Rockshop marching to a different drum

  • Checkout
  • October 1, 2014
  • Martin Craig
Rockshop marching to a different drum

Republished from NZRetail's October 2014 issue.

With 200 full time equivalent staff, 31 shops and two online stores, the Rockshop is New Zealand’s biggest musical instrument retailer. It’s owned by Webb Group, which also owns orchestral and traditional instrument retailer KBB Music, and supporting importing and distribution businesses.

Webb Group HR and operations director Brett Wells says acoustic guitars are the most popular product group, influenced by the likes of Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and her peers. DJ gear is now making a big comeback, and, names New Zealand DJ software package Serato as a recognised world leader. While schools provide a captive audience, other strong markets include contemporary churches and aging boomers.

“Churches’ music teams can be massive and big churches can have three teams so the service will go all day. They’re buying huge PAs, massive drum kits, high-end, mostly digital mixing desks and wireless systems. It’s a real event,” says Wells.

Institutional customers, including churches and schools, qualify for professional discount prices.

For baby boomers recapturing their youth, spending $10,000 on the Fender Stratocaster and Marshall amp is a credible alternative to the $30,000 Harley. “That’s the biggest market for the top end stuff. The kids have left home, the Rolling Stones are still touring into their 70s, so these guys are thinking, ‘I’m not getting any younger, so why not?’”

The biggest growth area, though, is in the mid-range where the quality is mostly “good enough”. This is partly due to the lack of paying band jobs, partly due to new technology. “If I play a pub gig now I make the same money as I was making 25 years ago,” Wells says. “So rather than playing live, there’s a stronger emphasis on being a recreational player with a good guitar and the ability to record a track at home, post it on Facebook and distribute it all over the world. Music has exploded as a recreational activity but there’s no incentive to spend money on serious gear. The quality of equipment coming out of Asia and Mexico is good enough that it will do the job quite well. Our competition is with other stores in the recreational/lifestyle expenditure.”

Regarding online shopping, Wells says: “The net giveth and the net taketh away." The internet has given New Zealand customers a view of the global product range, with the expectation the goods will be available here. For big purchases, like a new drum kit, many people will prefer to try before they buy, but many other purchases are perceived as commodities Amazon can provide.

“The challenge is the internet offers you everything that ever was and so people want it here. Every time we bring a product into the country we see what the minimum advertised price is in the United States, then we look at the costs involved to land it and see how close we can get to that. But we have to ship it 10,000 miles and pay GST , insurance, be compliant with local regulations, provide warranty, carry spares and all that’s required to be a bona fide supplier.”

Wells says the internet encourages unrealistic price expectations and is critical of government authorities policing imports: “There’s a plethora of pop-up, internet-only resellers purporting to offer authorised products, service and warranty. Most have no actual business space - product is ordered by the client, paid for, then sourced from overseas. They may ignore regulations and consumer protections. Many offer no NZ warranty but a 'return to base' warranty… wherever that base may be! They are a constant source of price challenges, comparisons and frustration.

“Sales tax is applicable on imported items costing more than $400, but the enforcement is seemingly random or at the discretion of the customs agent and seldom enforced. Bona fide importers are consequently at a disadvantage: we pay on everything,” says Wells.

The Rockshop's website includes a warning for anyone considering importing directly, stating in no uncertain terms that the Rockshop, as official importer of most of the world’s leading brands, has no responsibility for warranty, parts and support on goods purchased from overseas, bypassing the official  supply channels.

The group was an early adopter of e-commerce and has been running an online sales portal for more than a decade.  Currently it operates two web stores – and These make up less than 5 per cent of the Group’s turnover, but are a very dynamic division; the online stores’ prime role is still to encourage potential customers into the bricks and mortar stores “where we have made the biggest investment”.

The Webb Group carries more than 40,000 SKUs and Wells says, “We’d love to have them all in every location but we simply can’t." The solution is to list the stock online, and have a free interbranch freight service to bring goods to the local store within a couple of days for a viewing or hands-on trial. “We can do an overnight courier if it’s urgent. Every stock item is available to every client.”

Directing customers in-store means the group needs to provide good service and good sales skills to close the sale while the customer is there. Wells says service is fundamental to the Rockshop culture, which is built on recruiting active musicians and giving them retail skills. Founder Mick Webb began his musical performance and management career in London in the 1960s.

“All of our directors, senior staff, product managers, marketing and design, wholesale employees, the technical service division, and the IT team are active gigging musicians, keeping a real musical connection between the company and its clients,” Wells explains. “I can relate as a director with the guy who started yesterday by talking about the gig I played on the weekend.”

Webb Group has a strong emphasis on formal training, and everyone working in the retail side of the business must complete ServiceIQ Level 2 retail training in their first year.

“ServiceIQ provides industry best-practice and gives us a set of expectations to map individual progress against. Level 2 is essential, but we also have a bunch of people doing Level 4 who are not yet in management. They know it will count in their favour when a management role comes up. We also use other recognised training providers to keep people progressing once they’ve completed all the currently available ServiceIQ qualifications.”

The strong company culture includes calling the tune, rather than following others. Webb Group doesn’t work with other retailers to promote musical culture. Instead it works directly with events and promoters. Alongside SmokefreeRockQuest, it sponsors BandQuest in Intermediate schools, Play It Strange and Jam Bus, and has involvement with Raukatauri Music Therapy, StarJam, and Westpac Rescue. The Rockshop brings in artists and specialists from overseas for free clinics. “It costs us thousands but it’s an opportunity for our clients to meet the guys who make and play the gear.”

Rockshop’s strategy and passion lies in both encouraging existing musos and developing new talent. It has sponsored the SmokefreeRockQuest since day one, and has three full-time educational resource specialists out on the road going into schools all over the country.

Wells says the group has a database of 400,000 customers which it is yet to take advantage of in loyalty programmes (soon!), and it doesn’t do Flybuys because of the expense.

But Wells says there’s never been a better time to be a musician. Equipment is available at good prices and good quality, and technology, including the internet, opens up many new channels for musos – you can write a song, edit it on your computer or smart device, and send it round the world.  People look at the success of Lorde – she’s 17, from the North Shore, and she’s huge all over the world. They look at her and think, ‘I want to do that too’.”

​ ​

This is a community discussion forum. Comment is free but please respect our rules:

  1. Don’t be abusive or use sweary type words
  2. Don’t break the law: libel, slander and defamatory comments are forbidden
  3. Don’t resort to name-calling, mean-spiritedness, or slagging off
  4. Don’t pretend to be someone else.

If we find you doing these things, your comments will be edited without recourse and you may be asked to go away and reconsider your actions.
We respect the right to free speech and anonymous comments. Don’t abuse the privilege.


The weirdest thing I’ve ever had to write is a product story on a stool for passing stool

  • Checkout
  • June 26, 2019
  • Courtney Devereux
The weirdest thing I’ve ever had to write is a product story on a stool for passing stool

This week on 'I can't believe this is a thing': It’s a pass to pass, a stool for your stool, a support system for your own sewage system. Honestly the fact that this is a product is mad. Apparently, the innovative thinkers at Goodstool may have a method to their madness.

Read more

The new Apple Mac is out, good thing I have a spare 35k to spend

  • Checkout
  • June 5, 2019
  • Courtney Devereux
The new Apple Mac is out, good thing I have a spare 35k to spend

Apple’s products likely lead the way in design, but the point they seem to get across each release is that they also lead the way in price.

Read more

Hell Pizza challenges Valentine’s Day tradition

  • Checkout
  • February 19, 2019
  • StopPress Team
Hell Pizza challenges Valentine’s Day tradition

Yesterday, Hell Pizza challenged the idea of Valentine’s Day with a campaign promoting a night for one, rather than a night out with the masses at a restaurant or bar.

Read more

Social scoreboard

Zavy and The Register have worked together to create a scoreboard that compares how the top 25 traditional media advertising spenders in New Zealand have performed on social media over the past 30 days, updated in real time.

Regional rollercoaster
What does retail look like in 2019 for ...
Concept to closet
Business coverage of New Zealand Fashion Week.
Town centres
A positive retail environment over the past 12 ...
Amazon Arrival
Keeping up with all things Amazon as it ...
The Retail Yearbook 2017
As we battle our way through the busiest ...
Hospitality enhancing retail
Some think food and integrated hospitality offerings will ...
The future is bright
We spoke with four retailers in their twenties ...
Spotlight on signage
At first glance, the humble in-store sign might ...
Red Awards 2016
The Red Awards for retail interior design celebrate ...
Auckland Unitary Plan
Auckland is changing. The Unitary Plan will decide ...
How to open a store
Sarah Dunn considers what it would take to ...
All things to all people
Kiwi retailers share their omnichannel strategies.
Rising stars
Retail's top young achievers.
Delivering on your promises
The sale isn't over until your item is ...
Retail in heartland New Zealand
Retailers keep the regions pumping, but how strong ...
Women in retail help one another. We spoke ...
The changing face of retail
Shifting demographics are creating big changes in New ...
The retail yearbook
With the help of experts in the retail ...
Retail rogues
We put the spotlight on staff training. Jai ...
Here come the giants
Topshop has arrived in Auckland’s CBD, David Jones ...
From retail to e-tail
Ecommerce has become part of the way mainstream ...
Window shopping: A spotlight on social media
Sarah Dunn and Elly Strang look at how ...
Loyalty in the digital age
How are retailers maintaining loyalty? Sarah Dunn, Elly ...
The Innovators | In partnership with Spark Business
Technology is rapidly changing the retail industry as ...

Just in Valen-time: Krispy Kreme shows its love

  • Checkout
  • February 14, 2019
  • Courtney Devereux
Just in Valen-time: Krispy Kreme shows its love

Where there is a gap in the market, it will eventually be filled. So, has reigned true for the poorly timed disappearance of Candy Hearts and Krispy Kreme’s new ‘Conversation Doughnuts’ which have seemed to take the place of the classic Valentine’s Day candy.

Read more

Real Groovy record store moves location, again.

  • Checkout
  • January 31, 2019
Real Groovy record store moves location, again.

Popular record store Real Groovy is moving for the sixth time in 30 years, this time only making a small hike up Queen Street where it will resettle.

Read more

Hell launches ‘unruly tourist’ pizza

  • Checkout
  • January 24, 2019
  • StopPress Team
Hell launches ‘unruly tourist’ pizza

As the unruly tourists saga continues, Hell Pizza decided to join the conversation with a billboard 'launching' a limited edition pizza.

Read more
Next page
Results for
About us.

The Register provides essential industry news and intelligence, updated daily. And the digital newsletter delivers the latest news to your inbox twice a week — for free!

©2009–2015 Tangible Media. All rights reserved.
Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Privacy policy.

The Register

Content marketing/advertising? Email or call 022 639 3004

View Media Kit