The NAMM Show Delivers ... Again!

The NAMM Show 2017 has come and gone, but the world's strongest gathering of the music products industry once again served as one part family reunion, one part gear-geek heaven and one part new year's business catalyst for retailers and suppliers alike.

Held Jan. 19-22, NAMM reported 1,779 exhibitors representing some 7,000 brands at the show, a 3 percent increase over exhibitors in 2016. NAMM also reported overall show registration at 106,028, a 5 percent increase over 2016.

Attendees were a mix of retail employees, exhibitors, media, artists, invited guests, NAMM's GenNext (college music students), Music Education Day participants (school music teachers and administrators) and NAMM member buyers.

"In spite of many challenges that have been well explored each month in Music Inc., we saw a vibrant global ecosystem of the music and sound industry at this year's NAMM Show," said Joe Lamond, president and CEO of NAMM. "Secondly, it appeared that the pace of change is increasing. The way our members are doing business, the types of products and services being offered and perhaps most importantly, the changing attitudes of the consumer were on display throughout the show floor. NAMM members who made the effort to be there to meet with their business partners and take advantage of the many NAMM U sessions came away with the knowledge to better adapt and find success in this new world."

Strong International Growth
NAMM reported especially strong growth in international registrants with 17,964 at the show representing 125 nations around the globe. That was a 13 percent increase over 2016.

"It's an international showcase for our products and it sets the bar for the rest of the world," said Stephen Schmidt of Casio. "We have divisions in Brazil, Mexico, Japan, and more, and we all come to the Anaheim show to see the latest."

"We are an international company and NAMM allows us the ability to address the needs of our clients and customers in one place, and having the international companies here allows us to meet and have face-to-face conversations under one roof," said Michael Skinner, president of DANSR, the U.S.-based distributor of Vandoren and Dennis Wick.

Dennis Drumm, managing director of John Hornsby Skewes, the United Kingdom-based supplier and distributer, said the show was "Exciting and productive. Our partnership with RBI in Fort Worth, Texas, is proving to be exceptionally productive. They have a great company and team, they're respected, well-resourced and incredibly active.

"This is JHS ninth year back on the NAMM show floor and the reaction from U.S. dealers to our fretted instrument lines — Fret-King, Vintage, Laka, Pilgrim and Santos Martinez — has been fantastic. A big surprise was the reception to our latest licensed products, inexpensive fretted instruments under the iconic 'Marquee' and 'Cavern' brands. The sales opportunities for these kinds of licensed properties extend way beyond the confines of MI retailing and into the general consumer products arena, where the volumes can be immense.

"From an international sales perspective, which is the other 50 percent of us being on the show floor, JHS saw distributor customers from all our major markets — and we're in over 90 — with good levels of business and actually some new distributor customers signed up at the show."

The New Optimism
This year's show also benefited from an element that had been missing in recent years — optimism. Even with lightning-fast changes occurring in the business world and in the music products industry.

"The show was fantastic for Yamaha," said Tom Sumner, senior vice president for Yamaha Corp. of America. "We felt really good about the way we looked at the show and how our Yamaha team members worked with the dealers, artists, educators and other guests at the NAMM Show. Comments from our booth visitors were so positive. Our visitor count for the show was up over last year and our social media reach, which was huge last year, increased almost 10 times this year. We hosted the 'Heart of Inspiration' event on Friday night, and I think we surprised almost everyone when Larry Mullen Jr. from U2 came out. That was one of the 'wow' moments for me at the show.

"I was most excited this year that the show, while a bit damp, had a really energetic feel to it. I know the total show attendee count was up as well. I think the overall mood of the show was very 'up.' It also wasn't a show with a lot of 'buzz' products being introduced, so it was great to see the energy there.

"The mood of dealers at the show was mostly very good. We had an event on Tuesday night with a dealer group, and right from the get go everyone was generally very positive about how 2016 ended up and their prospects for 2017. I don't have much of a feel from most other manufacturers, but our sister company Line 6 seemed to think the dealer mood was very positive as well."

"I only sensed cautious optimism amongst the ones I spoke to," said JHS's Drumm. "Oh, and along with [that], maybe a growing aversion to getting hammered with 'The big bucks buy in,' which I felt worked in our favor."

"All of the dealers we met with at NAMM are optimistic about 2017 and thankful for the large batch of products we launched in the fall ... because they are still currently enjoying the sales of those new products," said Jay Wanamaker, president and CEO of Roland Corp. U.S.

Searching for innovation was a common theme heard on the show floor and during NAMM U sessions, and the reason for that is clear — during the post-recession years, many in the industry hunkered down and sold bread-and-butter staples.

That trend resonated with many retailers seeing solid product introductions, but not as much wow-inspiring gear.

"Overall, I thought the trip was a success," said Dave Reuters, store manager for Alto Music in Wappingers Falls, New York. "Just by being there, I always take away ideas. They don't always get implemented, but it makes me think differently, which is good. For me, this is a constant work in progress. I didn't see any game-changing products, but I did notice that a lot of the color choices from many of the major guitar and drum companies seem to be getting better. There was a lot of great, cool-looking product at good price points. I thought the new Ludwig U.S.A. build your own kit options were a great addition to the line. The Roland Go:Mixer was cool as was the American DJ Airstream Wi-Fi Pack power control box."

Still others were seeking to deliver something new from Roli's Blocks modular mini-studio to Manhasset Specialty Company's newest stands.

"Boss's new Katana amp line was a huge hit with dealers and guitar players at the show, which was exciting for me and the entire Roland/Boss team," said Wanamaker. "The dealers were very impressed and frequently praised the Katana line's high power, exceptional sound quality and attractive pricing. Debuting our new flagship RD-2000 Stage Piano was a proud moment for us all as well. The RD series has been an integral part of the Roland family for 30 years now, and the new RD-2000 offers the most power, the most expression, and the most extensive features of any RD piano ever. Roland's latest piano technologies and the long-running V-Piano research are allowing the RD-2000 to elevate the industry standard for products in this class. We're expecting to see strong sales when we bring the RD-2000 to market early this spring."

"The NAMM Show was great for us at Manhasset," said Dan Roberts, Manhasset president. "We had some innovative new products on display and our distributors and MI retailers were very excited about selling them when they receive their first shipments."

Roberts said he was especially pleased with the reception the company's new Noteworthy Music Stand Collection with laser cut images received.

"Visitors to our booth really loved these new products," he said. "And our new 1060 LED Lamp II was a hit with our distributors and retailers. It has great features and a great price point. Lastly, the new Matte Finish models, available in four colors, were well received. They are stylish, but won't create as much reflection of the lighting on stage. We had an opportunity to tell our customers about the significant changes to manufacturing operations the company made in 2016 and about our plans for 2017/8 to continue investing in the plant. We are proud to make our great music stands and accessories in the U.S.A., and these improvements will help us continue to make great quality products in the U.S. for many years to come."

Crowds ... Yay! Crowds ... Nay!
With the pronouncement of "largest show ever," comes the double-edged sword — What's the tipping point between excited, engaged crowds and too many people at NAMM. A wide variety of exhibitors and retailers were quick to weigh in on the topic.

"I can only speak for Yamaha on how the show has changed," said Yamaha's Sumner. "There are a couple of ways we see it has changed. While it is still a show mainly to serve our dealers here and internationally, it has really become a 'show' as in 'show business.' The spectacle has become more important. I think you see many manufacturers continually refreshing and updating what they do at the show. The other way it has changed is a greater focus on the folks that don't attend the show. We try to bring them as much of the flavor of the show as we can. We have a dedicated NAMM site that people can go to and we also try to put out cool content that (hopefully) makes people want to be at the show next year. I've heard some people complain about all the attendees, but I'd much rather have a show where there are a bunch of people dying to get in than the alternative."

"As a B2B occasion, the NAMM show has been pre-eminent in importance in our annual calendar for the near 40 years I've been making the annual January pilgrimage to California," said JHS's Drumm. "It is and will remain 'The Show' — the best networking opportunity in the industry, a place to really get business done, see the newest stuff, pick up cool new lines, make new contacts, network, see and be seen.

"Those decades seem to have seen a gradual relaxation of the criteria required for entry, and it's occasionally a challenge to sort the wheat (buyer) from the chaff (others, [excluding the press of course!]), which of course makes the show feel 'busy,' gives NAMM ever-rising headline attendance figures to shout about, but can create a situation for B2B and other 'genuine attendees' who've traveled from around the world and paid a small fortune to exhibit or attend as buyers, etc., find it less easy than it probably should be to do their jobs.

"As a supplier exhibitor, one's gotta love the vibe, for sure, and it helps to stoke the hyperbole, but it felt just a bit out of balance for the first time this year, too much like a super consumer show too early on."
For retail buyers, the decision is easy — make room so they can get their business done.

"It would be nice if they didn't book artists simultaneously with buyer appointments," said Alto's Reuter. "It makes it hard to do business. For example, I had a 2 p.m. [appointment] with Ibanez. When I got to the booth, George Benson started at 2, and my rep didn't know that. I couldn't even get into the booth to look at new product. Should they reserve that for Saturdays and Sundays?"

Looking Ahead
For those looking ahead to Anaheim in 2018, get ready for a new hall being added to the complex, which will dramatically change the landscape of the show floor and offer opportunities for an even broader range of exhibitors—in addition to alleviating some of the traffic-flow challenges the show has experienced in recent years.

"We are very excited to be getting more space for the 2018 NAMM Show, the new building, called Anaheim Convention Center North, or ACC North, will give us the opportunity to do what many of our members do regularly, 'remodel the store!'" Lamond said. "And like a member remodel, we will take what we've learned from the existing floor plan to improve the experience for everyone. While emphasizing minimal impact to our members, you will see improved 'neighborhoods' based on industry segment. This will also lead to improved traffic flow and reduced overall floor volume to increase the ability of our members and their guests to meet and conduct successful business, all in the fun and 'family reunion' atmosphere that has become the hallmark of the NAMM Show."

Upcoming NAMM Shows include The Summer NAMM Show in Nashville, July 13-15; NAMM Musikmesse Russia in Moscow, Sept. 14-17; Prolight + Sound Russia, Sept. 12-14; and The NAMM Show 2018, Jan. 25-28.

— By Frank Alkyer