As Craig Buckley takes over as owner of the Manchester Drum Centre, MIN Editor Gary Cooper asks why now, when the drum business is often said to be in trouble? And just what does he have lined-up for the store?
Craig Buckley has had a long career in the MI industry and an unusually varied one. He has been drumming since he was four and became a professional drum and keyboard tech at 16 years old. At 19 he moved to retail with PA specialist HW Audio, in Bolton, where he started the company’s guitar drum and keyboard department. He then spent ten successful years with Bose, becoming their Professional Division Manager at 26 years old and following his departure from Bose in 2002 another ten years as Managing Director with RW Salt, the audio distribution company, which eventually branched into drums by distributing Premier. The gig with Premier led to him being appointed Consultant/General Manager of the venerable drum company, where he helped the company re-establish British manufacture. In 2012, he sold RW Salt, though he has kept a foot on the Pro Audio camp by continuing to own and run an AV company supplying audio systems to over 200 health clubs throughout the UK. In October this year it was announced that he had bought the Manchester Drum Centre from its previous owner, Rob Pearson
Buckley is a natural salesman with a great turn of phrase but all the same, the announcement in October that he is bringing his talents to the drum world will have surprised those who look at the drum and percussion sector and see little but trouble and a diminishing market. It’s not a picture he recognises, however, and he has sunk his own money into proving the Cassandras wrong. With phase one of a two phase re-launch in progress, we discussed his plans for this significant takeover.
GC: The first question – the $64,000 question in fact – is why would you want to take on a drum shop when many pundits say the drum sector is the most troubled in the MI industry?
CB: I don’t think it is. I think a few years ago would have been a bigger risk than it is now. You don’t know, you can’t tell and there’s no guarantee of success, but a few years ago there would have been far more competition. Sadly, some very good retailers have had to close, so there are less now and I’m also very comfortable with the geographic aspect – the physical distance between dedicated specialist drum retailers.
The quality of that competition is excellent, by the way. I don’t think there’s ever been a better selection of specialist drum retailers in the UK and the better the quality of the competition, the better it is for everyone and ultimately it’s better for the consumer too.
GC: What about drumming itself? Pundits talk about the success of electronic kits, the size of modern houses and the way that limits practice, changes in styles of music – they seem to feel that drumming is a diminishing interest.
CB: In my opinion the band scene is growing, certainly in this area. There are more gigs around here, not as many as there used to be I hasten to add, but more than there have been in recent years. My daughter is 17 years old and I’m taking her to more and more places I’ve never heard of to see live bands. She’s a drummer too and only wants to see bands with live drummers. There are cycles for everything and there’s no doubt that things like X Factor contributed to a glut of boy band/girl band non-instrument playing acts but I think its recovering and starting to grow again.
GC: another problem facing MI retailers is the competition they face from the online operations. How do you feel about that. Is the drum market slightly insulated from it by being so specialised do you feel?
CB: I’ve not got a negative opinion of the online retailers, not least because so many of them do such a good job. You can’t argue with the quality of a company like Gear 4 Music and Amazon, I think, are really the reference point these days for mail order – the whole interaction with them for the consumer is second to none. Is there a huge market for drum sets online? I don’t know, I’m not sure. Would I by a premium quality drum set online? Never. But maybe a beginner’s kit? And anyway the generation that’s coming through now, they buy everything online – they have faith and trust in the web.
GC: So will you be building a major online presence or will you be a more traditional bricks and mortar drum store?
CB: This is the reason for the two phase approach we’re taking to the relaunch. The website we’re developing is very involved and will be a very significant e-commerce platform. I think you have to have it but I don’t think it’s something you can cynically add on to your business. In the past it might have worked as an incremental add-on to your business but there has to be more to it now. It has to be a business in itself with people in the company dedicated to it, if only for a portion of their time. The competition online is significant so if you’re going to do it you’ve got to do it right.
GC: Does being a specialist give you an edge online as it does in a shop?
CB: I’d like to think so – we’ll find out.
GC: The drum market has traditionally been the most heavily influenced by endorsements. Do you see that changing at all? After all, some names seem to move around from brand to brand quite frequently, which makes me wonder why drummers take endorsements so seriously.
CB: When I was at Premier this was a big part of the working week – looking at the endorsement programme but I was very lucky in that I worked with the best Artist Relations guy in the business. I think the most influential drummers with regard to endorsements have always been the rock and metal drummers and I think that’s as strong as ever. Even in the few weeks since I’ve been in the store in Manchester I’ve seen how acutely aware customers are of the products played by the drummers they admire. When you get an endorser who has been loyal to a particular brand for a lone while then yes, I think you definitely get a return from that.
GC: But that’s my point. So many drummers seem to skip from brand to brand.
CB: My experience is that more don’t. Look at the top of the tree and the loyalty is incredible. Nicko McBrain was with us at Premier for over 20 years, Lars Ulrich from Metallica – I don’t recall him ever having played anything other than Tama, Chad Smith and Ian Paice have been with Pearl for years. I agree there are some drummers that skip around and that probably does degrade the endorsement programme a little but there are many reasons why drummers move and it might not be anything to do with the gear. In some cases when drummers move there may be a very good reason for it.
GC: Its been an interesting year from exhibitions in the drum world with an emphasis in some minds on how much retailing is done at them. You’ve previously said before you have some views on that aspect…
CB: It’s to do with what is the role of an exhibition? For me the primary exhibitors should be manufacturers or distributors. To me, an exhibition is an opportunity for consumers to be able to look at every brand without someone trying to flog them stuff all the time. It’s for them to take their time – kick tyres if you will – and I think it can only be good for everybody that end-users are getting to educate themselves at a show.
From an organisation point of view, if shows become trader or dealer led and if in any way people can physically sell product, the danger is that an exhibition only becomes judged on one parameter – ‘how much did we sell?’ and I think that can be a great shame. Exhibitions should be about driving people into their local store, which is where the manufacturer or distributor benefits from exhibiting. When we were at Premier, for example, doing the London Drum Show, I didn’t do it aligned with a single dealer, we did the show with the aim of supporting and representing all our dealers and if we had someone on the stand who wanted to buy a product we’d ask for their postcode and we’d tell them they could have that drum kit by the following weekend through their local dealer. We had great success doing that and we’d write to the dealer base before the exhibition explaining that was how we were going to do it.
GC: You’ve mentioned this two phase relaunch. How quickly will we see changes at the Manchester Drum Centre?
CB: It will be a two stage process because it’s a critical trading time of the year in November and December. We’re introducing new stock and some new ideas but the re-branding and everything else will take place late in January 2018. We remain branded as Manchester Drum Centre until January when we will re-brand as DRUM ONE.