Shane Kinney picked an ideal location to open his store in 2009, after he’d been playing in bands and working in drum retail in New England for more than a decade. In Portsmouth there was no drums-only competition and no sales tax, and the scenic coastal town is a great day-trip destination—making a visit to the shop an easier sell to a drummer’s significant other.
Even with all that in his favor, Kinney endured a rough start, opening at the height of the Great Recession on what he says was “a shoestring budget—and not even a new shoestring.” Eight years later, the store’s fortunes have improved significantly. Kinney has six employees and recently moved into a much larger space, an 18,000-square-foot building he purchased with the intention of fostering a greater sense of community among drummers.
When I opened, I was at a place in my life where I had to make this work. It was just me for the first ten months. I couldn’t have imagined this business turning into what it has. But I had the balls to do it. And my ethos was able to attract the right employees. That is really what brought us to where we are. I couldn’t have done this by myself. I hired the right people, and I kept them.
This new space is a major investment. We’ve been doing it one way for seven years, and now we’re making it up to be totally different. We’re still going to have a ton of boutique stuff. Boutique is really where my heart is. But I’m going to have a museum room with a lot of my vintage pieces. And I want to tell the history of the brands. When you see the Sonor display, you’ll see the history of Sonor—the conflict they had to go through during World War II. I want to create a reason for people to come in and buy things, and an environment to make people want to spend time here. It’s getting harder and harder to do that right now. I believe there’s incredible value for a drummer to have a retailer. It’s very important for them to have that type of relationship. And it’s important for people like me to instill in the customer that we actually care about what they’re doing.
Portsmouth is one of the most highly regarded small towns in America. That’s what led me here. It’s a big sales tool. Being halfway between Boston and Portland, we get people coming from both areas. Berklee students, in particular—they understand the value in picking out stuff at stores. And having no sales tax is awesome. If somebody wants to buy a $3,000 drumset in Massachusetts or Maine, they’ve got to pay a lot more to do it. I immediately have a 6 to 7 percent price advantage.
We’ve found tremendous value in social media. It was a timing thing. When I started in retail, the internet was just getting started; it wasn’t a competitor. But I saw where it was going. I think I have the wisdom accrued from the old-school experience, but I have an eye for the future. And you realize [certain employees] have certain strengths—they can spend time making and editing videos, taking pictures…it’s a great sales tool.
Customers are armed with more info than ever before. When they come in the door they know everything they need to know; they’re just looking for a contrarian type of opinion or a confirmation. People will come in asking questions about particular drums, and they’ll say, ‘Well, I’ve been reading these online reviews….’ And I ask them, ‘Well, the person that wrote this review, what sort of experience did they have with the instrument? Do you even know who this person is?’ I may have used the drum or cymbal in a studio setting or live. I might have a lot more experience with it, so we can make a qualified decision to answer a customer’s question.
It’s important for us to support drummers and the community. There’s a nonprofit school here, the Portsmouth Music and Arts Center, and I supply them with all their gear. They had a concert recently, and it was just so moving to watch these kids really have a go at it and make music. And I’m thinking to myself, People that buy from these faceless places, like Amazon or something, it’s just such a bad allocation of their money. Spend it with people who actually care about the drum community and music as a whole. When you give your business to a drum store, you’re supporting drummers and the drum community. That’s a really big deal.