Since confinement, the new French frenzy for piano and guitar

During the confinement period, sales of piano and guitars online jumped. A phenomenon was also observed in shops as soon as they reopened in May 2020. It remains to be seen whether this is a genuine lasting trend or a temporary renewed interest.

Was confinement generate invitations? Since March, sellers of musical instruments have noticed a strong resurgence of French interest in their products, with a particular enthusiasm for pianos and guitars.

After stores were forced to close during confinement, the phenomenon especially gained momentum on the Internet. During this period, “our sales soared”, asserts Christophe Chauvin, president of Woodbrass, the leader in the online sale of musical instruments in France.

The piano has succeeded in the digital version

Guitar-wise, acoustic models seem to work well while pianos have sold more in their digital version, according to industry professionals. At least during confinement.

But overall, it’s “the entry-level models, first-rate pianos and guitars” that have had the most success, emphasizes Hubert Chauvin, Woodbrass’ marketing director.

So much so that “all the brands are down. We weren’t able to respond to all the requests,” he continues. During the entire confinement period, Woodbrass has seen its online sales rise 136% for guitars, 89% for pianos, and even 75% for home studios compared to last year.

new clients

The increase in sales of entry-level pianos and guitars attests to the emergence of a new audience in the market. “Some have taken advantage of confinement to start practicing a musical instrument. Guitars and pianos are completely accessible instruments with courses available online,” analyzes Coraline Baraux-Desvins, general delegate for Chambre Syndicale de Facture Instrumentale (CSFI).

But more experienced musicians wanting to seize the opportunity of confinement to practice or resume a neglected hobby, also renewed their equipment by purchasing much more expensive instruments directly from the craftsman. French guitar maker Custom77—whose sales were finally at least as good as last year’s despite the first “disastrous” 15 days of confinement–reported that the minis were “overwhelmed with work since confinement.”

With them, it is now necessary to count the “two months of waiting” against the previous “about three weeks”. “Above all, these are new customers. These are the people over 30 who already have a guitar but no longer play it. And they’re back on it,” notes Jean-Baptiste Debias, Mark’s co-founder.

Fender’s ‘Record Year’

Guitars are back, baby!. On September 8, a The New York Times He devoted a long article to “reviving” the guitar since the beginning of the health crisis. In the columns of the American daily newspaper, the prestigious Fender does not hide its amazement at the scale of the phenomenon: “I never expected we could envision a record year,” CEO Andy Mooney stated.

He asserts that 2020 will be “the biggest sales year in Fender’s history, record days of double-digit growth, e-commerce sales and entry-level device sales.” Same note in Gibson, Taylor or even C.F. Martin & Co whose boss described the demand for acoustic guitars as “unimaginable” and he was “absolutely surprised”.

The time saved by incarceration also encouraged beginners and self-made people to turn to digital tools. Music learning app and website Fender Play saw its number of users increase from 150,000 to 930,000 between the end of March and the end of June.

GarageBand, Logic Pro, Ableton Live… In France, searches for music composition software peaked on Google between March and May, the Information and Resource Center for Current Music (IRMA) indicated. The same goes for the “learn to play guitar” and “learn to play piano” requests.

The evolution of Google searches for music composition software
Evolution of Google searches for music composition software © Google Trends
Evolution of the number of Google inquiries
Evolution of the number of Google requests “Learn the guitar” and “Learn the piano” © Google Trends

Stores also benefited, not wind machines

While online sales sites were the first to benefit from this renewed interest in piano and guitars, physical outlets noticed the same trend a few weeks later. “Since the beginning of dismantling, the phenomenon has persisted in stores that were able to reopen,” Coraline Barrow Desvins confirms.

In the weeks after May 11, “there was massive traffic in our stores,” repeats Christophe Chauvin, who also runs five “Wood Brass stores” in Paris. Today, the phenomenon appears to have regressed a bit even if piano stores continue to do well with sales of acoustic models up about “20% per month” in the Paris region since dismantling compared to last year, according to Simone Boupierre, manager of “Juste un Piano” store. In Levallois-Perret (Hauts-de-Seine).

The success is explained in particular by the willingness of the French to invest in internal activities since the confinement, and the difficulties faced by some manufacturers of digital pianos who are no longer able to supply them with components.

Conversely in Woodbrass, physical stores are now showing a decline in activity of around 20%. Blame falling orders linked to the sporadic return to conservatories and music schools, which are still struggling to organize themselves in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. However, on the positive side, this drop is offset by the good momentum of online sales.

The situation is especially very complicated for wind machines. “It’s a rather difficult period for these products because they are considered epidemic,” Coraline Barroux Desvin exclaims. And for good reason, there are still questions about the risks of transmitting the coronavirus by dropping the droplets associated with practicing these tools. This has the effect of weakening an entire industry that is internationally recognized:

“In France, we specialize in wind machinery. We have century-old companies. It’s a franchise profession with tools that are mainly exported, and today they operate in slow motion”, still laments the general delegate of CSFI.

What next for music stores?

After being announced for years on the verge of extinction, will music stores find a second wind after this particular year 2020? Nothing less confident. First, nothing says that this renewed interest in piano and guitar will continue. If confinement was an ideal period of self-dedication to music, one can imagine that some amateur musicians, due to lack of free time, have since put their instrument away.

Above all, music stores have to deal with the incredible hack of the web giants. In a French market of around 600 million euros, 25% of sales were made online in 2018. A percentage that has undoubtedly increased in two years. Under the circumstances, young freelance professionals, already having difficulty before confinement and not providing an online sales service, could not resist the crisis. Not to mention the disruptions in supply chains that may have punished some brands and points of sale during this period.

However, Simon Paupier ensures that physical stores still have a future. “I see a piano store, with technical service, trained and certified for its technical expertise, in parallel with a new ability for these stores to learn how to communicate on the web with a future in tomorrow’s world!” He said.

Especially since the emergence of new products, it has won the approval of customers, and consumption patterns. Some pianos manufacturers such as Yamaha “offer hybrid acoustic instruments with Silent and TransAcoustic systems that are in high demand in the market today,” notes Simon Paupier. It also emphasizes the “continuous development” of “environmentally responsible sales of used, refurbished and used acoustic pianos”. As well as the success of renting acoustic pianos, which attracts more and more musicians every year. The specialist notes that “the Corona virus has greatly accelerated in this positive direction, from the dismantling process to this day.”

“Rethinking the Store Model of the Future”

Also convinced that physical stores “still (have)” the market – just to “feel the touch of gadgets” – however, Christophe Chauvin called for a “rethink of tomorrow’s store model” to withstand competition from the web giants.

This is what Woodbrass is trying to do by introducing new services in its stores (in-studio tool testing, trainings, etc) with the aim of distinguishing itself with a true ‘customer experience’. The brand also moved its Asian production to Europe: “It is responsible for the environment, it is the consumer’s need, it is a better quality guarantee … it is the meaning of the story,” Christophe Chauvin recounts.

Without this renovation he deems necessary, he warns, “we risk seeing a certain number of closures” of shops while “margins of the sector have deteriorated sharply in recent years with the arrival of foreign sites being dumped”. “I am confident in specialty stores that provide customer experience. Less so for generalists who do not add value,” continues the professional.

Finally, he wants to encourage musicians to support French companies in this sector. Because unlike giants like Amazon, there are many websites selling foreign gadgets, mainly English and German, from which French customers buy their equipment. However, he believes that “purchasing your gadgets from foreign sites is heresy”. Before calling the “message delivery” so that there is “awareness”.

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