This year was the first year I was at NAMM. I’ve been wanting to for years. I’m asked every year, and it was nice to finally say I was there. For me the highlights had to be meeting builders I’ve been talking to for years.. face to face. It was great to say “hi” to so many people.
When I returned from NAMM, I was bombarded with questions about my thoughts there. My usual quote – “So much awesome – with so much terrible at the same time“. That is mostly in jest, since it is a tradeshow, and by nature they can be intense on several different levels. While walking through the aisles I did start to wonder about the ROI (Return On Investment) for some of these businesses. And I did ask quite a few people and I was surprised by the answers.
Let me step back for a bit. The first time I heard about NAMM was when I initially started work on the Travis Bean Guitars website. A few years ago, while Travis Bean was alive, we spoke on the phone frequently. He told me the story of how he and his partners worked up some prototype aluminum necked guitars and set up a booth at NAMM. From that weekend, he walked away with $100K of purchase orders on guitars. They only had the handful of display prototypes, so he had to ramp up production to fill those orders. But purchase orders aren’t ‘cash’ or any type of collateral for a bank, so they scrambled on credit cards to purchase equipment and shop space and to convince friends to quit their jobs to work. With that they went into production and fulfilled the orders, and the rest was literally.. history.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) is generally not open to the public. Its primarily a venue where builders/manufacturers related to music items can interact with dealers (buyers). Back in the 70s, 80s, 90s, etc – pre-internet, if you were a music store, this is about the only way to see new products and new builders. Sure magazines could show some cool ads, but this was the only way you could hear it or play or see it in person. So NAMM was a major thing for builders to get their dealership program off the ground and to take their company to the next level.
With the internet today, it’s easy to see a clips on YouTube, view the builders website, send an email receive product and literature, etc without out leaving the couch. So the times have changed. So why is NAMM still around?
While I was there, I asked a variety of booths what they felt their ROI was. Booth space does NOT come cheap. Thousands of dollars are spent just for the square footage of the booth. Not to mention travel. Shipping of product to NAMM. Hotel expense. Booth equipment – tables, signage. Paying for employees to work and to interact with the public – or if you’re just a small shop, halting production while your away and earning 0 dollars while at NAMM. Remember, NAMM is from Thursday to Sunday, but if you work it, you probably flew in on Tuesday and flew out on Monday or Tuesday. So a week away.
Depending on the level of business, the answer to the ROI question was differed, but I was surprised they felt that breaking even was good outcome from NAMM. But.. it was also hard to tell if you were contacted by a dealer 2 months after NAMM if that could have been related. So why go to NAMM?
Based on what I saw, and my opinion only, there are multiple factors/reasons to go to NAMM.
- Legitimizing your business. To say you exhibited at NAMM says you’re full time and serious about the business
- To get good exposure on a new product launch. Many builders were debuting their product at NAMM, and when Premier Guitar rolls by to interview you about it.. that exposure can be huge.
- Interacting and networking with others. Sure you could go there like I did and do the same thing, but the focus and intensity is less. People are going to your booth to speak to YOU. Great things and opportunities could be based off of that conversation.
- The potential dealer connection that can take you to the next level.
So is NAMM for all builders? I really think some thought needs to go into it. I remember talking to one builder a few years ago about their NAMM experience, and he basically said the return wasn’t there for him, and the costs associated almost knocked him out of business. I look at it as a gamble. If you go there, and go all-in, you might walk away a winner, but might walk away with negative. I feel like if you have money to burn AND have a proper strategy, it can be hugely beneficial for your business. I think it’s about timing, what your product is, and how good you are about maximizing your efforts while you’re there.
If you’ve gone to NAMM as a visitor, or a builder.. or a dealer, please let me know what you think by commenting below! Love to hear your thoughts. Am I way off base?