The retail scene becomes involved with gorilla warfare, through the new shop, Monkey Business in Romford.
Despite the recession, there seems to be an upturn in the retail trade and a surprising number of shops have opened their doors over the past few months. One of these, Monkey Business in Romford, first opened up some six months ago. Romford, for the uninitiated, is a medium-sized suburb, that serves as a shopping centre for the East End of London and a large area of Essex. Surprisingly, apart from one notable exception, there has been a tradition of general music shops not doing well here - but Monkey Business look set to break that duck.
Phil Straker (ex-Honky Tonk Music and CBS) and Trevor Holliday (ex-pro musician) started out with the idea of a shop that was the antithesis of the normal stereotype. Against all odds, they have succeeded.
The first impression that you get when you enter the portals of Monkey Business is that the place feels like a living-room. It's warm and friendly, there's no 'hard sell' and there's even a carpet on the floor! Gone is the cracked lino of the norm, and also gone (thank God!) is the practice of not putting prices on the equipment. Everything in the shop has a tag on it.
The store is spread over three rooms. The largest is the central area, and this houses keyboards, amps, guitars and basses, while an annexe holds the drums and percussion section. At the back of the shop, a smaller room is used for PA gear, and for closetting anyone who wants to test equipment at high volume.
With over 100 guitars in stock (Fender, Tokai, Aria, Ibanez, Steinberger (sole Essex franchise), Status, Washburn, Epiphone, Gibson and Westone), an excellent selection of amps (all plugged in!) from Trace Elliott, Fender, Roland, Marshall, Carlsbro, Session and Vox, the main room is surprisingly uncluttered. All the equipment is to hand, and there is a 'no holds barred' approach to trying out the units.
Phil Straker commented: 'The whole idea of the shop was to have a nice atmosphere, where people could come along and actually play the equipment and instruments that they see in the press. In that way, we've kept the keyboards with headphones on them and amps with leads all ready for the guitars, so that people can come in and experiment - find the gear that suits them.'
This creditable attitude covers all the keyboards they have in stock, with Korg, Yamaha and Kawai to the fore, and a wide selection of secondhand keyboards, including some nice Moogs.
Their secondhand section really deserves some close attention: Monkey Business have developed a system for part-exchange on the premise that 'everything has its price' and they will offer part-ex deals on almost anything. This means that their guitar range covers everything from secondhand electrics at around £30 right up to the top Gibsons. Nice.
An area that they have recently cultured is that of home recording. While they don't have a really enormous range of gear available, they do try and stock as many varied systems as they can, with names like Tascam, Aria, and the Cutec system which MB are selling at £399.
The home recording area isn't one that we've covered extensively, but having a small range actually 'in stock' in here means that people do have the opportunity to come and try some multitracks,' commented Phil. The Cutec system is our best-seller, because even though there is no EQ system on there, people seem to be able to get round that, and the price is so low that it's worth trying out a separate EQ for it.
But they don't just stop there. As well as being a shop, Monkey Business have also taken a real interest in the local musical community and have started a unique idea in live concerts. They have taken over Ben's Discotheque at the Bitter End Pub (next-door to the Brewery!) every Friday night.
They supply the PA system, backline, drums and all the necessary lighting, and just invite bands down to play. They usually manage to get three bands on in a night and the response to the idea has been overwhelming - they are booked up several months in advance, and there is a long waiting-list of hopeful applicants. They call the scheme Musicians' Workshop and all in all, a staggering 88 bands have played there to date, mainly from the East London/Essex area. If only other shops would follow suit...
But back at the store, the most significant change the staff have experienced has been in the keyboard department, where there's been a steady switchover from home organs to polyphonic synths. 'It all started really with the Casio keyboards. Parents were buying them for children and playing them themselves. I think they must have realised the possibilities that synths have over the traditional organ, and of course the fact that there isn't a huge pile of nicely polished hardwood in the corner!' said Phil. 'We are now selling the larger synths into what must be a totally new market.'
So, take the train to sunny Romford, turn right, first left, third right, and you're in Business. With a shop likethat, there'll soon be plenty of people apeing them...
Feature by Tim Oakes
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