Okay, I do get where the Huntsville music-shop owner is coming from. He is of course correct... but that's also the lazy way of selling.
If I saw some guy who was coming in every few days to ogle the midrange Martins or Taylors or whatever, I already know how I'd handle it. "Yeah, beautiful guitars. Treat 'em well & they just sound better by the day. Great resale value if you ever want to part with it." I'd hint that $2,000+ is a bit steep to learn on... but over here I've got these guitars that are about as good, for a fraction of the price. "If you want to move up in a year or two, I'll give you a good trade-in price."
Sure, it's cool that "my merch sells itself," but that calls to question why there'd even be a sales staff, except to dangle discounts & swipe the credit cards.
There are a couple of high-end stores in Minneapolis, & I love going into 'em -- once or twice a year. Down the street from both are non-boutique shops that I'd visit once or twice a week, because their stock (new & used) turned so often. Lots of stuff to try out, & the occasional bargain that I just couldn't pass up.
And those visits also
mean that I was wandering past the new & higher-end merchandise, stopping to try out one or two, making a mental note as to how I could justify trading up to a better bass or whatever. I'd probably buy my strings & picks & straps & cords there, even if the prices aren't spectacular, because... well, that's where I shop.
Eventually, I want to open a store, not a museum. Imagining myself there, I'm not as worried about a new customer reaching for a WD160 as, say, a D-28. The latter has a higher cost without being a significantly better guitar, yet it "loses value" if you so much as look at it crosseyed.
And I know how many times I've gone into a shop to buy a guitar, thought better of it, & walked out with something different that caught my eye. This wouldn't have happened with a narrow, homogenous brand selection -- when a guy's not in the mood for a Gretsch, then he's probably not gonna buy a Gretsch; furthermore, if I'm not particularly into Gretsch (or that price range), why would I even stop into a Gretsch-centric store?
In that way, Washburn is ahead of many companies: they cover a lot of range. Like, there's nothing wrong
with a dreadnought from Fender or Ibanez, & I've played some nice ones, but the Washburn name (& the tradition, with a few hiccups) has been attached to acoustic instruments for far longer than either of those companies has existed -- even predating their founders!! -- & Washies range from good to great to jaw-dropping, at any price. Autoharp players are a strange & secretive bunch
yet every one knows that a student MUST have at least an Oscar Schmidt -- it's been the solid benchmark for a century. As for electrics, 1980s axes like the Wing & Force & Bantam series are now considered classics. The "Dime" line had a rabid following all through its span; there's no reason the Nuno axes aren't better known, & the RX should be flogged to every budding shredder. For basses, I personally think the Taurus "thumb" design is ugly (& I'm not a fan of the rock-bottom stuff like the XB-100) but I have yet to play a disappointing Washburn bass.
There are still some marketing missteps. ("Yeah, 'some' he says!!") I'm a Johnny Winter fan from about 1973, & Jorma Kaukonen almost as long, & have thus always wanted a Firebird for the collection, because there's just nothing that sounds like those small metal-can minibuckers. You can't turn around without tripping over a half-decent Strat clone, LP copies are hardly rare -- even Washburn has sacrificed the Idol line to that -- but just try to find a good fake Firebird. But some excellent takes are kinda buried in the Paul Stanley line, when IMO they should be marketed for what they are, not to aging KISS fans. In a shop, these would sell themselves -- slap a Bigsby on a PS10, put it in the window, & it'll draw lustful stares.
First, though, market to retailers
. Work with distributors like SLM to push prominent floor & window displays, not just banners. Set up pool ads. Create actual campaigns, national & regional & metro. Give good (not super-deep) discounts for steady purchases -- deep one-off discounts just lead to at-cost clearance sales, not steady customers.
Well, at least it'd be different from the failed "common wisdom" we've seen to date.