As I'd mentioned in my last blog posting, this month I'll be sharing breaking news with you regarding Academy of Music in Menomonee Falls, where my teaching studio is located.
Academy of Music has been sold to a new owner!
Recently, I interviewed him hoping to gain more insight into his plans for the shop:
Introducing Jeff Holmes
Jim Kube: Jeff, I’ve gotten to know you a little bit these past few weeks, while you were still considering the purchase of Academy of Music. You obviously enjoy music!
Jeff Holmes: Absolutely, I live and breathe it. I’ve always worked to make money, but music is always what I’ve done outside of earning money for work and family. It’s what I strive to do as much as possible, whether it's practicing or playing out or whatever.
JK: What instruments do you play?
JH: Well I play piano and trumpet, although trumpet I can play the scales -- that's where that ends at this juncture in my life. I play harmonica, bass and standard guitar, mandolin, and I know how to play drum set adequately. I could be in a really bad cover band. (laughing) And, I play the stump fiddle.
JK: Stump fiddle. Nice!
JH: I have one! Every once in awhile, you've got to pull that puppy out! (smiles)
A life's path changes
JK: What went into your decision to buy the music store?
JH: My wife, Sarah, is not a musician, but she and I have a true appreciation for music: recording, playing, learning, all of it. I wanted to [have a music store] later in a different form, I think, when we got into our 50s or after we were able to save some money, but this opportunity came up. It’s a lot bigger business to support our family. It really made sense. Looking at how many students there are and the relationship they have with the teachers made it an easy decision because there’s already a built-in customer base.
JK: Almost a ready-made opportunity?
JH: Ready-made in that the opportunity is there and I can make it something I can be proud of. I have my own vision, and my perfect scenario in my head and that’s what I want to get it to.
JK: How important are the music lessons at the shop, and how do they fit into your vision?
JH: Well, I played piano and then trumpet, but I don’t really know how to play trumpet any more. I dropped music out of my life because the education was off and I didn’t put the time and effort into it. It wasn’t until I learned how to play harmonica -- which I taught myself -- that and I practiced every day and loved it. I had a lot of opportunities to get up and play with another band and get this instant gratification and I was hooked. So that’s why I started learning more instruments. I did not have a background of learning the way you did and most people do. I am more self-taught but I practice a lot. I also know that I would be 10 times better had I had an education and practiced all my life.
JK: You mentioned performance opportunities. Do you intend to incorporate that here?
JH: and that’s going to continue without a doubt. I would like to build upon that, so we will take a look at what those recitals entail and see if we can add a little bit more to them. I’ve never been to one at the store so I can’t tell you how yet. But, we are going to start adding on to that. There are two types of musicians: you're either an orchestra person or in a rock band -- or maybe you’re both. I will be talking to the teachers on how we can expand the performance levels of that group of students, but then we have this other group of students, the rock musicians, who are playing drums, guitar, and keyboards, and singing and stuff like that. I want to be putting together some sort of battle of the bands and I would like to get the teachers involved putting this kid and maybe that kid together, and see if we can’t get them to learn two or three songs. Performance is a drug. Performance is the most wonderful experience any musician can have just getting out there and performing in front of people and I want to create as many opportunities for that as I can.
The personality of the store
JK: What will set your store apart from other music shops -- lesson-wise or other?
JH: I'm always going to want to create a friendly atmosphere, an eclectic atmosphere, a place that caters to a musician's point of view and mentality, where they will enjoy me and want to spend as much time as possible. Sometimes they’ll be buying stuff sometimes they won't, but they just want to come in and look at the wall. I know the more times they do that the more times they are going to be buying that particular guitar when they decide to buy one. It’s a wonderful moment in time when they get to purchase a new instrument. I just want to be the place they come to because they appreciate the store.
JK: How are you going to approach your school instrument rental program?
JH: The first part of that is to develop a relationship with the schools. I’ve had some cursory introductions but obviously those relationships need to evolve. The first step is just finding out what they need on a rental level and what they need on an education level. But I believe I can go above and beyond to help if the school needs something (and as anyone with music appreciation knows there’s not a lot of public dollars out there in the school system that gets dedicated to music). As a store, we have all these avenues of purchasing equipment and we have the availability to get it in the hands of schools who can teach all the kids to use it. If they need stuff, I'm going to make it one of my personal missions to ensure they get it. I’m not a millionaire, I can’t just give them a $5,000 clavinova. I would love to, but I can say, "OK, were going to get the clavinova and were going to stage an event to raise some money for that clavinova at a lower price than Johnny down the street." Or help in any way possible to support the band program. If the marching band wants to take a trip, to be in the Rose Bowl parade and they need to raise some money, let’s put on an event -- some live music events and that gives the music students at the school the opportunity to play live. There’s no drug more addictive than playing music in front of people. It’s a wonderful feeling and you can’t get it from anything else in a positive manner.
JK: What sort of merchandise do you plan to carry?
JH: Currently, the store is limited to what I would call introductory instruments: your $200 and under guitars. There aren't really any drums there now but we will bring in the bottom end of the drums. I really want to bring in that solid starter guitar, amp, drum and keyboard, but I also want to get that second-tier right away. The tiers above that will come with time but I want the kids who are in class now or who have been playing for a couple years to be able know that we'll have 20, 30 instruments for them to chose from that are that quality and price range that is a little bit up from what's there already. Something that’s reasonably priced but high quality that they can move up to.
JK: You are interested in seeing students past the beginner stage?
JH: Let me read you the mission statement:
"Our mission is to foster a lifetime of musical creation through selling and renting a large variety of high quality instruments and providing a place where musicians can learn and perform at all levels."
So, if we go back to it - foster a lifetime of musical creation, not just get them started and then kick them out the door. I want to be with these kids -- teenagers, college students -- all the way through. I want them to come to the store the entire way through their musical life, and that’s the goal.
I want people to know that our vision is growth in all aspects. Not just guitar, not just drums. We expect our education to get bigger, we expect our sales presentations to get bigger and better, and we expect the offerings we are bringing to the table to be better and more exciting for the customer. We just want to create a store people like to visit. You’re important to me, you’re important to the store, and one of my visions is for myself or anyone else who works in the store as a teacher or salesperson is to always treat each customer where they’re at. That’s the pinnacle. Right there, that pinnacle is their moment.
The culture - and the store's name - get an overhaul
JK: You are really talking about developing a different sense of community at the shop. Will there be a new store name to go along with the culture change?
JH: Yeah. We're changing it to: Wondersound Instruments and Academy of Music.
Wondersound is kind of bringing in the community. It is an encompassing belief that music is a wonderful thing.
JK: As a parent with two grown kids, both of whom have gone through the Menomonee Falls Band Program, I can appreciate the enthusiasm you have for your vision of change. Nurturing musical growth, that is probably one of the most wonderful gifts you can give people.
JH: Absolutely. I’m not even saying I have all the answers of how we are going to accomplish that, but I have some ideas upfront. I want to consistently grow as a company and I think that’s a big part of it. You need to grow with the towns and keep in touch with what people are up to and expand with that, not just rest on the laurels of one particular time.
The store's interior
JK: Do you have changes in mind for the physical plant?
JH: You are going to see a physical overhaul of the store. Obviously, with the name change we have logos, we have marketing, we have all that kind of thing, and to coincide with that we are going to bring a lot of color into the store. It’s going to have a lounge area with an old beat-up leather couch and coffee table with guitar and drum magazines where parents can sit and read, and anyone can sit and read and hang out and enjoy. There will be new carpeting, and the bathrooms will be fixed and cleaned. We’re going to be bringing in a tremendous amount of stock. I’m also going to be getting suggestions from the students and teachers as to what they would like to see and do our best to bring in as much as possible. There’s going to be a section in the store dedicated to boutique instruments. There are a lot of guys in their basements or a small workshop and they may only produce 5 to 25 a year of a pretty good instrument. The craftsmanship is high and they’re unique instruments in a lot of ways. I’m a big fan personally because I appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into this stuff. These guys sit there and they build the stuff and they take so much pride in what they are doing and I appreciate that. I love unique brands because they bring qualities to the table that you are not used to hearing on one sonic level or another. You can put a new sound into the music you’re creating with these products.
Several times throughout the year, we are going to bring in a builder, and he’s going to bring in 20 guitars and 20 amps. And we'll bring a professional musician in to play them. Then the builder will talk about them. It will be a really fun event.
JK: It's awesome that you get to finally pursue your passion. What I find most interesting is that, while doing so, you also seem to have a clear sense of giving back to the public and your customers.
JH: Absolutely, because I also know that the more you appreciate them, the more they appreciate you. And the more you can give back to the community, the more the community will shop at your store and learn from your teachers and rent from me. It’s a symbiotic relationship between a business and a community. It’s got to be. If you just sit still, life will pass you by. It will!
JK: I agree. Get out there and make your dreams happen!
JH: What did John Lennon say? “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Well, if you never make the plans, then life is full of a whole lot of nothing.
JK: When is the grand opening?
JH: I technically take over on the 1st of July and it's going to take some time to get everything that needs to be done: carpet, paint, moving stuff around. Everything is going to get done in stages. The physical form of the store will be changed almost immediately, at least the paint and carpet will get done immediately. As we start putting the store back together, we will see how much stock we need to bring in. That’s step 2, going out and bringing in the new stock and filling up the store with things people want to buy. Step 3 is going to be working toward the grand opening, which I’m shooting for at the end of August, first part of September. Right before the school year, right at beginning of the school year after everyone’s back from summer vacations. Building up to that is really going to be putting time and capital into the marketing of it: new websites, in-store displays, stuff like that. We’re going to be carrying t-shirts and merchandise and we're going to market the heck out of it. Step 4 will be gearing up on performances and stuff like that.
Meeting the new owner
JK: When can folks come in to meet you?
JH: The whole 1st week in July or up until after the 4th of July, we're renovating. So, unless you’re a student, there’s no reason to come to the store because really, I’ll be full of paint, sweat, and probably pizza -- and there’s nothing to see! (laughs) Wait until we put the stuff back on the walls, then come in. I would love to meet you!
At a minimum, the 2nd week [of July] would be a good time to start wandering in the store.
JK: Paint splatter, sweat, dust and pizza. Clearly, this represents a man and his family’s passion?
JH: Absolutely! And I’m going to fix the bathrooms. Did I mention that? (laughs)
Want to stay in the loop on the store's progress? Please visit its Facebook page.
Wondersound Instruments and Academy of Music is located at N89W16744 Appleton Ave, Menomonee Falls, WI. Phone is 262-255-6950. It is a dealer for Seagull, Eastwood/Airline and Landrick guitars. Product lines will be ever-expanding.
Please visit my studio's Facebook page to find other interesting studio information at www.facebook.com/JimKubesPercussionStudio. Hit the "like" button to let me know you've visited. Thanks - I appreciate you!
My studio can also be followed on Twitter: @JimKubeDrums.
Interview transcriptionist: Becki Kube and her turbo-charged fingers.