Riff City Guitar & Music brings expanded selection to longtime music store

July 9, 2018

When Joe Leach thought about expanding his business, Riff City Guitar & Music, beyond Minnesota, market research led him to Sioux Falls.

“Sioux Falls was great because it has a good population and it’s very retail-oriented,” said Leach, who opened the music store near St. Cloud, Minn., in 2012 and expanded to the Twin Cities suburb of New Hope last year.

“I had a rep for one of our brands who said it’s a beautiful town, so when we checked out Sioux Falls along with several others, the beauty of Sioux Falls was there were only two substantial music stores, which was good.”

The hard part was who ran one of them – Don Saxton, who had owned Sioux Falls Music with his wife, Barb, for more than 40 years.

“When I walked in, I realized I’d met Don before,” Leach said. “He had worked with my brother at a music store many years ago. I said to my wife, ‘We can’t put a store here. Don’s like family. I’m not going to be competition.’ ”

But the store at 1209 W. 41st St. stayed in the back of his mind, prompting him to send Saxton a message last year.

“It said ‘If you ever get tired of the business, or want to retire, let me know.’ ”

That led to a transition “that will work great for all of us,” Leach said.

This is opening week for Riff City, which has kept Saxton’s longtime employees and added to create a staff of five. Saxton also “will stay to help because he wasn’t ready to retire entirely,” Leach said.

The inventory has been greatly expanded, from seven electric guitars to about 140. Acoustic guitars have tripled.

“The level of drums stayed pretty much the same because they were known as the epicenter for all things drums,” Leach said. “And we’re going to make a very strong move into the schools and band and orchestra market.”

Lessons will be enhanced with new software for scheduling, and the repair part of the business will be more robust, he added.

“In this industry, you have to be full service as a music store. None of the little niches is enough to survive.”

For Leach, the latest store opening represents the next chapter in a unique career. His background is in printing, which evolved into his own marketing business.

That led him to become part of an online fishing tackle company in 2008. While he’s not a fisherman, the business took off once he became the sole owner.

“It was a situation where I was very objective about things and didn’t get caught up in the emotions of it, and it really worked,” he said. “So in 2012, I am a musician and there was an opportunity in our town to start a music store.”

At first, he thought the business would be mostly online, but he came to discover customers wanted to try instruments in person.

“A guitar is like shopping for jeans,” he explained. “I can have a stack of jeans all my size and try them all on and one will fit better than the rest. A guitar is a natural, living piece of wood. Drums are kind of the same way. Cymbals are very much the same way. So I concluded it was best to start looking for more retail stores.”

The other reason people bought online – to save sales tax – also is going away, he noted, thanks to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“I think it’s going to make a huge difference to brick-and-mortar stores,” he said.

His website, riffcityguitaroutlet.com, still is a key part of the business though. The extra merchandise it allows him to offer can be sent to the store or bought online, shipped free “and if they don’t like it, they can bring it to the store,” he said.

Riff City Guitar hours to start are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. There will be in-store specials for the grand-opening week through July 14.

Riff City Guitar & Music brings expanded selection to longtime music store

Take a look inside the new Riff City Guitar & Music, which is carrying on the tradition of Sioux Falls Music.

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