By Richard Popiez
What I Learned About Running a Small-Town
Music Store During the Pandemic
Editor ’ s Note : Not long ago , while exchanging emails about a prize giveaway he was arranging as a thank you to customers , Richard Popiez of A & R Music in Walkerton , ON , mentioned that while times were tough and unpredictable , “ it ’ s been great at the store as so many people have discovered or rediscovered their love for music !” He also said , “ Customer support has been fantastic during COVID ; one of the best parts about smalltown communities !” This got me thinking that he probably had some lessons we could all use . And so , I asked if he would like to share those lessons with CMT ’ s readers , and Richard was gracious enough to send back this column .
In looked up and saw someone
March 2020 , just two days after the first announcement of business lockdowns , I
had taped a sign to my front door . A child ’ s drawing with the words , “ Wishing a burst of happiness and sunshine for you today .” Left anonymously , it was a way to show a bunch of downtown businesses that people cared ; that we had support . And that set the tone for these last 18 months .
The area of Bruce and Grey Counties in southwestern Ontario where I live and work is mainly rural . There are many small towns and villages with only one urban area about 70 km away . It is also an area that loves and appreciates music of all kinds , with more than 10 music festivals within a 50 km radius . Going through the pandemic as a small music business has been challenging and rewarding . Here are some lessons I learned :
1 . Small retail businesses can mobilize quickly The pandemic has been so disruptive . When you want to continue to be there for your customers , there ’ s no choice but to adapt , quickly changing business practices and coming up with creative ways for service and communication . I jumped into social media , taking webinars and looking at that new guitar shipment as a potential post , not just beautiful instruments to hang on the wall . During lockdowns , I ran a 50- ft . cable from my counter and rigged up a payment station right at the door . Being my own boss meant I could just make decisions and move ahead without waiting for health and safety policies or marketing guidelines from head office .
2 . Word of mouth is still important It ’ s no secret that people turned more and more to music , rediscovering an instrument
A & R MUSIC ’ S RICHARD POPIEZ
or taking up a new one . While social media played a big role as a way of communication , almost half of my new customers heard about my store through word of mouth . In small communities , people like to chat and catch up with each other . With COVID , people were finding it hard to cope , so if they found something that they enjoyed , they would share that with family and friends .
3 . A lot of people have a lot of unused instruments sitting around Repairs really took off as people cleaned up their closets and basements and were
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