How did you make the decision to open Allegretto?
I’m a lifelong amateur musician – piano, organ and three-chord guitarist, but with a professional background in IT. Anne who helps me in the shop is an accomplished professional pianist who teaches locally. I’d been working as a freelance IT consultant and project manager for a long time, and had latterly been spending an inordinate amount of time travelling. We’d moved back to the North East but the industry sector I worked in was very much based in the South. So when the opportunity came to take over an existing music shop based in Corbridge, I jumped at the chance.
How has the business developed?
When we took over, the business only served a small number of regular customers. We’ve had to become a lot more focused on the wider public – by starting to sell online, by changing what we sell to include more attractive product lines, such as digital pianos and keyboards and musical giftware, and by making the shop a much smarter and more attractive place to be. In 2014, when the Corbridge lease ran out, we moved to new premises in Hexham in a much more visible and accessible high street location. The shop itself – as in Corbridge – doubles as a small performance space and we have a series of concerts planned for the rest of this year. We want to give people very good reasons for using an independent music shop!
What is the best thing about the business?
It’s such a well-rounded thing to be doing for a living – running your retail business, there’s so much ground to cover – finances, admin, advertising, shop management (and for an ex-geek, there’s a lot of technical work to get excited about), and of course you’re completely immersed in all things musical. But the other thing is the people – this might sound a bit cheesy, but it’s wonderful watching people develop as musicians, and the difference that taking up and instrument can make to their lives.
What has been the most challenging thing?
The hardest thing is of course the competition from the big online sellers. We have to keep prices very competitive, and it’s hard work challenging the perception that hitting the Amazon button is the only option people have – be they individuals or institutions like schools.
Can you describe the inside of the shop?
The front of the shop is given over to sheet music and smaller instruments and gifts – we try to keep this area bright and airy and uncluttered, with light-oak shop fittings made for us by a local cabinet maker. Further back, the mood changes – it’s quieter and more subdued, so that people can try out pianos in a relaxed environment.
Can you describe your range of products?
From a 50p guitar plectrum to a £10,000 Steinway… There’s a quite comprehensive range of brass, woodwind, strings and folk instruments, and all the accessories, but most of the shop is given over to sheet music and pianos. We specialise in reconditioned Yamaha and Kawai instruments, which represent excellent value for serious musicians, but we also keep a range of very high-quality older instruments with character and musicality.
What are your most popular products?
The bread-and-butter business is printed music, particularly teaching material and music exams – but we did shift a huge number of copies of Frozen over Christmas! It’s important for us to keep a very comprehensive spread of music in stock – we currently hold over 4,000 current titles.
Why do you think music is so important?
It comes over in the most mundane of dealings customers – whatever they’re buying, be it a set of guitar strings, a piano scales book, or a saxophone, there’s almost always a conversation about music – why they’re doing it, what they enjoy, the problems they’re having, what their teacher’s like. There’s hardly ever a case of just handing over the money and leaving – everyone wants to talk!
Do you have such a thing as an average customer?
Absolutely not. Parents with toddlers, keen youngsters, recently retired, curious tourists, choirs, music teachers and a number of discerning professionals from around the country. But they’re all equally important!
22 Battle Hill, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 1UU