Australian music retail giant Allans & Billy Hyde has entered receivership. It wasn’t a huge surprise. Retail everywhere has been going downhill and business didn’t pick up after the company’s 2010 merger, despite significant cash injections from offshore investors.
They were fighting a losing battle on overheads alone. Unlike online retailers in the US or Asia, Allans and Billy Hyde have to pay rent for a shopfront, wages and superannuation for their staff, GST and shipping and customs fees for the stock they import. When you lay it out like that, it’s easy to see how a US$800 Fender Strat can turn into a AUD$1499 Fender Strat.
I feel bad for ABH’s 500 staff, and for the people who put down deposits or paid for gift vouchers which won’t be honoured.
Like Red Group before them, Allans and Billy Hyde made the mistake of assuming customers would buy from them instead of the internet because they value customer service.
When I was a teenager in Rockhampton, I spent hours at Green Brothers’ music store. The staff were helpful and patient, and in turn I spent a shitload of money there. Everything was bigger and better in Brisbane, and I assumed this would be the case with music stores when I moved there at the age of 17.
Once I went into Allan’s Brisbane City store and picked a Taylor acoustic off the rack. I managed around 5 minutes worth of noodling when a salesman took it off me.
“Oh honey, you don’t want that. I’ll show you what you might like.”
He put the Taylor back on the rack and returned with a flower-shaped Daisy Rock guitar. Daisy Rock make guitars especially for women, because having a vagina obviously means we can’t play a Les Paul or a Mastersound. Apparently our vaginas also make us oblivious to the fact that Daisy Rocks are shoddily made, sound terrible and are ugly as sin.
I was outraged, and spluttered something back along the lines of owning a telecaster and a Vox AC30, ACTUALLY. He was clearly a moron – the Taylor was more expensive than the Daisy Rock and would’ve landed him a better commission.
This wasn’t a one-off incident. My on-off boyfriend at the time was a drummer and every time we entered an Allans or Billy Hyde store, the sales guys would go straight to him and ignore me. Drummer boy would tell them that I wanted to ask them guitar-related questions and they’d either double take or bust out some mad condescension.
Things got weirder when I started to pick up visible tattoos. Music store bro-dudes couldn’t serve me fast enough. By paying someone a lot of money to inject ink under my skin, I’d gone from dumb girl to rebellious rock chick. I knew that getting tattoos meant people might treat me differently, but this was not what I was expecting at all. It was creepy and weird.
I ditched Allans and Billy Hyde for good in 2008 when I discovered Brisbane’s Tym Guitars. I’d already started buying effects pedals off the internet, because I simply could not stand dealing with a pack of sexist mouth breathers* every time I needed a packet of guitar strings. Back then Tim ran the shop and his workshop from underneath his house in Stones Corner. You could wander in and play around with guitars in the shop space for as long as you wanted. Tim would help if you needed it, but was otherwise busy doing guitar set-ups and repairs in the workshop. The shop’s much more conventional these days, but it’s still a good place to spend your time and money.
I don’t think the world is a better place without musical instrument shops and it will be sad to see Allans go. But it goes to show there’s more to customer service than paying someone to stand in your shop and use the EFTPOS machine. Woolies self-serve put paid to that.
*No, I’m sure your brother/boyfriend/mate who works at Allans or Billy Hyde isn’t a sexist mouth breather. Of course I wasn’t talking about them.