The Impact of the Pandemic on Guitar Retail
Posted by Douglas Armstrong on Oct 6th 2021
In March 2020, everything changed. An imminent global pandemic crashed the stock market and cast a dark shadow over the rest of the year. We were fearful for our lives and livelihoods. Small businesses across the country were forced to close indefinitely. The early days of the lockdown were some of the worst.
The ambiguity of the situation sent many of us into a panic. For those of us who had to close our brick and mortar stores as I did, it was unclear how long we could operate with just an ecommerce channel. We depend on our strong musical community here in Charlotte, so my first instinct was to pause or cancel new inventory orders because I doubted that we would be able to sustain our normal inventory levels without local business.
Miraculously, web orders saw us safely through March. With everything locked down, many decided it was time to learn the guitar. Smaller, parlor model acoustics flew out the door. The Taylor GS Mini line and the PRS SE Parlor P20 were our best sellers.
Encouraged by the increase in online sales, we reopened orders with our manufacturers and established protocol for this strange, new reality. We came up with a system for safe local pickups and even made a few deliveries in the neighborhood. Our customers made it clear that they wanted us to stick around. Someone had to ration out the guitar strings!
Naturally, our builders had supply and labor issues as well. When we re-opened the showroom in May, two solid months of online sales had stripped our walls bare. We needed guitars...fast. After some serious negotiating and brainstorming, we were able to replenish our inventory as we welcomed back our local clientele. Sales stabilized, and for a second it felt like things might be returning to normal.
Come summer 2021, the effects of the shutdown became more pronounced, and we’re all still in the process of catching up. Martin was closed for four months, and their current lead time on new orders is 12-18 months. Fender still has practically zero guitars in stock, and the lead time for new MIM/American instruments is 8-12 months (the wait for Fender Custom Shop guitars has doubled, going from 6 months to a year).
Our overall best-selling line is PRS, and the build times for SE models is 12 months, 12-18 months for Bolt-on, and 18-24 months for Core models. Collings, our premiere “boutique” builder, is currently at 12-18 months for acoustics and two years for electrics. Eastman guitars were readily available throughout the 1st and 2nd Quarters of 2020, but manufacturing and shipping delays have been a huge problem for the past nine months (build and delivery times are currently approaching a year). Mesa Boogie is sold out for the next 18 months and will not accept new orders until late 2022. Taylor, the rare exception, has kept up with the increased demand and has been delivering guitars on a monthly basis throughout the Pandemic.
Quote from Dr.Z Amps-Mike Zaite
“I must say the past year under the Pandemic has been a double-edged sword. Here at Dr. Z Amps, we have had a huge increase in orders from our good dealers which has been a big surprise in the past year.
It seems that many players are working from home, receiving Stimulus checks and putting them to work on purchasing that new piece of gear they have wanted. Being home allows for more free time to plug in during the day, and new equipment is always is a great motivation. This has surely pushed our hand-built production to the limit, but I’m not complaining, just wish there were more hours in the day.
Now on the flip side, supplies to build the increased demand for our amps is very difficult.
I read an article that there were 56 container ships offshore at Long Beach CA. awaiting docking and unloading—the most ever recorded. Parts being imported can’t be offloaded or shipped to my suppliers, causing excessive delays in inventory. And with this high demand and low supply all prices have increased at a rate I’m having trouble keeping up with. Each PO that is sent is rejected due to incorrect pricing. We can’t use the previous price as there is a new increase. In many instances I am happy to pay more as long as I can get parts, but this is surely a race to the bottom.
Only time will tell how all of this will work out. I still believe in USA-made products, the future of our country depends on them. I will do my best to maintain 100% Handmade USA products of the highest quality and greatest TONE.”
As Dr. Z said, inflation is impacting our industry and everyone should be ready to pay more for the gear that they love. On top of that, manufacturers are juggling an unprecedented number of backorders. Until we see a market correction or decline in demand, the inventory shortfalls will continue for the next couple of years.
I sincerely appreciate everyone that has supported Midwood Guitar Studio through our storefront, website and Reverb, channels. Without your support, we would have been a casualty in the music retail industry.
Best wishes to you all,