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School Music Rental Season Better Than Expected

It’s too early to call, but so far, the school music rental season is proving to be much sunnier than predicted, based on reports from music retailers across the United States.

Looming budget cuts for the 2010–’11 academic year caused many industry insiders to fear a drop in business. Still, the majority of dealers polled by Music Inc. reported an increase in business or flat sales compared to last year.

Ron Beaudoin, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Frederick, Md.-based school music retail chain Music & Arts Center, said his company’s rental season is turning out to be better than expected.

“Everyone I’ve spoken with is either even or up,” added Peter Sides, president of Robert M. Sides Family Music Center in State College, Pa.

Online Rental Boost
Sides’ rental season doesn’t end until Nov. 30, but he said his dealership’s rentals are currently 5-percent above last year. He added that his company’s online rentals have nearly doubled compared to last year, and 8 percent of all its rentals are now conducted online.

Sides mentioned that most school music programs in Pennsylvania have fared well. Further south, in Hanover, Joel Menchey, president of Menchey Music Service, said, “It definitely feels better than last year,” of his company’s rental season.

In neighboring West Virginia, Evan Jones of Clarksburg-based Bandland reported a 15-percent boost in student band instrument rentals. He credited this partly to forging new relationships with a couple of school districts.

Alternative Business
Out West, Beacock Music of Vancouver, Wash., has achieved a 5.2-percent boost in its rental business, according to Gayle Beacock, company vice president. Scott Summerhays, president and CEO of Summerhays Music in Murray, Utah, called his dealership’s season “solid — not record-breaking but very good.”

“Under the circumstances, I am happy with a moderate increase in rental units for the season,” he said.

Beacock Music purchased roughly 300 new instruments for its rental inventory in anticipation of fellow dealers stocking less because of the recession. Additionally, Gayle’s brother, Russ Beacock, also a vice president at the company, bought several less-popular instruments, including bass clarinets, bari saxophones, cellos and basses.

“So, we were the only store to have these,” Gayle said. “Being proactive rather than ‘waiting to see’ helped us.”

Mitchel Banks of Don Banks Music in Tampa, Fla., reported a slightly better rental season than last year. He said he gained additional sales from several schools that launched guitar programs.

Tracy Leenman of Musical Innovations in Greenville, S.C., has tripled last year’s rentals so far, although this was only her second year in business. She credited her success, in part, to offering low monthly payments and letting 100 percent of stringed instrument lease credit go toward full-size instruments. She also offers a rental program for parents who wouldn’t normally qualify for rentals due to credit problems.

Donovan Bankhead, vice president of Springfield Music in Springfield, Mo., reported a 7-percent increase in his company’s rentals. His dealership achieved this bump despite its road rep team being cut in half last winter.

“[We] eliminated the very small accounts that really didn’t have any potential — either in the growth of the program or with the director,” Bankhead said. “This allowed us to reduce a road position, saving over $50K per year.”

Nick Rail Music is headquartered in California, one of the states hardest hit by school budget cuts. Still, the Santa Barbara, Calif., retailer has achieved an 11-percent rental increase compared to last year across his seven locations. As with many dealers surveyed, owner Nick Rail attributed the boost to “improved preparation and promotions and good, old-fashioned hard work.”

“Like so many others, we’ve done our best to lower overhead costs, and we’re not done yet. Lease reduction negotiations have had a positive result.”

“School budget cuts have certainly been a challenge,” Summerhays said. “However, there are some very committed directors in our area who continue to develop excellent programs despite the financial obstacles. I believe our school reps and our band staff in general have been working very hard with these strong educators and the efforts have paid dividends.”