Opened November 1978. Sold in 1991 and soon after relocated to 4100 Monroe Street as Dave’s Drum Depot.
RICK’S DRUM SHOP: SPECIALTY DEALER MAKES IT IN MEDIUM-SIZE MARKET Printed in Musical Merchandise Review – June 1985
Everyone has heard of businesses begun on a shoestring, but Rick Cline may be the first to start retailing on a snare drum cord. Seven years ago, Cline was a young drummer with a popular disco band in his hometown of Toledo, OH. When a cord in his snare drum snapped one day, Cline made the rounds of music stores looking for a replacement. Much to his chagrin, there wasn’t a snare cord to be had in the entire area.
“It was amazing,” he recalls. ‘Here I couldn’t use my snares because no one stocked a little 25 cent cord. And this wasn’t the first time I’d been hung up because of some small item. So I said to myself, ‘What this town needs is a shop that caters to the specific needs of drummers.’ I decided to give it a try.”
As things turned out, Dave Shoffer, a fellow member of Cline’s band recently had opened a keyboard/combo shop in a converted two-story house on Toledo’s Sylvania Avenue. Cline convinced his friend to lease him some space on the second floor of the house-turned-store, and in November 1978, he founded Rick’s Drum Shop — Toledo’s first percussion specialty store.
The going was a bit rough at first for the new venture. Suppliers would only sell the young store owner c.o.d., and a lack of sufficient floor space limited Cline’s merchandising opportunities. “Back then, the future of my shop seemed a little uncertain,” says the percussionist. “I had, of course, no credit history with my suppliers, so I had to build up my inventory step by step, pouring whatever money I made into buying new merchandise. And I couldn’t really display my selection the way I wanted to because I had a closet-sized sales floor.” Eventually Cline overcame these obstacles. He won the respect and confidence of suppliers and was able to buy all merchandise on terms. He also acquired more and more floor space for his shop, eventually occupying the entire building when Shoffer moved his combo shop to another location.
Today Rick’s Drum Shop is a thriving specialty business that has seen its volume double since 1984. The store has an attractive 1500-square-foot sales floor, roughly an equal amount of storage space, a well-equipped service department and three teaching rooms. It also has an active mailing list of about 1,000 drummers/customers, most of whom live within a 60-mile radius of Toledo. The number of names on that list is expected to increase substantially during the next two years as a result of an advertising campaign that Cline has just launched. I’m running ads in the weekly newspapers in the small northern Ohio and eastern Indiana towns that are within a couple of hours’ drive of my shop,” he explains. “There are no major percussion dealers between me and Cleveland in the east, and me and Fort Wayne in the west. “This leaves me with a pretty big market area,” continues Cline. “The drummers who live in this area have no shop that caters to them, and I want them to know about Rick’s Drum Shop. The small town newspapers are a very inexpensive way for me to reach these drummers. I just ran an ad for two issues in the Genoa, OH newspaper. It cost me 24 bucks, but as a result, I picked up two new customers. Now you know that I’m going to see much more than $24 profit on sales I make to those drummers, especially if they stay with me the way most customers have over the years.” Whether the customer comes from near or far, big city or small town, chances are that he will be impressed by Rick’s selection. Major percussion lines carried by the shop include: Ludwig, Pearl, Yamaha, Simmons, Tama, Slingerland, Gretsch, Sonor, Zildjian and Paiste.
In addition to drums and cymbals, Rick’s stocks a wide assortment of percussion accessories and hardware items. To illustrate his inventory breadth and depth, Cline points to his large selection of heads. “We have about 10 or 12 different types of heads for every size drum,” he notes. “We also have just about any kind of stick or accessory that the drummer could want. It’s all part of being a complete specialty shop.”
Another part of being a complete specialty shop, believes Cline, is helping local percussionists stay informed about the latest developments in drums. The Toledo drummer/merchant does this by actively supporting clinics. Rick’s Drum Shop sponsors roughly four clinics a year. Held in a rented meeting hall with a capacity of about 200, the clinics cost Cline an average of $500 each. Approximately 100 to 150 drummers attend Rick’s clinics, which feature such well-known percussionists as Kenny Aronoff, Phil Ehart and David Garibaldi. Cline promotes his clinics, as well as his three-or-four-times-a-year special sales, in his newsletter. “I also advertise the sales and clinics on FM radio,” he says. “But I limit myself to just a few radio ads that run right before the clinics because I don’t want to attract too much attention among the general public. “The clinics are serious business for drummers,” continues Cline. “I don’t want groupies or autograph seekers coming around because a drummer from a famous band is going to be here. I see the clinics as a way to educate the customer who is serious about drumming, not as a means of getting a lot of generalized publicity for the store.”
Apparently, Cline’s ability to establish a rapport with “serious drummers” of all levels of skill and experience has played a key role in the success of Rick’s Drum Shop. The store was crowded with customers ranging from youngsters to veteran drummers on the Tuesday afternoon MMR visited. Several of those customers took our reporter aside and lavished praise on Cline’s honesty and straightforward advice.
Drummers are a very close-knit group,” says Cline. “They talk to each group other a lot, and they aren’t shy about telling each other when they’re happy — or unhappy — with the way they were treated at a store. I’m sure that one of the big reasons why I’ve been able to grow is because of the great word-of- mouth advertising I’ve gotten from drummers in the area.
“Different types of drummers require very different kinds of service and I try to remember this when I deal with customers,” he continues. “Most of the experienced professional drummers know exactly what they want. They’re loyal to this or that brand and they don’t want you to try to talk them into something else. The younger, less experienced guys are far more flexible. They aren’t locked into a given brand–their main concern is finding a drum set at a price they can afford.”
Those customers who find a new set beyond their budgets can choose from a large selection of used drums. “I take trade-ins and buy used drums outright,” says Cline, who also displays some used sets on consignment. “There are two main reasons I sell used drums,” he comments. “First, they make it possible for me to take trade-ins when I sell the customer up to a more expensive set. And second, they give me a less expensive alternative to offer beginners. My used drum set selection goes from about $300 to $1,500 in price. This, coupled with my new drum selection, which goes from $495 up to $3,800 in price, gives the customer a wide choice.” If a young percussionist finds that even the used drums at Rick’s are out of reach, then Cline will suggest that he turn to the classified section of the newspaper. “I never try to sell somebody something that I know he can’t afford,” says the Ohioan. “If I get that young kid started off on the right foot, then I know he’ll come back to me later on as he develops an interest in percussion. My main goal isn’t to make any one sale; it’s to build up a successful ongoing business serving the percussion community.”
Still an active player himself, Cline works weekends with a ’60s style rock group, Third Degree. Now I can play only the gigs I like,” he laughs, “because with my store going well, I’m no longer drumming for my supper.” And of course, if he ever breaks his snare cord again, he knows exactly where he can find a new one.
MUSICAL MERCHANDISE REVIEW: Rick, with a population of about 350,000, Toledo can’t be described as a really big city. Did you ever wonder if this market was large enough to support a specialty percussion shop?
RICK CLINE: You bet I did, especially when I was starting out. But my success during the past five or six years shows that this market can support a drum shop. In fact, things have been going so well that I’m seriously kicking around the idea of opening a second shop in the near future. You can have a drum shop in a town this size; you just have to work harder at getting it established.
MMR: How do you work harder?
RC: Well, you have to get out and promote your store much more aggressively. You can’t just sit back and wait for drummers to discover that you’re in business. Being located in a smaller market, I need the support of just about everyone out there who is serious about drumming, so I’ve got to be sure to get every drummer’s attention. This is why advertising has always been so important to me. Even when I was starting out and had hardly any money, I spent on advertising. I started with small classified ads in the Toledo Blade — they weren’t fancy, but they let drummers know I was in business.
MMR: Can you tell us about your current advertising?
RC: I spend five or six percent of my gross on advertising. Locally, I run ads on WIOT-FM, which is Toledo’s number one rock station. I’ve tried other rock and country stations, but none has proven to be as effective as WIOT, because that’s what’s listened to by my customers. Outside of Toledo, I run ads in small-town weekly newspapers. I’m doing more of this now because I want to expand my market geographically.
RC: The best way for me to keep on growing is to service customers from a bigger geographical area. There are a lot of rural areas to the east, west and south of Toledo and drummers in those areas have no place to go. I want to convince them to make the drive to Rick’s Drum Shop.
MMR: What reasons do you give?
RC: For starters, I’d point to our selection. This shop has more merchandise relating to drumming than any other store in the area. Not only do we carry more drums, but we also carry a greater variety of hardware, cases and covers, heads, sound effects and sticks. We have more than 125 different kinds of sticks in stock. There’s no other shop in town that can offer the drummer this kind of selection.
MMR: Why don’t you carry timpani or mallet instruments?
RC: Mainly because the bulk of my business is with rock ‘n roll and jazz drummers. I can’t afford to carry merchandise that doesn’t turn over and the demand isn’t there for the classical percussion instruments. This is especially true because most of that end of the percussion business is taken up by the mail order outfits.
MMR: Do you have much competition from mail order houses for drum set sales?
RC: Sure, I have some competition from mail order and some from the general MI stores. But, as a specialty shop, I can more than hold my own. Drummers will pass other stores that carry percussion to come here, because they value my service and selection — and my prices are really very, very competitive.
MMR: What is your pricing philosophy?
RC: I try to discount everything 20 to 25 percent, so I’m competitive with anyone. Of course, I always get guys who come in looking for a deal. They’ll tell me that they can get 40 percent off through a mail order house. When this happens and the guy is a regular customer or a professional drummer, I’ll try to meet him part way between my price and the mail order house’s 40 percent. But I find that even the more price-conscious customer will not mind paying a little more here because they like the fact that they can get the drums they buy right away and they know that I stand behind what I sell.
MMR: How, specifically, do you stand behind what you sell?
RC: If anything goes wrong with a drum that someone buys here, I’ll replace it, either through the manufacturer or on my own. I sell to a lot of pros, and if a pro ever has a problem with his drums, I’ll lend him a replacement so he doesn’t miss his gig. This kind of commitment on the part of a percussion shop is very important to the professional drummer.
MMR: Do drummers often ask for your advice on what to buy?
RC: It depends. The younger, more inexperienced guys will seek advice about different products. Most of the time, they want the biggest set they can get for their money. I try to point out other considerations to these drummers, such as the quality and durability of a set. Another thing that happens quite a bit with young drummers is that they want to buy cymbals that are too big for where they’re playing. They may see Van Halen on MTV and they want the same cymbals he has. What they don’t realize is that the cymbal that looks good on MTV will be too big for the high school dance they’re playing.
MMR: What about the experienced drummers, what kind of advice do they ask for?
RC: The experienced guys usually know what they want when they walk in the door and they don’t want you trying to talk them into something else. Many of them are loyal to one brand and they’ll buy nothing else. This is why so many different lines are in my selection. Experienced drummers usually come here with questions about new developments in percussion products. Drummers see this shop as a source of information, and I stay on top of trends by reading, attending NAMM and other shows and talking to dealers around the country
MMR: What trends are you noticing in your market?
RC: All of the manufacturers’ “new series drums” with the oversized toms and bass drums are very big right now. As far as colors go, I’m selling a lot of black, white and solid-color finishes. The really wild colors haven’t met with a great response in this market.
MMR: How have electronic drums done for you?
RC: I sell two lines, Simmons and Tama, with prices ranging from $1,299 to $1,495. They have done extremely well with pro players who are basically with Top 40-type groups. These guys find electronic drums useful in producing a Top 40 sound and they also already have the necessary PA and electronics to make the best use of the drums. On the other hand, the average drummer is a little cautious about electronic drums. Partly, this is because the drums are still fairly new, partly because he’s waiting for the prices to come down.
MMR: What do you see as the future of acoustic and electric drums?
RC: My feeling is that eventually most drummers will own both types, rather than just one or the other.
MMR: You hold a lot of clinics, why?
RC: I think clinics are a great investment for a drum shop because they get your name around and they create a lot of goodwill.
MMR: Can you tell us about the lesson program you offer?
RC: I have an arrangement with a teacher who uses my studios and pays me a fee. Lessons are an irnportant part of my overall approach to running the business because they help to develop new drummers. I also have a horn teacher who works out of this store. Of course, that’s not really related to percussion, but it brings in some extra money, which is always nice.
MMR: Do you service drums?
RC: We have a good-sized inventory of replacement parts, and we’ll service a drum that strips out or anything like that, but any shell damage we’ll send back to the manufacturer.
MMR: What are your sales like?
RC: With most sales, I’ll discount everything in the store. But on some occasions, I’ll focus on a specific line. My Zildjian distributor and I put together a Zildjian sale recently that was very successful. We’re going to have a Zildjian crash cymbal sale soon.
MMR: Have you ever thought of going the diversification route and adding products other than percussion?
RC: I kicked around the idea of getting into guitars a few years back, but decided against it. Drums are what I know and I believe that there’s plenty of room left for me to grow as a percussion specialist in this market. –