Why people hate Guitar Center
There are those who really hate Guitar Center. And I mean hate them so much that they won't even shop there, and openly bash the company to anyone who will listen. And of course there is no shortage of people on the internet who bash GC left and right with every chance they get. You'll always have that guy who has his "I got screwed at GC" story.
Do I personally hate GC? No. I've actually had good experiences in both the Tampa and Clearwater stores. In the Tampa Bay area, the GCs here are good. And in all seriousness, I have no horror stories about GC to tell; this is mainly because I understand how GC stores work. More in that in a moment.
Musicians are an emotional bunch, and that's just the way we are. The instruments we play are what we consider to be a very personal thing. But I don't look at Guitar Center as a magic shop, although a lot of people do. It's a place that sells music gear, plain and simple. And they sell a lot of it.
The best way to understand what GC is is by looking at what it is not.
While GC carries the entire price range of super-cheap to super-expensive guitars and everywhere in between, it is not a boutique guitar shop. You are not going to get the ultra-personal attention that a super-high-end retailer such as Fretted Americana would give you. FA sells almost nothing but rare vintage electrics, and yeah, pretty much everything in their shop is museum-quality very-desirable stuff. We're talking about guitars that start at $1,000 and go up from there (all the way up into the $200,000 range). This is obviously a far cry from GC that has guitars that start at under 100 bucks.
Now while true that GC has a "Platinum" category for the expensive stuff as well as guitars well over $200,000 like a 1960 Les Paul they're selling at the time I write this, that's not what most people go into a GC for. People go to GC to get deals first, as in to buy guitars at a discount.
What I'm basically saying is that you're not going to get ultra-personal attention when going in to GC to buy a Squier guitar. I mean, yeah, the staff gives you proper attention and all that, but it's not like you're spending a ton of money in there.
I'm going to assume for the moment that you're the type of person like me who doesn't have a lot of money, but wants a good experience at GC. Fortunately, this is stupidly easy to do.
What I do when I spot a new or used guitar I want from GC on their web site, the first thing I do is PRINT THAT before trucking on down there. Every new item has an item number, and evey used item has a listing number. That printout, which states the make/model and the item/listing number GC's staff needs, allows a sales dude or sales girl to quickly look up the guitar in the computer and find it so you can try the thing out.
It's not rocket science, guys. Seriously. Just print out the doc and bring it with you. If you don't have a printer, write down the make/model and the item or listing number; it's that simple.
The reason some people hate Guitar Center is because it's a high-volume store that acts like one
Not all GCs are high-volume, but the ones near me are. The Tampa and Clearwater stores push a ton of merchandise.
There are two things you can do to avoid the "I'm shopping in a big box store" vibe.
1. Go on a weekday
Have you ever been to a GC on a Monday? I have. I've actually gone to the Tampa location at 12pm on a Monday, which is one hour after they open the doors at 11am. The store is empty. No customers. Just a few employees trying their best to be busy.
This is actually my favorite time to go to GC because there are no lines and no waiting. And if I feel like it, I can try out a few guitars while I'm there and the staff doesn't mind since nobody else is in the store at that time.
2. Don't get angry at the computer
For whatever reason, the POS system (that's point-of-sale, by the way) GC uses has a nasty habit of just screwing up for no reason. For example, I'll go to buy a pack of strings, the sales dude starts to ring it up and... something happens. The terminal locked up or something. The sales dude immediately starts to panic because he probably thinks I'm going to blow up in his face. Well, I don't do that, because POS systems screw up sometimes and that's the way it is.
From what I can tell, GC has a POS system that's ridiculously difficult for the sales staff to use. Way too many menus and way too much shit to go through just to ring up a sale. I see sales staff constantly getting frustrated with the system because they're just trying to do their jobs and have to fight with a computer just to do it.
What should GC do to improve?
GC is big, but sometimes their bigness gets the best of them and can make some customers feel pretty crappy, and I can't deny that. There will always be a customer or two that gets pissed off and that's just the way things are. But I see many things in GC that could be improved, all having to do with the two things of making it easier for sales staff to do their jobs, and putting in feel-good stuff for the customers to make them happy. That one-two punch would really set a model for how large guitar shops should operate. Could I orchestrate this? In fact, yeah, I could. I've got "the eye" for that sort of thing, so to speak.
On a final note, I looked around to see if GC has a blog. They do. Or should I say some stores have their own individual blogs, like this one from the San Jose location. Frickin' terrible, as they're nothing but sales letters. No personality, no drive, it's not entertaining at all and there's no reason to read it whatsoever. I could fix this easily. I'd shitcan all the GC store blogs, make one master blog at guitarcenter.com/blog and fly out at least 3 to 5 posts a week (if not more). I'd make it the central launch point for GC store news, reviews, maybe post a few customer photos (with permission of course) to give people feel-good status and a little e-fame to go along with it. All the managers would have to do is send me emails every week about what specials they'd be running and I'd run them on the blog. Not a problem. I'd also be constantly talking with the big manufacturers like Fender and Gibson to get some cool articles going with that as well. Then I'd step it up with video content and, well, let's just say it would be awesome.
And by the way, their GC's Facebook page is just as bad . Nothing but cold, distant sales pitches left and right. The whole thing screams "I'm a big, faceless corporation." Not cool. This is why their page only has 682k likes. For the #1 music instrument retailer in the world, that's pathetic. Am I saying I could bust the number over 1M? Yes, I could. I could put a human face on GC that people could connect and relate to.
The two passions in my life are guitar playing and writing. And when I see the #1 music retailer in the world not taking advantage of having a blog and also having such shitty numbers on their Facebook presence... wow. Someone in GC corporate needs a good swift kick in the ass to get them into the 21st century. Good blogging and a proper FB presence human approach is a stupidly easy way to at least appear not so distant from your customer base. And yes, being distant is one of GC's problems. Much more so than they realize. Good blogging and good Facebooking would fix that fairly easily. And again, yes, I could do it. :-)
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