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Thursday, Sep 28, 2023

Fast Track

By DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter It’s certainly attention-getting: The 1984 Ford Thunderbird parked in front of Jammin’ Jersey Music & Pro Audio is painted windows and all to resemble a cow. But there’s more to the store’s marketing approach than “Cowbird” as Jammin’ Jersey owner Mark Leonard calls the car. The store’s logo is a cartoon cow wearing shades and playing a Fender electric guitar. In an increasingly competitive market, where long-time establishments like Nadine’s Music are shutting their doors and retailers like Guitar Center Inc. dominate the scene, the owners of Jammin’ Jersey know how important it is to market their store. “You sort of have to see yourself as an underdog to push for more growth and success,” Leonard said. “We are comfortable seeing ourselves as underdogs.” In 1992, Jammin’ Jersey’s first full year of business, the Reseda store had $175,000 in sales. Last year, the store which has since moved to Northridge had $400,000 in sales, and Leonard expects this year’s number to be around $460,000. Jammin’ Jersey sells a wide variety of supplies for musicians everything from recording and mixing equipment costing thousands of dollars, to guitar picks costing pocket change. The store also sells acoustic and electric guitars, drum sets, equipment stands, instructional videos, and books featuring sheet music from such groups as Alice in Chains, the Beatles, Elmore James, Meatloaf, Megadeth, Weird “Al” Yankovic and others. The store also repairs and rents out music equipment including a transparent red drum set that was used in a photo shoot for defunct Seattle band Nirvana. Combined, repairs and rentals account for less than 10 percent of the store’s revenues. Duane Waider, a drummer who plays in local bands Bob’s Your Uncle and the Brian Brothers, said he prefers Jammin’ Jersey to other retailers “because it’s more personal and I’ve known Mark for years. (The equipment is) here and he makes you a great deal.” Leonard, 45, a former sound engineer who worked with ’70s Bay area band Spirit and ’80s glam rockers Ratt, did not originally intend to open a music store. In 1988, he opened Target Studios in Reseda. At the time in the Guns ‘n’ Roses-era of Los Angeles rock aspiring rockers from across the country were heading west to start bands, and rehearsal studios were in demand. Leonard opened Target with 10 rehearsal studios, and even had plans to add a recording studio. But in 1990, he started seeing a slowdown in business; musicians were coming in to practice once a week rather than several times a week, and were having a harder time paying their bills. “Every month we could see that business was slowing down,” Leonard said. So Leonard converted his largest rehearsal studio into an accessory store, selling drumheads, drumsticks, guitar strings and used sound equipment. “To this day, that’s sort of what our core business is,” Leonard said. The store started doing better than the rehearsal studios, So Leonard devoted more and more space to it. By 1992, the store encompassed four former studios and had 2,500 square feet of floor space. But the location, on Canby Avenue off Sherman Way, was difficult for new customers to find, and Leonard started looking for a new location. On April 29, 1996, Jammin’ Jersey moved into a 4,500-square-foot building in Northridge that Leonard bought earlier in the year. Leonard said he survives in a market dominated by the Guitar Center, which went public earlier this year, by selling products the large chain either doesn’t sell or doesn’t emphasize: Hohner guitars, Ludwig drums, used guitars and such accessories as guitar strings and distortion pedals. “You don’t want to get in a hand-to-hand combat with (Guitar Center),” he said. “You present yourselves as an alternative to them.” But Leonard added that Guitar Center is not his real competition. Rather, it is non-music, recreation-oriented stores that appeal to men in their 30s, 40s and 50s who have disposable income and time for recreation a group that accounts for about 80 percent of his customers, he said. “Our competition isn’t necessarily other music stores,” Leonard said. “It’s Roger Dunn Golf Shops. It’s Sportmarts. Anything going for disposable income is our competition, not just other music stores.” Spotlight Jammin’ Jersey Music & Pro Audio Year Founded: 1991 Core Business: Selling, repairing and renting music instruments and equipment Top Executive: Mark Leonard, owner and operator Sales in 1992: $175,000 Sales in 1996: $400,000 Employees in 1992: 3 Employees in 1997: 4 Goal: To survive in a competitive, non-growth market Driving Force: A preference among musicians to buy and rent equipment from a personal-touch retailer rather than a mass-market retailer.

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