Post-Guitar Center-Gate: Is This the End of Big Box Retail?

Remember back in February when we broke down the madhouse that is Guitar Center corporate? When we worked on that story, we were focused mostly on that one company, with only a few mentions towards the overall industry trends in big-box retail.

Now, a new op-ed column from economist/writer Eric Garland and Music & Sound Retailer columnist/Larry’s Music Center sales manager Gabriel O’Brien, argues that the woes of Guitar Center are symptoms, rather than the underlying conditions, of changes in the instrument retail industry at large. Although we should have more of a picture of Guitar Center’s future in the coming months, this article lays out a bleak future for large-scale retailers like the financially crippled guitar company (see: Radio Shack).

Garland and O’Brien discuss the excesses of square footage (the amount of physical space these stores take up in cities across the country), the rise of Internet-based catalog retail, the movement of big-ticket vendors like Fender towards direct-to-consumer sales models, among other topics. They contextualize the problems of Guitar Center within broader economic trends in this country and beyond, such as population movements, wage squeezes, technological innovation, and more. This may sound complicated, but it’s really not too tough a pill to swallow.

What I like most about Garland and O’Brien’s piece, however, is the optimism they show towards not just the future of the industry, but also towards our generation. In a time where it seems like every three months we get a New Yorker article about how this is the worst generation ever, I applaud these guys for holding a position that’s rarely talked about in those think-pieces:

After a lifetime of experiencing the generic interactions provided by malls and impersonal shopping meccas, GenXers and Millennials are seeking smaller, more community-based destinations. They’ve come to realize that, despite being easy on the bank account, cookie-cutter retail and dining experiences are not very rewarding as a part of people’s lifestyles. Farmers’ markets are popping up in small towns everywhere, frequented by people of all ages who are seeking locally grown produce. Much has already been written analyzing the rise of niche business destinations. Craft breweries and record stores are two industries that, driven solely by customer demand, are still experiencing rapid growth. Our industry can follow this model. Our brick-and-mortar stores can emulate these success stories.

Read the rest of the article here, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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Max is managing editor of Gear Gods.