'Store Experience Is Everything:' New Guitar Center CMO


Kristin Shane is on a mission to reinvent customer experience at Guitar Center, making the physical stores hubs for serious musicians. She joined the California-based retailer several weeks ago as its new executive vice president and chief merchandising and marketing officer as part of its latest transformation effort. The chain emerged from bankruptcy in 2020 and appointed Gabriel Dalporto as its new chief executive officer in October. Shane tells Marketing Daily why she made the switch. 

Marketing Daily: You had been chief merchandising officer at PetSmart. What tempted you to make the switch?

Kristin Shane: First, it is such a fun category. It’s not just guitars, but all kinds of music. We’ve got equipment for DJs and bands. Music is the center of our cultural fabric -- when we’re happy, when we’re sad. Second, the new CEO, and the chance to be part of this transformation. The whole team is thrilled with this repositioning, with us going after serious musicians. I don’t mean you need to play in a band or have won a Grammy, but that you are serious about learning and playing. Third, this is a strong team. When I met them, I was so impressed by their passion for the category and knowledge about the products.



Marketing Daily: Passion for music?

Shane: Yes, but they also have such empathy and commitment to serving musicians. They’re eager to find new ways to solve customers’ problems. That passion makes for great retail.

Marketing Daily: How about you? Are you a musician?

Shane: I played the clarinet in 5th grade. And this week, I started taking lessons to learn the guitar. That’s my musical pedigree.

Marketing Daily: How’s it going?

Shane: Talk to me in a few months because I’ll be a guitarist by then. I’ve always loved music, especially great guitarists. I love all genres, but especially Chris Martin from Coldplay, John Mayer, Taylor Swift, the Fray. When I started at PetSmart, I didn’t have pets. Now I have dogs. Those of us in retail know we get drawn to categories we can get super-emotional about, the kinds of businesses that makes people’s lives better.

Marketing Daily: Maybe a better question than “Why work at Guitar Center” might be “Why work in retail at all?” It’s a brutal industry, especially lately.

Shane: It can be. But retailers that are thriving have two things in common. They have a very robust understanding of who their customer is. And they have an in-store experience that gives the customer a reason to drive across town. If you can’t do that, they’ll just go to or some other online seller. Obviously, we’re an omnichannel retailer and do a ton of business online. But to me, the challenge is creating an in-store experience that dares them not to come in. That’s what separates good retailers from great ones.

Marketing Daily: Which retailers do that today?

Shane: I used to run the beauty business for Target, and that is a very competitive category. Sephora is doing a really good job. It has beauty experts that help you try the product, they are always on the new trends, and they’re constantly introducing something new. Stores are clean, well-stocked, well-lit, and easy to shop. It has a fantastic loyalty program. Beauty can be an intimidating category. I don’t know how to use contour makeup! But they’ll show you.

Marketing Daily: OK, so Sephora is the store experience to beat. How do you want Guitar Center’s brand personality to shine through in stores? Do you have a brand philosophy yet?

Shane: I’m only on week three here, so give me a minute. But I can tell you we're unique in that we have incredible relationships with musicians, and we’ll be bringing that to life in our stores. Like Sephora or Lululemon, our marketing team has done a phenomenal job with in-store experiences, where you can go and hear musicians play live. That might be at a single-store level, but we can stream it across all of our social channels. Our audiences can see it on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.

Marketing Daily: What are you hoping to accomplish in your first six months?

Shane: In six months, you’ll be able to find at least a dozen test stores, where we will showcase these new musical experiences. We’ll leverage our close relationships with vendors, doing plenty of co-marketing. Brands mean a lot to musicians. They’re so loyal to their Taylors or their Gibsons. That will continue to be an important strategy for us as we go forward.

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