Stayin’ Alive!  Being an Independent Drum Shop in the Big Box and Internet Age

Opening a brick and mortar drum shop and custom drum company is not for the weakhearted, and it is certainly a poorly conceived get rich quick scheme!  As we have said here and there, running a drum store and building custom drums are labors of love.  This blog shares some of the challenges independent drum shops and music stores in general face, which makes their eventual success all the sweeter.

To begin, much of the world has passed by small drum shops.  You are reading this blog on a device on that much of what you want is a search and a click away.  It’s convenient, comes straight to you, and if you buy from a big-box store or major distributor, you can often get a rock bottom price since they frequently get volume-based deals from major companies.  I’d be lying if I said I never bought something online from Amazon, Sweetwater, or (gasp), Guitar Center. Online business is simply part of our world, which is why Twin Cities Drum Collective is slowly wading into it over time (hey, check out our Reverb listings)! 

Nonetheless, how we shop has unintended consequencesMinneapolis and St. Paul has seen great, even exceptional, drum shops come and go.  Thompson Drum Shop (downtown Minneapolis), Torps Music Store (which had a nice drum department in St. Paul), Ellis Drum Shop (St. Paul and Richfield), The Drum Loft (NE Minneapolis), and probably a couple I’m missing have gone into extinction.  While I’m sure there were a variety of reasons for why they closed, competition from the internet no doubt factored in, especially with the last couple of closures.  

While the internet can be an alluring place to shop, something is lost here.  The touch and the feel that is so important to buying drums and cymbals is gone, as is the service, advice, assembly, or other help related to the product.  I know a great number of drummers in the Twin Cities felt tremendous loss when these shops went the way of the dinosaur (though admittedly dinosaurs go extinct when they don’t adapt to customer needs).

Another challenge is that Big Box stores have large buying budgets that can create an advantage at the price point and the quantity of products they carry.  In fact, many major brands require a significant buy-in to carry them, ranging from a low of $2500 to $5000 or above. When you think about the number of drum and cymbal brands out there, this can become a challenge for smaller shops.  At our drum shop, we have been lucky to get through the door with many major brands, although we choose not to stock many full drumsets by them on our floor.  This is for two reasons.  First, we like to save the floor space for our signature brands, 651Drums, TCDrumCO, and Modern Vintage Drums, and second, most everyone knows what a Drum Workshop or Ludwig drumset sounds like, so you should special order the one you want rather than buying one off the floor that has been worked over by many customers!  We have also been selective at Twin Cities Drum Collective, choosing a balance between iconic brands, our own custom brands, and sometimes passing on brands that might please generally but not profoundly.

Another challenge is the Big Boxes’ advertising budgets that create a huge funnel that drummers are drawn through.  This powerful tractor beam pulls many in, but do note you are being pulled to the Death Star!  This is why the independent music stores like TCDC need customers to spread the word.  We don’t have a tractor beam, but we are building a rebellion!  Of course, this requires drummers to follow, like, share, and talk about our content and very existence!

Simply put, the challenges noted in this blog are merely realities that independent drum shops face, so it comes down to this: we need to work harder, build a grassroots following, and develop customer loyalty because we offer something more or better.  The something more and better philosophy is what has lead us to develop our custom drum lines for drummers who are more discerning, while also catering to those drummers looking for a more personal feel, a better buying experience, and for for exceptional service.

As an example, a couple of months ago a young man came in with a TAMA snare drum with a seemingly broken throw-off.  It didn’t stick, it was full-on stuck.  Time to order a new one, right?  It had been a slow day, and we certainly could have used the business.  But not so fast.  Instead, we took the snare downstairs to the shop and applied some TLC with an advanced version of WD-40, restoring the the throw-off to perfect function.  Problem solved.  No charge.  That’s what an independent drum shop does, an act that probably won’t happen at a Big Box store and can’t happen on the Internet.  

As another example, a tour manager called us after hours looking for a particular cymbal in a specific size.  We didn’t have it, but searched on his behalf and found it at a Big Box so his drummer could be happy.  We are here to help, even if in the short term our help is in the service of the big guys.

And of course, the best examples are the customers who are learning about our custom drums made right here in South St. Paul, Minnesota.  There is little more satisfying than working with a customer from beginning to end to deliver their dream drumsThat’s what we do best.

At Twin Cities Drum Collective, we know that we aren’t entitled to your business or loyalty, but we hope to have the opportunity to earn it.  We also hope you’ll spread the word, being part of our grassroots movement to create a lasting legacy in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN and beyond!

Thanks for your Support!