MIN’s Andy Hughes profiles Reverb.com, the largest online marketplace dedicated to buying and selling musical instruments, created by one man’s vision – an on-line destination for musicians looking for understanding of their requirements, and a place to buy and sell anything and everything musicians want, and need – EMEA Territory Manager for Reverb, Iain Butterwick, talks about the development of the company.
How did Reverb start?
Reverb, the largest online marketplace dedicated to buying and selling new, used, and vintage musical instruments, was created by David Kalt in 2013. David owned a music instrument store in Chicago, and the idea was born out of frustration at using eBay for instrument sales. The issue was, eBay is not built for buying and selling musical instruments, the reach was simply too non-specific. It meant that, if you put in ‘Fender’ for example, you’d get a load of American sites selling car bumpers! It wasn’t a great buying or selling experience for musicians, but it was the only game in town then, it was all there was at the time.
The successful growth of Reverb has been phenomenal – 12,327% growth by 2017 – is the success due to tailoring the website to the requirements of musicians, and understanding what they need?
Success in any sales and marketing venture starts with seeing a gap in the market, an unfulfilled need in a customer base, and supplying that need, and developing from there.
It was also a time for change in terms of the way people were buying instruments. Before joining the company, I was in an instrument retailer in a shop, and even then, I could see the change in buying habits, the online buying customer base was starting to increase rapidly. The perceived wisdom back then was, who would buy a guitar online? You need to see it, try it out, get it set up, talk to the retailer about it, and the fact is, that approach to buying was changing then, and it is changed now. That’s simply no longer the way people buy – the start of the experience is online, and the end of the experience is online.
The investigations and the set-up and so on are done on line, via YouTube, or our tutorials that we present, so online is the way musicians explore and buy instruments and equipment.
The success of the company is due to its integration into the retail market. We concentrated on making ourselves valuable by introducing a lot of online content to help customers, we were never seen as a new and hostile presence focusing entirely on just building sales. We showed that we spoke to musicians directly, and we communicated well with them, and made the site really attractive to visit. Virtually all our staff now are musicians, so they know how to speak with musicians, they know the terms of reference. I remember back in the day, trying to explain to a Customer Service Rep about the action on a guitar being too high, or a truss rod being out of line, you can’t communicate with someone who doesn’t actually know what you are talking about. Being a musician is in your DNA, it’s instinctive, and talking to someone who knows and understands that makes our site a very attractive proposition for musicians at all levels.
We also understand the differences in products, and we split our sections along easy-to-follow lines. eBay for example have one section for ‘Effects Pedals’, but we split it down into manageable sections to make it easier to navigate without hours of searching. It’s that approach that makes navigating around the site and finding the information and instruments you want, that makes Reverb so successful.
What is the company’s contact process for wholesalers and retailers?
At Reverb.com, we have an entire team dedicated to helping retailers sell online. That team is staffed with musicians who have worked in the music or musical instrument industries in various capacities, whether that be gigging around the world or working in a musical instrument shop. This team helps sellers with everything from starting their Reverb Shop and ensuring that their gear photos and descriptions are primed for selling to finding solutions that help sellers better keep track of their inventory online. Retailers who want to connect can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
When it comes to wholesalers, Reverb partners closely with brands to help them promote their products and drive sales to their retailers. As an example, we recently partnered with Korg USA to promote the launch of its Darkglass Electronics Element Cabsim Headphone Amp and drive sales to the retailers carrying the product.
How do you ensure that Reverb maintains brand awareness?
Reverb’s marketing team works on behalf of the retailers on our site to attract buyers to Reverb and connect them with sellers’ inventory. This includes everything from email and social media campaigns that drive players to sellers’ inventory to making sellers’ Reverb shops and inventory more findable on Google.
This year, more people have been buying music gear on Reverb than ever, including lots of new buyers. As a result, our marketing team has been hard at work creating campaigns and digital ads focused on attracting even more new buyers to the site as well as videos, articles, guides, and other content to help new players stay inspired and feel informed ahead of their next purchase.
What three reasons would you give for why a company needs what Reverb has to offer?
Reverb’s job is to get our sellers’ music gear in front of anyone in the world who is looking for musical instruments online. Unlike marketplaces that sell guitars alongside car parts, Reverb was built for the musical instrument industry. That means our team comes to work each day to create seller tools, marketing campaigns, and more aimed at helping buyers and sellers all over the world connect over the perfect piece of gear. Among others, there are two main reasons companies and individuals sell on Reverb.
First, Reverb connects sellers with millions of potential buyers. These are players that visit Reverb looking specifically for music gear. Because of the quality of the buyers that exist on Reverb, we’ve talked to sellers that rarely or never have returns on Reverb because our buyers are knowledgeable and know what they’re looking for.
Second, our customer support team is full of musicians. Buyers and sellers can connect with knowledgeable gear experts if they have a question or run into an issue and our most active sellers get 1:1 support from a team whose goal is to help them increase their sales on Reverb. Many of our sellers consider Reverb an extension of their own team. Finally, Reverb was built for selling gear. Everything you experience on the website and the mobile app was built by and for people who love gear.
How would you sum up what Reverb is offering?
Reverb offers sellers an online destination that is built for selling and buying musical instruments. That means that everything you experience on the site is tailored for the musical instrument industry and everyone you interact with—from Reverb team members to other sellers and buyers—is connected by a shared love for music gear.
The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen a massive impact on the music and entertainment industry. What was the initial response at Reverb to dealing with such rapidly changing situations within the industry and the on-line retail sector?
Our first reaction was to get our Account Managers together to start helping our retailers. We got our Account Managers to reach out to all our stores to see what we could do to help them, to work on strategies, get inventories onto the site, so people can see what is available. It was six weeks of non-stop work activating new stores and getting material out there for customers to see. We knew we had to move quickly, and as bad as it has been for so many people, it has actually worked in our favour.
Online business in musical instruments and associated hardware has always been important, but the last months has seen a massive acceleration – lots of new people buying at hobby level for the first time, and they are experienced online shoppers, so that works for them. Online is the first place they start to look, because it’s become the only place to look during the lockdown periods. We have been able to monitor exactly what people are buying, so we can advise our retailers to ensure they have stock and are advertising effectively.
One product that has increased sales is recording interfaces, people are doing recording from home and buying kit to enable them to do that. Ukuleles have increased in sales as well, they have always been popular for hobby musicians, but there has been a spike in sales, maybe due to space constraints, and additional time available to learn, so we have advised our retailers to get stock in and advertise appropriately, because there is a wave to be ridden here, sales to be made.
The trick is to be agile enough to spot the trends and act on them quickly and effectively. My team works throughout Europe, and of course the lock-downs have not been blanket lockdowns across everywhere at the same time. We first saw the changes in France where retailers started to close for holidays and extended times, but of course, as one country came out of its individual lockdown and another went into their own individual lockdown, we could monitor and spread the information as we learned what the changes were. Obviously, it was not a great situation for anyone to be in, but it did enable us to work with our retailers to make sure that they could get the best retailing opportunities in place in changing conditions.
“We have always been focused on adapting and changing and monitoring so really, the Covid pandemic hasn’t substantially altered the way we operate. When the lockdowns first started, we focused on maintaining our retailers’ businesses, concentrating on keeping them going and supporting them through what we initially thought was going to be a six-week situation, and of course that turned out not to be the case. We knew we had to keep our sellers going because without them, we simply do not have a business. We knew that there would always be a market, people will always make music and will always buy instruments and equipment, but our worry was around the availability of stock to be accessible for our retailers to be able to stay in operation.
It’s always been about being agile, seeing what is happening in the markets and making the changes to stay on top of them. It’s been a stressful time for everyone in any business, but we know if we stand by our sellers and look after them, we will get through it.
To gain an additional perspective about Reverb’s services and approach, Andy Hughes spoke with Chris Robinson, Founder and CEO of Pedal Pawn, a boutique supplier of guitar pedals, and with Rob Blakeney, eCommerce Manager at Studiocare Professional Audio Ltd., which specialises in pro audio sales, rentals and repairs for Live Events and PA, Pro DJs, Recording Studios, Installation, and more – to assess their experience with Reverb as an on-line platform for their businesses.
How were you introduced to Reverb?
CR – I’m a musician, so I initially found Reverb years ago searching for a vintage ‘60s Fender Vibratone amp. I could never find it in stores, and then I Googled it and it came up on Reverb.com.
Once I saw how tailored the platform was to buying and selling music gear, I began to use Reverb to find, fix, and resell vintage music gear. Eventually I realised that I could make my own pedals and capture the sound I was looking for, and in early 2019, I started Pedal Pawn on Reverb, where I sell two pedal models, the Fuzz and the Texas Twang.
RB – Over three years ago we started noticing Reverb popping up here and there so decided to take a look and create an account. We began by manually listing a few items to see how the system worked and test the waters. It looked like a good platform with a clean and simple interface – great for a marketplace in a niche with access to a good quality customer for the most part – Unlike eBay which has a long and clunky interface with a varying quality of customer, and with much higher fees.
Have you seen an increase in sales?
CR – I’m so happy with the increase in sales we’ve seen this year on Reverb. Sales are up on both pedals, and I can barely keep them in stock.
At first, I was worried that players who wouldn’t be gigging anymore during the shutdowns wouldn’t be interested in buying new gear. But as I talked with Mark, my Reverb Account Rep, on the phone this spring about potential options, we quickly discovered that the whole universe of music gear had become interesting to so many more people. I love chatting with my customers on Reverb, and it was great to see that experimenting with pedals became an outlet for them.
What service do they offer to you as a retailer?
RB – Reverb offers us access to a good quality customer and another route to market. The integration with our web store has enabled us to get items listed quickly and the ability to chat and handle offers within the platform is well thought out and effective. We have an account manager with good availability to help with any questions and they always keep us up-to-date of developments and upcoming opportunities. Online support is also always available and very helpful, staff come across well trained and very courteous.
What are your future plans for Pedal Pawn with Reverb?
CR – As a business, Pedal Pawn is doing really well. I’ve been able to hire seven more people to help with operations ranging from building the pedals to fulfilling orders. Contextual to Reverb, we’re hoping to do a run of pedals on the site with a custom design and exclusive promotion. After such a busy year working to fulfil current demand, I’ve finally had time to tinker with some new designs and I’m hoping to roll out two new pedals in 2021.
RB – We are developing a close relationship with our account manager who is helping us to grow on the platform and hopefully this will help this growth continue through this strange period in time with the current pandemic and all.
And the last word from Iain Butterwick –
Looking to the future of the online retail sector in general, and Reverb’s position within it in particular, what do you see as your development strategies and plans to love the company forward as, hopefully, the world can return to a level of normal business practices?
We have managed to keep our musicians and our sellers going through the recent difficulties – Quarter Two was our best sales period ever, and that was reflected in the number of new sellers attracted to the platform, and that is the pay off for the work our teams have done over the last two years. “Moving forward, the plan for the next twelve months revolves around support for our sellers. We are going to have major customer support systems coming on-stream. At the moment, we deal with enquiries in six different languages, so we are increasing our support staff with language capabilities in order to speed up our query response times, that’s going to be a significant investment by the company. Our response times are already very good, but we do feel we can add some improvement to that area of the business, so that’s what we are looking into for the near future.
“The other major investment programme for us in 2021 is in marketing. We are looking to bring in more qualified buyers to link to our sellers, and we are looking to move that forward with new marketing strategies and technical investments.
We are also looking at helping our sellers with discounted shipping costs, and also a big feature is going to be the streamlining of shipping costs for our sellers. At the moment, if a customer wants to buy three or four small items, there is an individual shipping cost for each one of those, and if the seller is looking for repeat business, and to be helpful, they will refund those additional shipping costs, but it is still a cumbersome and time-consuming way of working. We have launched combined shipping costs for our sellers to streamline and simplify that process for them.
We are also looking at increasing the specific data we share with our sellers with a view to better inventory management, so they can keep on top of exactly what is selling at any time, and that means they can ensure that have the right products available to maximise their sales. We need to make sure we have as many customers coming to our platforms as we possibly can, through their online access to us. We are looking into increasing the offers our sellers can make available, that is still under wraps right now, so I can’t go into too much detail on that at the moment.
Our initial focus for the platforms was on used products, but we are moving further into provision of new products and ensuring that our sellers can provide competitive offers to their customers. As you know, we are operating in a global market place and we want to ensure that our retailers have the sort of tools accessible to the major retailers, to bring some of those processes down to the individual retailer level for them to use and operate in that global marketplace. We have to look after our sellers, without them there is no marketplace, so we support them in the best way that we can. If they are successful, we are successful. We are always looking and listening for ideas that will help things for everyone. Our sellers drive a lot of the innovation – for example, the multiple shipping costs issue came from them, and we have to be ready to pick up the ideas as they come in, and work out a way to turn them to our advantage. Listening is always the key, their experience feeds into our experience.
I have to say, we have noticed a rise in business from August of this year, coinciding with the lockdown situations, and we are looking forward to working more closely with our sellers. We have been able to build closer relations with our sellers, and we are going to increase that consultation, and continue to be guided by their feedback, and offer our support. That’s has always been our model, and we look forward to changing and adapting as we always have done. The ability to change and adapt is the key to the success of our current business model, and our continued growth and development in the on-line instrument and recording equipment supply sector.