can demonstrate a variety of instruments.
    • Pathways include moving into middle or senior management of a music retailer, wholesale, and buying/establishing your own business
  • Training & Experience
    • Training in music performance in a relevant area of music retail
    • Experience or training in marketing or retail would be an advantage.

Music store owner/manager

This job involves establishing premises in a suitable location (or taking over an existing business), assessing the competition and the market, and providing an appropriate service for that market.

Music store owner/managers are responsible for the financial management of the business, the recruitment of employees, the ordering, control and pricing of stock, the development of marketing initiatives, the training, supervision and rostering of staff, and the staff payroll. Owner/managers are also usually involved in selling products in the shop.

A major part of this job is keeping abreast of product lines (particularly new product lines) and assessing their viability for the store’s customers. There are limitations on what a retailer can sell — some wholesale suppliers have exclusive distribution contracts with particular retailers — so the owner/manager must be able to research products that are competitive alternatives to the ones that are unavailable.

  • Skills
    • Good interpersonal communication skills for dealing with customers, suppliers and staff
    • A full range of small business management skills (HR, finance, operations, marketing, etc)
    • A high level of product knowledge is required, ideally including the ability to play a selection of musical instruments, to repair instruments, to understand music technology and to read music.
    • Owner/managers also need to be able to research and assess product lines for possible inclusion in the store’s stock.
  • Prospects
    • This type of business requires capital to start. Owners/managers typically move from a music (performance or education) background and/or a retail background (including from a different field)
  • Training & Experience
    • Training in small business management
    • Experience in retail
    • Ideally experience in the music industry as a performer, educator and/or technician

Excerpts (in italics) from ‘Australian Guide to Careers in Music’ by Michael Hannan (2003, UNSW Press, Out of print)