In Tune with its Patrons
Sam Ash Music endures for generations because of its love of music and dedication to responding to customers’ needs
Music lessons and simply listening to music can enhance critical brain functions necessary to complete complex tasks, according to a study at the University of California, Irvine, and a study at Stanford shows music engages areas of the brain that are involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating memory. For those who love music, this information should not be surprising, and the love of music is what has propelled Sam Ash for generations, helping many young people and adults get involved in music. Making music is what Sam Ash is about, and its enduring business is proof of how seriously it takes this.
“It is our family’s commitment to the company, to musicians and to our products,” CEO and General Counsel David Ash explains, who is part of the Ash family’s third generation to run the business. “Secondly, it’s our desire to always have whatever a musician wants, and present it in the most attractive and friendly way possible. We make our stores friendly places where anyone can come and try whatever we sell because we want people to have fun with our products. We don’t have any stores where we say ‘look but don’t touch’ – ‘come in and play’ is our trademark.”
Sam Ash Music got its start in 1924, when founder Sam Ash and his new wife, Rose, decided his career in the Sam Ash Orchestra playing violin wasn’t steady enough to support the couple. With little savings, they pawned Rose’s engagement ring for $400 (no fear, she got it back) and made a down payment on what became the first Sam Ash Music store. Focusing on perseverance and hard work, the couple worked around the clock to make the business a success. To make ends meet – especially with the arrival of children Jerry, Paul and Marcia – Sam performed with his band on weekends while Rose minded the store.
The business survived during the Depression and even when Jerry left to serve in the army during WWII, the rest of the Ash family was able to move the store to a better area in Brooklyn in 1944. The business continued to expand, with Paul adding a record department, and Sam delivering sheet music to area schools and music teachers. As money permitted, the family added a selection of band instruments in the store. Jerry and Paul attended college after their time in the military, but returned daily to help with the growing store.
Founder and patriarch Sam Ash passed away in 1956, but his dedication to “treating everyone fairly and offering the best selection of musical instruments at low prices,” continued on with his family. In the 1960s, Sam Ash Music added guitars, amplifiers and drum kits to its selection of band instruments, and eventually it became the largest dealer of portable organs in the country. The company continues to evolve, adding stores and moving to meet the needs of its customer base. Today, the company has 45 stores across the country, and is managed by Jerry’s sons, David, Richard and Sam, while the fourth generation of the family also is actively involved in the business with Ben, Adam and Derek. The love of music and dedication to Sam Ash’s values continue to drive the family business.
“This is something that has been in our family for 95 years,” David Ash says. “Richard and I are both CEOs and Sam is the COO, and many of our employees have been with us for many, many years, so it is very much a family here. We take pride in being able to bring the musical experience to so many people. What we do is such a nice thing – you don’t have to feel bad when you go to bed that you’ve created something harmful because you’re bringing pleasure to people.”
From Value to Collector’s Items
Sam Ash Music endures as the result of its quality offering and service, as well as its focus on staying current with customers’ needs. The company began to stock accordions in the 1950s when that instrument became popular, and it opened its second location on Long Island when it realized one-third of its Brooklyn business came from there. Today, Sam Ash Music continues to evolve in a number of ways, ensuring its customers are always satisfied.
“Our buyers are committed musicians, our staff members are musicians, and we make great efforts to follow up with customers and make sure they are happy,” David Ash says. “Customers who have a problem can always speak to me or either of my brothers.”
He notes the company supports this level of service with systems that manage its inventory and website, but Sam Ash Music continues to invest to improve further. It is in the midst of a project to upgrade its website with many new features, and has plans to develop the site further after it is on a new platform. Sam Ash Music also continues to work with a wholesale partner that manufactures instruments for the company’s private lines. Ash believes these lines are the best value available in the industry.
“We have spent so much time designing and honing the products and finding the right manufacturers, and we are very proud of those lines,” he says. “Jean Baptiste is our line of brass and wind instruments, and I would put them against anything else. Benjamin Adam is our line of instruments for students, and it has been very successful. We offer stringed instruments and guitars under the Carlo Robelli name. Each brand gets better and better all the time, and the value is terrific. We also carry all of the major brands that everyone covets, and we carry them all in depth. So we can serve a beginner looking for a great value or an advanced player looking for a collector’s item. Whatever they are looking for, we have it.”
Sharing the Love
Sam Ash Music is “heavily involved” in omnichannel retail, David Ash says, allowing customers to buy items online and pick them up in the stores or go into a store and having a product be shipped to their house. With four distribution centers around the United States, the company can get any product to customers quickly, usually within two days. Staff members also have access to customers’ purchasing data, so they are better able to help customers with any type of product. David Ash adds that its online chat functions and customer service phone lines are staffed by actual musicians, so they understand the interests customers have.
“It’s an ongoing project for our store staff to reach out to their customers instead of waiting for customers to come to them,” Ash explains. “We are encouraging our staff to contact customers, offer to help them with their musical needs and just be friends with them. When you get to the size we are, it’s no longer just the Ash family sitting in the stores knowing every customer. But we want our sales people to convey the friendly face of Sam Ash.”
As technology continues to evolve and improve, Sam Ash Music enjoys promoting customers’ creations. David Ash explains people now have the ability to make high-quality recordings on their laptops and then upload them to the internet, so Sam Ash Music likes to promote them on social media and through its YouTube channel. This is just one example of how a 95-year-old business continues to stay current and relevant to its loyal customers.
“One of our major initiatives – the fourth generation of our family is heavily involved in this – is to find bands to sponsor,” David Ash says. “We try to reach out to different musicians and cross promote them, using social media and digital advertising in ways we haven’t done before. We are getting better at marketing and doing a lot of work on content marketing, as well as selling on Amazon and doing Amazon advertising. We invite customers to create content and we pay them for that – we love sharing their love of music.”