Maintaining Band Instrument Rentals During COVID-19

Last updated:

By Jack Barton

2020 was a huge dumpster fire that affected literally every person on the planet. That means businesses were affected too, including Summerhays Music.

Like the rest of the world, we had to shift our business online. Otherwise, we risked falling into obscurity and tanking our revenue stream.

One of the biggest sources of income for the store is student rentals. My primary focus was making sure band instrument rentals remained as healthy as possible. And so, our quest began.

Optimizing The Online Rental Form

Our big objective that summer was improving the customer experience when renting an instrument online. Coincidentally, our web guy was redesigning the website anyway. So most of the legwork was already done. We just needed to optimize and refine some things.

One thing I wanted to make sure that happened was to optimize the online rental page.

First, was rebranding the different instrument classes. Before, each instrument was broken up into 3 different price categories. It looked something like this:

Not very compelling, huh?

Unless you’re already familiar with musical instrument brands (which most parents aren’t), you couldn’t tell anything was different other than pricing.

To make it easier for parents to understand what they were renting, we relabeled each option and gave them short, to-the-point descriptions.

The different trumpet categories with brands and descriptions.

Not only was it easier for customers to understand, but the wording was strategic. By adding “preferred by teachers” to the Premiere category, we subtly drove them to pick the higher-priced instruments over lower-priced ones.

And if they decided on either Standard or Economy, they could still feel good about their choice because of the emphasis on the word “quality” in the descriptions.

Increasing the Upsells

While previously there were a few add-ons in the online rental form, they were mostly just bare essentials. This included a repair plan and a handful of accessories.

First, we wanted more people to sign up for the Maintenance and Theft Protection Plan. In simple terms, it’s like an insurance plan for the instrument that costs an extra $5/month on top of the rental.

We put some bold, blue text next to the checkbox:

Highly recommended for beginners“.

The full description also states that “most parents choose this option”. Psychologically, it made the decision easier for parents.

We also added some accessories to the rental form that would be useful to the customer, but still priced low enough to be impulse purchases. Here’s the full list we ended up with:

  • Method Books (required for the class)
  • Music Stand
  • Tuner
  • Instrument Care Kit (specific to the instrument)
  • Box of Reeds (for clarinet or saxophone)

Spoilers: There was a noticeable increase in accessory sales (see the Final Results down below). Our accessories manager remarked several times that he had never seen so many care kit sales in all his years working there.

Custom Landing Pages For Schools

The sudden shift to online was scary for most teachers. Lockdowns also happened right before their recruiting season, so they were also worried about having students in their programs.

In an effort to calm their nerves, we offered to create custom landing pages for them to help with recruiting and retention. This idea came from a colleague at another music store, which we adapted and made our own.

To the teachers, this was a godsend.

These landing pages included a message from the teacher, videos with instrument demonstrations (to help kids choose an instrument), and a link to our online rental form. Here’s what they looked like, more or less:

Landing page layout

We accomplished three major things with these landing pages:

  • Established us as close partners. The landing pages had strong co-branding featuring our store and the school’s band program.
  • Created a recruiting tool. Schools went into lockdown just before recruiting season started. So most teachers didn’t have the chance to visit kids and get them to sign up for band or orchestra. While not ideal, the instrument videos helped make up for it.
  • Built trust with parents. No one likes being marketed to. Since the landing page was a joint effort between us and the school, parents were more likely to trust us and not feel like we’re salivating at their wallets.

They were a hit! Now being online wasn’t so scary anymore. And now, the teachers have a custom webpage they can send students and parents to learn about instruments and rentals.

Other Things That Helped Us

While the summer sucked, fall of 2020 still proved to be a successful season for the store despite the setbacks from the pandemic.

With that said, I fully acknowledge that luck played a big role in all this. A number of good things just sort of fell into place. It boils down to two major things:

  1. Schools in our territory opened back up in the fall. While (understandably) many restrictions were in place, things like music and sports were still able to continue. I recognize that this wasn’t the norm across the country.
  2. Conn-Selmer had a big promotion. At the height of the pandemic, they offered instruments to schools at subsidized costs.

Many schools took advantage of the promotion, and we saw hundreds of instruments go through the store (none of which count toward these rental numbers).

While I can’t confirm anything, I do feel like this had a positive impact on music teachers’ perception of Summerhays. My theory is the act of goodwill made them more willing to refer customers to us.

Again, I can’t confirm it. Just a gut feeling.

Final Results

The back-to-school season last fall proved to be successful. We were able to maintain – and slightly exceed – the total number of band instrument rentals.

For confidentiality reasons, I can’t show you real sales numbers. That said, I’ll show everything on a scale of 1-10.

On the surface, this might not seem like much improvement. In fact, it’s more like maintaining the status quo. We increased the number of rentals by 6.5%.

But even that small percentage translates to tens of thousands more dollars over time.

And remember: This was the year of COVID-19, so there are a few things to consider:

  • Lockdowns began right before the biggest recruiting season for schools, causing enrollment numbers to go down.
  • Some peoples’ health concerns from the virus also caused enrollment numbers to dip.
  • In-person events were one of the biggest sources of rentals. Now they were completely gone.

With that in mind, it was kind of a miracle that the rental numbers were as consistent as they were. The pie was smaller than usual, but we took a bigger piece of that pie.

Increasing Accessory Sales

While instrument rentals stayed consistent, accessories saw a noticeable increase in sales. Adding them onto the rental form made for easy upsells. Here’s a quick look:

On average, customers in 2020 spent about $41.60 per rental, compared to $32.55 per rental in 2019

This translates to a 36% increase in revenue for accessory sales.

Concluding Thoughts

On the whole, I was quite pleased with how this rental season turned out.

I’d be lying if I took credit for all this myself. This was a multi-faceted effort that involved the cooperation of several people. We all shared ideas and gave feedback to each other. Without them, I don’t think we would have pulled this off.

Did everything run perfectly? Probably not. But given the pandemic, I’d say things went as well as they possibly could.

Grow Your Business Through SEO & Content

I help music and audio brands create SEO-optimized content that increases web traffic and drives users to action. Contact me today and we'll chat about your digital marketing efforts.

Contact Me