When Rick Allen started Mid-Michigan Music back in 1984, little did he expect that his passion for music, when coupled with his innate business acumen, would work together like a pair of finely crafted notes – setting both the tone and the timbre for what the blueprint of a full-service musical instrument store should look & sound like that has resonated successfully for 30 years.
As he marks this landmark year of business, a true testament to Allen’s talents can be gauged by the simple fact that his is one of only two Independent and ‘Michigan Made’ musical retail stores left standing in the Great Lakes Bay area – a fact that is both reason to celebrate and equally disquieting, given the ever-increasing numbers of local retailers that have become displaced by the double-edged sword of Big Box Chains and the vacuum of local dollars being sucked into the Internet.
But competition is nothing new for Allen, whose vision and persistence have cultivated enough customer support and satisfaction over the years to keep Mid-Michigan Music a formidable and significant force, both to the Great Lakes Bay area and to the musicians that it services.Currently located at 240 E. Main St. in Midland, recently I had the chance to chat with Allen about the musical legacy that he has created, the ever-evolving changes of the retail climate, and his future plans for guiding this local treasure to solid shores for the next thirty years.
In the Beginning
While playing in country bands, raising his family, and working at a factory living paycheck to paycheck, one day Rick Allen realized that his future at the factory looked bleak and he needed to take some proactive steps.
“Back when the idea for Mid Michigan started things were going bad for the factory, so I was trying to figure how to go into business for myself and started making some steps to do some things in retail,” recalls Allen.
“My wife was doing taxes and I had a lot next to my house in the country, which was not a good retail spot, but I still thought about possibly putting up a building and making it into a teaching studio where I could sell musical accessories and she could use the other part to do taxes,” he continues.
“I kept getting this phone call from one of my neighbor ladies that said she didn’t think I was doing the right thing and that the Lord had some other idea in store; and after I hung up the phone with her it rang again and there was this guy calling to tell me that he had a retail spot on Ashman Street that he wanted to show me. I had no idea who this guy was and thought why are you calling me? It was simply weird and to this day I cannot put an answer on it, but because I had just spoken to this lady, I thought I had better take a look at the property. And that’s how it all started,” states Allen. Literally on a wing and a prayer.
After Allen looked at the storefront, which was only 460 square feet and located in a little mini-mall, he got to work on his new venture. “Today I look back on that entire episode and ask what made me make the move and I have to give the man upstairs his due,” continues Rick, “because at that point I didn’t think that I deserved success, but the store kept growing, more opportunities came, and I took each one of them.”
Indeed, eventually Allen came to build Mid Michigan Music into an expansive locally owned retail chain, with locations in Midland, Bay City, and lastly in Saginaw when he purchased the former Bay Music. Not content with providing a wide range of finely crafted string instruments from top manufacturers, Allen even pursued his vision to South Korea, where he hooked up with a manufacturer to build his own custom designed line of Allen guitars. But then numerous factors started to converge, the landscape started to change, and eventually Allen closed the Saginaw store several years ago and has now decided to close the Bay City location, keeping operations centered in Midland.
And the future, as they say, is unwritten.
Yesterday & Today
“For 10 years now I’ve been asking myself how to exit this thing that I’ve created,” reflects Allen. “Because I am getting older and am the sole owner, if anything were to happen to me I have three daughters that this entity known as Mid Michigan Music would go to, but they don’t have the passion for it and honestly, it would be a nightmare for them. So my goal has been focused on fashioning together a positive plan.”
“Unfortunately, Bay City has not been doing well for the past two years and traditional retail brick & mortar is hard to keep from going flat, so I decided that it would be smart to consolidate and let go of Bay City. I still have the building and two units and do have some interested parties, but as fate would have it, during this decision to consolidate I received a call from Steve Meyers, who was my General Manager for 13 years and one of the best GM’s that I ever worked with. One of his strongest suits is sound installation and he brought a lot of revenue to the platter; but we lost him to a different firm.”
“Steve explained to me that things changed with that organization as they were sizing back, so he was going to start up a new sound company and would like to do some contract work for us. At that point I saw some fresh opportunity, sat down with Steve, and we’ve agreed to work together. We are working out an arrangement whereby Steve will be coming back and he brings a lot to the table,” states Rick.
“Life never turns out exactly the way you hope it will, but I honestly feel like this opportunity with Steve is almost heaven sent and supposed to happen, just like when I opened that first shop,” adds Rick.
The Legacy of Mid-Michigan Music
In looking back upon the expanse of what he has built with Mid-Michigan and contributed to the regional music scene, Rick has witnessed ebbs and flows and still feels that strong talented younger musicians are out there waiting to be discovered and make their mark; although he does share some concerns.
“The sad things with kids today is that seeds are being planted that make it more difficult for kids to pursue music because of all the distractions out there,” he reflects. “You have the entire spectrum of the digital world and my big concern is that many in this generation regard music as simply another distraction. One of the problem is that we’ don’t have a hero out there in the music industry to stir up passion. Sometimes it takes an artist like Les Paul or The Beatles or Eddie Van Halen to captivate people that stirs up their passion to learn music, and I haven’t seen that in a long time.”
Rick maintains that the most beautiful part of the business that he has created is found in the relationships that he has cultivated; and when asked what he feels distinguishes Mid-Michigan from his competitors that has led to its continued success, Rick laughs and remarks that it “certainly wasn’t because I was a business intellectual.”
“I’m passionate about music and also about treating people properly,” he notes. “You don’t always have control over customers, but my biggest worry is to always make sure that people are happy. We also are Super Dealers for Gibson, Fender, and our custom shop once featured everything from bluegrass instruments to $30,000 guitars, so I always strived to bring in a broad array of selection and price points.”
“In a nutshell if I were to explain my venture from beginning to end, it’s evolved through a lot of different stages. When I started I took good care of my customers, then as it got bigger I bought a building and got into commercial real estate, expanding into repairs, more variety, lessons, and most recently Internet sales.”
“I had the opportunity to design and build and manufacturer some great instruments at low cost by working with five different manufacturers in China, Indonesia and Korea, which was fascinating to do. I would fly over to Korea and share ideas with their engineers and they would be put into production. But now my goal is go back to the core elements of what I purchased and what defined us. I like to be busy and I do enjoy challenges.”
“To summarize, it’s only right that I give the man upstairs some credit for my success,” concludes Rick. “He helped me get things rolling and the times I didn’t keep him involved in the decision-making process are the times I always seemed to fall on my face.”
“I’ll probably never totally retire, but I do want to get many of the headaches that go along with being a business owner behind me, so I feel more free to travel and enjoy life. And exciting things are in store for our future here at Mid-Michigan Music.”
=ï¿½m omï¿½Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
<span style="font-size:10.0pt;Times New Roman" "="">Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!