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Seventy years of Marshall Music: a reflection with CEO Dan Marshall

How the retailer handles a shifting market and big box competition


“It’s not rocket science,” Dan Marshall said.

“But it’s more complicated than you might think.” As CEO of Marshall Music, he knows what it’s like to run a successful music store. The 63 year-old has been in charge since 1984.

When he took over the business from mom and dad, Marshall told the employees, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but if you’ve got my back, we’ll grow this business together.”

The articulate and diplomatic graduate of Colorado University’s business school must have figured it out because grow, it did. The Marshall chain, celebrating its 70th anniversary, now includes seven stores statewide, including its Frandor location.

“Michigan is a very strong band and orchestra state,” Marshall said. “Our payroll is 300 statewide.” That includes their school of music teachers, many of whom hold master’s and doctorial degrees.

A fleet of 46 Dodge Caravans is available for “reps” that travel between 1,500 and 3,000 miles a week servicing school music programs. Marshall claims his store works with 80 percent of the schools in the greater Lansing area and probably 60 percent of the schools statewide. “It’s a really competitive market and we have to earn our position every day.”

Being sympathetic to the burdens and pressures of school band directors “who struggle every day to keep their program relevant” contributes to their market share.

Dan believes, as his parents did, in the multifaceted benefits of music. Marshall Music often sells instruments to schools, “at or near cost.” They provide 10,000 band rentals a year.

A genuine interest in promoting music is the store’s motivation, “not just schlepping band instruments,” Marshall said. “It’s my feeling that this store exits for the benefit of the community.”

The philosophy reflects William and Mary Marshall’s intent when they found a music store for sale in Detroit in 1948. The pair had never been in a music store and neither of them were musicians. According to Dan, they were attracted to the “life-enriching aspect of music.”

For $15,000, William and Mary bought Weaver’s Music Store. “They had instant inventory,” Marshall said. That helped stock the first Marshall Music that opened at 304 North Washington Ave. where Lansing Community College is now. They relocated to one, then another South Washington site. In 1971, the second was involved in a fire.

At the time, Andre’s record store was next to Marshall Music. “The fire happened in the basement of our next door neighbors,” Marshall said. A bad electrical fixture ignited cardboard and then a room full of vinyl.

“Our store didn’t burn. There was just smoke damage.”

It was the smoke that caused the death of a firefighter on the third floor of Marshall Music. “It was an absolute tragedy,” Marshall said. “It almost ended the company.”

Instead, employees rallied. They cleaned and repainted and managed to start over. More branch stores were added. When Marshall took over, the Lansing and East Lansing stores were consolidated in what was the abandoned, flagship Grinnell’s music store in Frandor Shopping Center.

Then another local move took place — really local. “We had the opportunity to buy the parking lot where the store is now, 23 years ago,” Marshall said, referring to their present location. “We moved into our parking lot,” he said. “Two Men and a Truck brought seven trucks and we moved in a weekend.”

The current store is in the process of downsizing acoustic piano displays and moving all sales to the main floor. “It’s not the era of every home having a piano,” Marshall said. “It’s an ever-changing world and retail is not immune to that.”

Adapting to change and the reduced demand for records, CDs and sheet music, the upstairs showroom is being rebuilt. Displays of guitars, amps, drums, electric keyboards and such, are not being altered much.

“The main floor got kind of sleepy,” Marshall said. “Band and orchestra was still vibrant.” With 80 percent of Marshall Music’s focus on school service and “20 percent, everything else,” it made sense to move all retail to the main level and expand the lower level band and repair departments.

Marshall Music offers complete in-house repair of all types of instruments and electronics. “Our mission is to have a one week turnaround,” Marshall said. They provide repair service for all their rentals. “That’s really what pays the bills.”

Although the 90 Frandor store employees are all musicians, Marshall is not. “Just like my parents, I played in a band and didn’t succeed,” he said. He was part of “the fine family tradition of ‘can’t carry a tune in a bucket,’” he said. “I’ve been honored to work with musicians. They look at the world with eyes that are different from mine.

Marshall Music 3240 E. Saginaw St., Lansing

Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Closed www.marshallmusicweb.com


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