I found this the other day...an interview I gave last year with our previous landlords.
Re-posted in its entirety:
We love to hear about Kimco tenants creating gathering places where people can collaborate and learn. Tanasbourne Village in Hillsboro, Oregon, has become a destination for music lovers and guitar enthusiasts thanks to Five Star Guitars. Owners Jeremie Murfin, Jeep Simonet, and Geoff Metts offer a unique experience for customers. Expert and novice guitarists alike can come together to check out a wide range of electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and amps; learn from the area’s top talent as part of its lessons program; and hang out while their equipment is repaired or serviced.
We spoke with co-owner Jeremie Murfin to discuss Five Star Guitars and how this business is helping to fuel the community’s music culture.
Tell us about Five Star Guitars. How did the business come to be?
Jeremie Murfin: Jeep, Geoff, and I had worked at Five Star Guitars for around 10 years each when we bought the business in 2012. Five Star Guitars had already earned a solid reputation in the community, so we quietly assumed ownership without much fanfare. None of the staff changed and none of the brands or services changed in the transition. With this in mind, we’ve worked hard to make every part of the business better. Customers eventually noticed “something different” about the shop as time went by.
What is your title/role?
Murfin: I am one of three owners. We all equally own one-third of the business, but our roles differ with respect to our individual strengths. I do most of our numbers-based work such as accounting, paying bills, setting budgets, and running financial reports. Jeep is our operations guy. He creates the employee schedules, writes a lot of the procedures, and works on the infrastructure we use for inventory management and technology. Geoff works with our vendors/suppliers for our stocking profiles, clinics, promotions, networking, and writes most of our press releases. From a traditional titles stance, I’d be the CFO, Jeep the COO, and Geoff the CEO; however, I’d still say we have three CEOs.
What made you choose Kimco’s Tanasbourne Village shopping center as your location and what have been the benefits of being located in a shopping center?
Murfin: Five Star Guitars had already been at Tanasbourne Village for five years when we assumed ownership and was fairly well established. We’re typically what you’d refer to as a “destination” business. People come to our shop intentionally, with a purpose in mind. We house lessons, offer repairs, and sell a lot of music gear.
Customers don’t usually go “instrument shopping” the way they go “antiquing,” for example. They leave the house knowing what guitars they want to check out. To that end, we offer a very symbiotic benefit to many of our surrounding anchors, like Trader Joe’s and Subway. Sometimes, while parents drop off students for a 30-minute lesson, they’ll get their grocery shopping done. Often, Intel employees grab lunch at Subway and spend most of their break at our shop. I think we complement our neighbors well.
Who is your typical customer?
Murfin: Generally speaking, it is musicians and anyone aspiring to be a musician, with a focus on fretted stringed instruments. Everything we do revolves around getting people into playing music and then helping them every step of the way. They may always be a hobbyist or they may make a career out of it. No matter what skill level customers are at, they know they’ve got a place to come home to at Five Star Guitars.
How many different kinds of guitars do you sell? What’s your personal favorite?
Murfin: As with any hobby, you can obsess over nuance and literally drill down into thousands of guitar variations. Generally, there are two categories we start with when introducing someone to guitar for the first time: acoustic and electric (bass guitar could be a third, but we usually refer to bass as a separate instrument altogether). We’re about 50/50 in how we represent acoustics and electrics, focusing on representing three brands of each.
Personally, I’m a sucker for vintage stuff. Not because I necessarily think collectible guitars are better, per se, but because I’ve always had a fascination with history. Holding an old guitar is like getting to hold a piece of history. Many vintage guitars age gracefully and have a lot of stories to tell, which I think is cool. My single favorite guitar is one custom made for me by a local guy, Wade Hezeltine. It’s been my number one since he made it for me in 2009.
What differentiates Five Star Guitars from other guitar retailers?
Murfin: I’d say it’s our vision that differentiates us. We truly believe in what we sell and that it’s a means to an end, but not the end itself. The end goal is to become the place where the fusion of our community playing music happens every day. It’s not just about having a cool shop or neat guitars. It’s about helping people make better music, whatever that means for them. It’s not about us, we’re just the enablers.
Could you expand upon the lessons and other services you offer?
Murfin: When you own a retail music shop, one of the things you notice on a daily basis is how many people are looking for help in non-retail areas: How do I play better? How do I fix my broken gear? We have always partnered with local teachers and repair technicians to fill these needs. Yes, Five Star Guitars is retail at its core, but we’re always trying to connect customers with other services that will help them.
As a result, we have several in-house studios dedicated to lessons. All lessons are privately taught by local musicians and tailored to each individual student. Once per quarter, teachers pair up our students into bands and book them a gig at a local venue. This summer, teachers and students will play the Hillsboro Farmers’ Markets in Downtown Hillsboro. The lessons program has been really fun to see grow, and while our shop has become a hub for it, it’s driven by the collection of teachers working together.
As for the repairs, that part of our business started back in the day with our salespeople fixing guitars during their downtime. Fast forward to today, and we have a dedicated technician on staff working on store-stock instruments, as well as several technicians under contract for customer repairs and warranty work. These guys have professional training and are certified by major vendors like Fender and MESA/Boogie. In some cases, our technicians are also building their own product lines.
How do you promote your business in the local area?
Murfin: We have done a lot of advertising in local print publications and mailers, but our industry is small, so the best thing is still good ole fashioned word of mouth. We get more mileage from supporting local events and partnering with other businesses that align with our vision, music, and the community, as opposed to simply spamming everyone with coupons. When we do choose to support and promote something alongside Five Star Guitars, it’s because we believe in its value.
What role does social media play in your business?
Murfin: Social media is huge. I mean, this is an industry of artists! It has been a great way to connect manufacturers to local shops, and then to consumers and so on. Because social media has led customers to be more self-educated, business owners can have meaningful and transparent interactions with them. Manufacturers have also become more accessible, and it lends to the legitimacy of our business when they show support to their dealer network.
At the same time, we have to constantly give customers a reason to come into our shop, instead of going directly to the manufacturer. We focus on the experience of shopping in our store: the layout, the vibe, the conversations with staff, the buzzing environment of services and merchandise, and the way we allow customers to interact with the gear (i.e. play it!). Then we share the customer’s experience online via social media. We take compelling pictures, share industry news, focus on local events, and show the “people” side of music gear. Right now we use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and email.
Congratulations on being recognized as Oregon Small Business Persons of the Year! What advice do you have for small business owners just getting started?
Murfin: Thanks! My advice: Ask for help. There are a ton of people and organizations out there that genuinely want to help you succeed, such as your local Chamber of Commerce, SBA, SCORE office, etc. Use your community resources! I think people may assume we won the award because we have it all figured out, that it’s smooth sailing, and it has always been that way. Not true! We don’t have all the answers, but we know a heck of a lot more than we used to! We never stop learning or trying to get better. Just speaking for myself, I’m currently reading two books, listening to several podcasts, and taking a class on business management. As a company, we want to be the best, but we know we’re not perfect. We’re just better than we were yesterday.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Murfin: Be a positive force in your community. Everyone initially goes into business to make money – you need to scratch out a living somehow, and you’ve got an idea you’re passionate about. The community really doesn’t need another restaurant, coffee shop, shoe store, or guitar store; the community needs businesses that add value. What value do you offer your community? It’s fine to make money while you do it, but you have to look at your community as more than just a consumer demographic. If I may quote my late father, “A community is something you give to, not take from.” I think we have a business full of people who genuinely believe that.
Are you an active musician in the Hillsboro community, or want to be? Check out Five Star Guitars in Tanasbourne Village and by visiting www.fivestarguitars.com.
This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.
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