Guitar Center Was Once on a Precipice. Now It's Growing Faster Than Ever



Ron Japinga, who took over Guitar Center in 2016 as its sixth CEO in roughly as many years, tells Rolling Stone that the company's impending doom was exaggerated because of general public skepticism about the future of physical retail. Guitar Center plans to renovate other locations and open seven more new stores by the end of 2018, bringing its total number of stores in the U.S. to around 290. At a time when many retailers are shying away from brick-and-mortar stores because of high overhead costs and the relative cheapness of selling things over the Internet, Guitar Center is adamant on swelling its physical footprint. Guitar Center is now betting on what it calls an "Omnichannel" approach: hooking customers both online and in person, including from experiential channels such as on-site music lessons, which the company started adding to its stores a few years ago. Many Guitar Center stores have been laid out in tight, clustered spaces, and its sales associates have something of a reputation amongst mall-goers of being rude to certain kinds of customers - such as women, who, it turns out, are now making up half the market of novice guitar players. Guitar Center is making aggressive efforts to step up its customer service, which means boosting the staff in its phone support center, opening up floor plans as it has done in the Hollywood store and training employees to be more hospitable. The keyword is still "Beginning." IBISWorld analyst Daniel Cook tells Rolling Stone that "Guitar Center remains heavily leveraged with debt, which is due over the next five years or so, which makes the expansion plans dangerous," though its recent refinancing has given it "More leeway for the new stores to be built" and its strategy of physical retail combined with hands-on services and online marketing seem to be paying off. read more...