The reason that small dealers are dying is because consumers will not support them. In a free economy, it is you the fan and the customer who gets to choose by spending your hard earned money. If you spend your money at small dealers, I can guarantee Gibson and everyone else in the industry will be there. The fact is, as a group, you do not spend your money there.
There is not a single consumer who does not look at Thoman's catalog offerings in Europe. His prices are incredibly aggressive, the service is exceptional and he has a 500,000 square foot distribution center that ships product to most consumers within 24 hours. He has millions invested in inventory.
He is an aggressive and competent business man who is able to make a profit even though his prices are very low (very low profit margins). No small shop in Europe can stay in business at his very competitive prices, and so where do consumers buy?
Since I have been in this industry, I have found it to be the most price oriented business in the world. Every guitar player seeks out the lowest priced product, and then goes to the local shop and says, "Sell me your guitar at this price or I will walk". These small shop owners gets dozens of calls every day from people shopping price. If they put their inventory online, the situation gets even worse as guitar players will shop the world and hammer the poor small business person. Come on guys, who is going to tell me they know a player that paid more of a guitar because of a relationship. Yes it happens, but not enough to support a small shop. People do not as a rule pay more regardless. I don't think they should have too. I think the fan is always right, and we are there to service our valuable fan. And the best way to get a lower price on a product is to buy from an aggressive merchant that does high volume and probably has only so-so service.
Look at other industries. Look at consumer electronics. How many small stores are left. Where do you buy a big screen TV: Best Buy, Dixon's, Amazon or Joe's TV Shop? Why is Walmart the largest retailer in the world, because they charge higher prices, and have a more limited selection?
Brands and companies react to what consumers want. That is the only way we can succeed. My sin is that I have studied other industries and have gone to where consumers are going before other brands and companies in this industry. I have used strategies and tactics that allowed brands and companies to thrive, and ruined companies that did not adopt them. The sin is to give to consumers what they really want based on their buying behavior.
People bring up stores like Centre City Music, and Gruhn's as small merchants. They may have smaller stores, but they are some of the largest volume dealers in the country and they are extremely aggressive in pricing as is the great store in Cologne which is building a new distribution warehouse with thousands of square feet.
We do our share to support those retailers that have a good customer base. We have Business Development Managers that help them with annual business plans, District Product Specialists that travel to the store and help with training and merchandising, Relationship managers that provide direct line account support, and an extensive 24 hour computerized systems allowing account management. We give smaller dealers significantly better credit terms than large dealer because the smaller guys have a harder time with financing. The average store turns a guitar 4 times a year (Thomann probably 20 times a year) and we extend 90 day terms meaning we fully finance the independent store site. This cost $$$$ money. We cannot support a single store visit that can easily run $1000 when the store sells 10 of our instruments a year, let alone the rich support each of our retailers get.
While you may complain about the demise of small local retailers, it is not the brands and companies that are killing them. It is the price driven consumer. It has happened in every industry, and it is now happening in ours. I think, the consumer and fan are always right.
Wal-Mart can charge low prices because they squeeze their suppliers. Gibson is in the enviable position of having product that the retailers, large and small, all need and want. There is a very small store near me that is the largest volume Taylor retailer within 250 miles...he has great prices, wonderful service and personal attention to his customers. I bet his store is less than 1,000 square feet in size. The reason he does well is that Taylor treats him well as a customer...and he moves more product than the GC down the road with the 19 year old salesperson who can't even spell intonation.
I understand the economics of volume/pricing/inventory turns...but many of us are Gibson fans from our experiences as young musicians hanging out in the local music store. Perhaps Gibson needs to explore this as a business challenge and be creative - a couple of ideas (not proven and just off the top of my head): most small stores offer band instruments in a rent-to-own arrangement...perhaps Gibson can set up a program for this...the income from rental can offset the instrument costs for the retailer, and when a percentage come back to inventory, they now have some nice used stock to sell. Or...maybe set up a school program that is handled exclusively by small retailers - possibly related to the Gibson Kids program. Just my thoughts...please don't give up on the independents...