Founded in 1964, Andertons Music Company has grown from a family-owned guitar shop on the southwestern outskirts of London to an online retail powerhouse whose name is recognized the world over.
Their videos are legendary, approaching products with honesty and no small amount of humor, which has grown their YouTube channel to over 805,000 subscribers and millions of views.
Third-generation CEO Lee Anderton knows this is a major reason they sell guitars, amps, keyboards, drums, recording gear, and pro audio equipment far beyond the borders of the U.K. He spoke to us about music, family business and the passion for products and retail.
My father and grandfather started Andertons in 1964. So, I had been hanging around the store. I hadn’t found my instrument yet, but I caught this bug off the store because the people in there were so interesting. So, even at 13 or 14 years old, I was trying to help on Saturdays and so forth, he beings.
Being born into a family of music retailers didn’t earn Lee any special treatment, though. Quite the opposite. “At first my dad was against my joining the business”, he recalls. “He wanted me to have a proper career like a lawyer. So, I went to college but basically lied to my dad about turning up to classes. When it all came out, he was not happy! He said, He said, ‘If all you want is to work in the shop, here’s a mop and a broom and the minimum salary I can pay you and stay out of my sight.’ But I worked super hard and eventually got good at sales”.
Lee’s role wouldn’t remain that small, nor his work rapport with his father that chilly, for long. As a Generation X’er, he had a sense of where music instrument retail was headed.
I think I was equipped to deal with the change of retail consumer that began in the ’90s. In the 1960s through the ’80s, the customer was most likely a pro or semi-pro. Then in the ’90s, a lot more people decided to play an instrument, and there was this shift in expectations to more the experience you might get shopping for clothes or a home appliance. I think I was able to bring that to the business because I wasn’t used to doing things in a set way, he explains.
An even bigger milestone called the Internet would come at the end of that decade. “Andertons was one of the early adopters of selling online”, notes Lee. "Then later we got into the YouTube thing. That’s really the tipping point where we went from being a well-known local music store to a global brand because so many people watch our YouTube channel”.
Those viewers enjoy videos that are always informative, honest, and funny — but don’t go in for the hard sell. Anderton thinks this is exactly what had made them so effective at growing his family’s brand.
“Over time, we learned that video wasn’t simply about touting the features and benefits of a particular product and thereby hoping for more sales of that product”, he points out. “It was about content that built relationships and community. It was about people seeing our personality and going, ‘Oh, I like Andertons videos. I think I’ll start shopping with them now'. It was about building trust. That has since become the central pillar of our approach to videos and sales in general".
Just as important as great video content is remembering what music retail is all about, according to Lee:
These days, you have private equity companies offering huge sums for retailers. But passion for the products should not be replaced by a passion for spreadsheets. I have this romantic notion that we should all get up in the morning loving that we sell guitars and keyboards and that we can help people along their musical journeys.
If the proof is in the pudding, Andertons philosophy has certainly worked. “You can go from Outer Mongolia to Los Angeles, and if someone plays the guitar, they’ll go, ‘Oh yeah, I know Andertons.’ That’s completely nuts for a little retailer from Guildford in England”.