#ShopTalk – Oxygen Music & College
Oxygen Music is a locally owned and operated independent music store in Geelong that provides specialist departments including Guitars and Amps, Pianos and Keys, Drums, Pro Audio and Recording, Band and Orchestral, Print Music, School Education, Repairs and Servicing. But it doesn’t stop there, Oxygen also hires out portable PA Systems for the gigging musician and facilitates the Oxygen College and Oxygen Tuition music schools, as well as Don’t Poke the BEAR – a recording and rehearsal facility.
We got chatting with Hilton Winiecki, a partner within the “Starship Enterprise” that is Oxygen Music to find out what makes this business tick…
Why did you decide to open Oxygen Music?
It all started back in 1995 with a conversation with my business partner, Domenic Monea. We were actually sending our drums students to Melbourne to buy gear because there was no real drum shop in Geelong. So we opened a store named The Drummer’s Den. After about a year or so we expanded to general Musical Instruments, so we changed the name to The Music Den. Over time, with the creation of the College and our expanding tuition school and also our commercial studios, it made sense to move to a Geelong city location, where we combined all four businesses under one name – Oxygen Music.
Is there an ethos behind the way you run the shop?
Yeah, our ethos is fun. Make sure everyone is having fun and enjoying their day and to make sure that customer service is number one. I think that still counts for a lot of people that walk into the store and expect the experience of old-fashioned service. That type of service spreads, I think that’s what people talk about. They don’t talk about the colour of the walls or how nice and clean the carpet is, they talk about the service they get. So that’s the first thing that’s really important.
My staff are also really important to me, and of course maintaining good relationships with suppliers. One of our longest business relationships in this business has been with CMI Music & Audio as well as a few other notables. CMI have really been supportive and in recent times they’ve gotten on board with supporting the College and our new PA hire department with JBL, Soundcraft and DBX gear. They’ve really partnered with us to get the hire department back up and running.
What does the store specialise in?
We started really strong in drums and percussion, because it was my background, but we’ve certainly expanded now into higher end guitar ranges, with brands like ESP, Ibanez, PRS, Gibson, Epiphone, Martin and Maton. Over the years we have taken on bigger brands and come out of that beginner, entry-level range of instruments and into being a more professional, serious type of store.
The other growing side of the business is the College – doing audio production, and live sound and music diploma courses. We’ve got art, and photography courses that are also very strong. The College has expanded into being a real hub for music and arts education. There’s now digital media content tuition, which has just opened up there as well.
Our music tuition school has been the foundation of the whole business from the start and operates independently, like all of our businesses, but in a sense they all work together for one aim. We now have some 2000-odd students, with teachers operating in the evenings at Oxygen as well as in primary and secondary schools on site. So, that’s a really strong part of our business still as it feeds through into everything we do.
What has been the most exciting growth in recent years?
I think the most exciting growth would certainly be the website. Having a good website has been a real lift in the business. Having it be a library for what we do at the store has been really beneficial. Certainly the College has also been a real plus to the business that has attracted a whole range of musicians, artists, photographers and painters, and all of these people that may not have ever thought of Oxygen. It’s opened up a whole new level of what Oxygen means to people, we’ve become the sort of place where, we’re almost like a one size fits all.
We also have a program called Tribe now which is basically aimed at year 10, 11, and year 12 students who want to get into bands and they’re too young to progress into a College course or they’re not quite finished school yet but they’re established musicians. They just want to play in a band and they want to get that experience. The Tribe program is really strong and that’s been a progression of the tuition school. The College has become a progression of the business here and that’s helped bring people to the store. It’s almost a full circle kind of thing for us now.
So education is a big part of Oxygen?
Yeah, absolutely. I think we’re providing an outlet for students where we’ve got the right teachers, and providing a service that’s getting them in touch with music and getting them started. I think we can nurture that through and we’re there to support them in every aspect of their music. Some of those students have gone through the whole program and they’ve become teachers here. Some of them are involved in our production hire and some of them are working here at the store. Full circle, it’s great.
So other than the education side of things, you’ve started up a hire department. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
We did hire at the store some ten years ago, mainly drive-through, weekend hire, small production stuff, and it was going great. But when we started our studios, we decided to move the hire to those premises as they had a dedicated facility where we could house it and potentially do it from there. But, it didn’t quite work out.
So when we took on JBL and Soundcraft and a couple of other audio brands recently, we relaunched the hire facility at the store. We’re here on Saturdays, so we can service people that need a last minute party system for the weekend, or PA for their band gig. It also enables the customer to try the products out, and get a feel for the products. It’s just the full service of doing PA again and helping that customer understand what they really need and give them confidence in the product. And it’s worked really well.
At the moment we can supply party systems, speech systems for celebrants or functions, small band systems, duos, trios, full band systems with microphones and DIs and effects and so on. It’s been a welcome addition back to the store and I think it’s going to be beneficial for a lot of the other brand products such as AKG and Shure we’ve got going.
If someone came into Oxygen Music wanting to buy a PA where would you recommend they start?
If they’re wanting to buy a PA system I think the best way is to try it, have a listen to it. Talk to the guys that know. We’ve got a guy here in the store Alex Bell. He’s a production guy and spent many years on tour with bands and doing production at big festivals. He knows PA systems really well and has a great ear. He knows specs and can talk anyone through what they need to do. We’ve got the specialists here to do it, it was a big part of why we wanted to take on the hire department again. I’ve got confidence in my staff, they know all the right stuff, they get trained, and they’ve got the experience. So, speaking to the staff, trying it, hiring it, you can’t go wrong.
What are some of the models you’ve have in stock?
Largely we have JBL EON 6 Series powered speakers in 10”, 12” and 15” configurations. They are very simple and easy to use systems, just plug in and play, it’s not difficult for a novice to get it up and running. They are very safe systems to use, so we’ve started with that. Our production company over at (Don’t Break the Bear) have a bit of HK Audio and we have JBL PRX speakers over in the College now as well. But for here at the store, the hire department keeps it very simple with Soundcraft EFX Mixers AKG and Shure microphones, that can be easily used, are affordable and a no-brainer.
How do you like to connect with your customers?
In every way possible! Social media is obviously a no-brainer. If you’re not in that realm of connection you’re missing out. It’s where a lot of the customers that we are targeting are at, the millennial customers who are the 18-35 year olds, they’re on social media 24-7 so we’ve got to be too. Still, the old-school email-out every so often continues to work as well. But personally I think nothing beats word of mouth. You have to have a reputation for good service and good staff and the marketing has to get back to that. We like to build relationships with our customers where we get to know them by name.
Who are some of the key personnel in the store and what are their roles?
Everyone in the store is here for a reason. They’re all specialists in their areas. Starting with Chris Walsh, he’s our floor manager and has a very strong affiliation with acoustic guitars. He also knows a lot about amps and a lot about general musical instruments.
Then there is Riley Hobbs who is into folk music, especially ukuleles but is also a great guitarist as well. He plays in an original band that plays a lot with a range of effects so he’s all over pedals and the types of gear that usually go with guitars. He runs a ukulele group as well and is a left hander so he can help any left-handed guitarist any day of the week as we do have a great range left-handed guitars in stock.
Alex Bell, who I mentioned previously, comes from a production background but he is also a very good guitarist. He plays in a metal band and tours a lot. If you want specs and models or you want history on any model, he’s the man. He knows codes and specs like you wouldn’t believe. He’s a walking library in that area.
In the drum department we have Corey Mole who has taken over from me in that area and hits the skins in a hard rock/metal band. He’s really up to date with all the latest drummers, knows what all the really hot players are playing and what they’ve got. He’s stocking up the drum room with gear I’ve never even heard of, and complements it with signature models from Gretsch, Pearl, Tama and Yamaha
The traditional music department is run by Laura Driessen, who has come back to us after having left Geelong for a little while but as soon as I heard she was back in town I gave her a call and said ‘I need you to take over our Education/Schools area’. So she’s back in there doing print music, pianos, and taken over brass and woodwind. She’s has now become a senior member of the staff, has a lot of experience and is really developing and driving our education business. Laura is also a great relationship builder and has built really good partnerships with some of the key schools in Geelong which has really helped build that part of the business.
We also have a casual staff member Abigail Jackson, who is a violin and string player. She’s studying nursing at the moment but if I could clone her and have five of her around the store I would. She is not afraid to get into any department and help anyone. She will pick up a pair of sticks and learn about it, or a packet of strings or a Gibson Les Paul and be passionate about it.
What are the future plans for Oxygen Music?
The plan is for the College to expand further, we now have a Ballarat campus as well that runs mostly photography courses. We envisage the College continuing to expand in the courses and content that they can offer there. The store is unfortunately bound by our four walls but what we want to do is obviously expand the reach of the website so we’re not just communicating with our local area.
We also want to expand the services that we can provide, this year we established an educators partnership program that we’ve got a number of schools and teachers on board with. That partnership program offers many benefits, like free PA hire. Helping to build education and music in this area and I think that’s a very healthy thing to have, it’s good for business and it’s good for everybody. So that partnership has been an expansion.
For me though, the near future is focusing on the staff, making sure they are happy and we’ve got an efficient comfortable workplace. If I get that right, I’ve got a good business. Staff are number one. And if you haven’t got that then you haven’t got a business basically and you lose customers.