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Nov. 9, 2018
Credit the teenage son of a Sioux Falls music store owner for making a connection that launched a business.
Running a music store, Joe Leach was finding out, wasn’t easy.
“This industry is extremely competitive,” said the owner of Riff City Guitar. “I had no idea how competitive it was when I started. For most brands, there are so many other people who sell the same thing.”
He tasked his teenage son with finding a product that would differentiate the business. And his son discovered Rob Chapman, a British guitarist with a robust following online but no U.S. distribution at the time.
Leach and Chapman connected at a trade show “and within an hour we had become the first U.S. dealer of these guitars,” Leach said.
That was in 2014. Leach, who started Riff in St. Cloud, Minn., in 2012 and has since expanded to the Twin Cities area. He acquired Sioux Falls Music earlier this year.
“The guitar relationship has made everything else possible,” he said. “It got us to a point where we’re a legitimate seller of all the major brands because we had so much social media attention because of what he does.”
Chapman’s social media following is massive and engaged. He personally has 131,000 followers on his Facebook page and an even bigger following – 136,000 – on Instagram. The company, Chapman Guitars, has 71,000 on Facebook.
“His fans are so connected to him personally,” Leach said. “Even though he has hundreds of thousands of subscribers, he’s known as being the kind of person who will correspond with people. That makes a huge difference.”
Chapman’s first visit to Sioux Falls was this week, and guitarists filled the store to hear him and managing director Matt Hornby.
Chapman has helped dispel the notion that guitars made in east Asia – where many are made – lack craftsmanship, Leach said.
“Rob helps design the feature set,” he said. “He also is an avid player and knows how to make them comfortable and how to make them cool. The aesthetic look of them is different.”
Riff City is the only store locally to carry Chapman Guitars, and while “we do great with the major brands, we sell more of these than any brand we have,” Leach said.
He estimates he has 35 or 36 of the 50 Chapman models in the store at any given time.
The store at 1209 W. 41st St. has performed well, he said.
“The community has been so welcoming. It’s been great,” Leach said. “I feel like we’ve accomplished the first part of our mission to make sure all the customers who were loyal Sioux Falls Music customers knew we weren’t going to change the history and level of service and the team, but we’d bring it up to speed with more product. The response has been great.”
Riff City Guitar sells more of this guitar brand than any other — thanks to a British guitarist/social media star who was in town this week to greet fans.