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Guitar Center strums a new tune

Eve Troeh Apr 19, 2012

David Brancaccio: While some cavernous retailers of the big box variety are closing locations, Guitar Center — the largest chain of musical instruments — is adding stores. A new one opens today in North Carolina.

Marketplace’s Eve Troeh put an ear to the ground.

Eve Troeh: Musical instrument sales are stronger than ever, thanks in part to an uptick in private lessons. Just ask Chris Catalano, CEO of School of Rock.

Chris Catalano: So we’re a performance-based music education company, roughly 79 schools opened.

He aims for 115 schools this year.

The boost in demand for music gear could help retailers. But most of that growth is online sales, says Paul Majeski, publisher of Music Trades magazine. And Guitar Center has lots of debt, even after Bain Capital privatized it five years ago. Majeski can’t say why Guitar Center’s adding retail space, but says the new stores do feel different.

Paul Majeski: They’re making their stores a little bit of a destination. They’ve got service — they never had service before. And they have teaching. They never had teaching before.

Maybe you bring in your Stratocaster for a tune-up, watch an in-store concert, hang out while your kids learn the drums. And you may just decide you have to have that ukelele you’ve been noodling on now, instead of going home and ordering it online.

I’m Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

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