The Covid pandemic has created many major changes right across the world, and has impacted significantly on the musical instrument and equipment sectors. Craig Glover, Sales Director for Marshall, discusses with Andy Hughes some of the changes the company has made to enable it to continue to serve and expand its world-wide customer base – including some positives to take forward as lockdown restrictions start to ease.
Looking back to pre-Covid times, was Marshall continuing to develop its strategies for business development?
Here at Marshall, we are always looking at ways to develop our future business and, with this in mind, we invest in staff and have recently recruited additional staff in our manufacturing section with a big focus on training and retaining our skilled staff. Business development is a team effort here with Sales pooling resources with other in-house departments.
When Covid first started to make its presence felt in your business sector, what form did it take, and what was the company’s first response?
We were receiving ‘State Of Emergency’ notifications from many countries, and this from a virus where our UK government, at that point, were just advising us to wash our hands. However, alarm bells were ringing for us and our first response was, how to effectively have our staff work off-site should the need arise.
A number of companies have reported that, far from being a disaster in terms of turnover and revenues, they have experienced a strong upturn in sales and business traffic – has that been the case for Marshall?
Yes, very much so. While we try to analyse why sales have been so good, we feel it could be that, similar to bicycle sales, where consumers are bored at home and maybe looking to exercise more, others are looking to explore playing the guitar. The real test for 2021 is whether these same consumers retain their desire to play music and keep investing in our products.
Are there specific areas where you have observed a strong upturn in sales from your customers?
Considering the loss of live performances and most of the world’s population being told to stay indoors, we found a high upturn in small amps suitable for home use. Many people have adapted to their new circumstances and found hobbies that are meaningful to them, and we have benefited from more hobbyist players turning to our brand. There has also been a big demand for UK-made products, and our investment in staff is now paying off as we make the most of our increased production capacity.
Being a British brand, we are very proud to still manufacture products here in the UK at Milton Keynes and to support our local economy. We have found that UK-made products still continue to have a high level of interest from consumers who place great value on products marked as being made in the UK.
In addition to our UK production, we also have our own factory in Vietnam. Marshall Vietnam continued to work to full capacity throughout pandemic which has greatly helped us cope with the upturn in sales during these times.
With the closure of retail stores during the lockdown, mail order has become the method of getting your products out to your customers, has that meant any significant changes in the company’s set up for receiving orders and getting products out to customers with minimal delays?
We are aware that smaller retailers with a minimal online presence are suffering. Many of our online retailers benefitted and their sales were above the average from the previous years. From our side, we don’t ship product direct to the customer, so our in-house processes have changed very little over this period.
Have companies exchanged information and strategies, or has it been pretty much ‘every man for himself’ in these difficult times?
We keep in regular contact with our distribution / dealer network which helps us understand the challenges they face. However, we don’t share information with similar manufacturers.
Have the restrictions meant that Marshall has held back on releasing new product, or have you simply released new equipment to the proposed time schedules you would have used anyway?
Like most businesses we have been affected by delays with the supply of parts and, at the beginning of 2020, we closed our factory in Milton Keynes. Product demand versus UK production capacity still continues to impact on us. Also, with NAMM 2021 being cancelled, we had to rethink some of our launch dates as this is a main show for us and where we tend to showcase/launch our products. So, in answer to your question, yes restrictions have held us back with launching new products this year.
The general mood among the musicians’ community is that a return to ‘normal life’ for gigs and festivals is coming – would you agree with that assessment?
I hope for a return to gigs and festivals through mass testing and can clearly foresee a massive resurgence in the demand for live performances once restrictions lift. There may be a possible return to more intimate acoustic gigs with musicians also desperate to get back into rehearsal rooms. However, it is still early days as we all wait to see what the virus will do next.
What’s the biggest lesson you can take forward from the last year?
Historically the ‘hobby’ players have been the hardest customer to obtain but the enforced tedium of the lockdown has given us a huge opportunity to try and capture and grow this type of customer. We can be flexible and tailor our products for a new type of buyer. The pandemic has taught us that our industry is unique and I would never have predicted at the start of 2020 that sales would increase, not decrease. The massive team effort from all Marshall staff has hugely contributed to our success during the pandemic.
What can we look forward to from Marshall in the near future?
It is our 60th anniversary coming up next year and we have a range of new products due to launch during NAMM 2022 which the team here are very excited about, together with more Marshall Live events planned for 2022.
A range of specials based on our hugely successful Studio range is also in the pipeline for 2022
Has Marshall re-aligned its advertising to attract a specific customer base that has, in effect, been created by the Covid restrictions – musicians who now find themselves with a lot of downtime at home, and maybe thinking about updating some gear, or even starting to buy with a view to enjoying some home-based music?
Marshall’s key messaging has continued to focus on musicians and their playing, including the benefits of playing, education for players looking to start out and tips for those who have been playing a long time. These have not changed during Covid restrictions as we believe that music has always and will continue to play an integral role in people’s lives. Our focus over the next year will be supporting live music, from independent venues to festivals particularly at a grass roots level, as this part of the industry has been hit so hard this last year.