by Morgan Ringwald
Over 200 promising young guitar students were in attendance as the mobile Fender Roadhouse visited Ernest A. Becker, Sr. Middle School in Las Vegas Nevada. With 80% of the school's enrollment of 1,500 students involved in at least one arts program, and with 200 of those students in the Guitar Program alone, it is easy to see why the Roadhouse visit was a much anticipated event.
The Roadhouse is a mobile exhibit facility shaped like a giant Fender Twin Reverb amp. It is a travelling interactive music facility used to educate aspiring musicians. Students get a detailed look at the history of Fender guitars and the influence they have had on popular music for the past 50 years, as well a step-by-step display of how Fender guitars and amplifiers are produced. Of course, they are also encouraged to plug in and play the instruments first hand.
Like the unmistakable giant Twin Reverb, Becker Middle School's outspoken Bob Morris and his guitar students are quick to attract attention. Bob has taken his fledgling guitar program at a suburban Las Vegas middle school and has turned it into a district wide effort. By combining basic guitar techniques with popular and folk music, Morris has quickly built a following of enthusiastic students and supportive parents.
My students are wonderful," says Morris, "Most of them come in here on the first day and have never picked up a guitar. We utilize a textbook, but what makes the program fun for the students and myself is that we translate that into current and popular songs that the kids know and like to play. Popular music is the key to getting the students interested and coming back for the more advanced classes.
Fender has worked closely with collegiate level music programs, and supplies them with musical instruments via the Fender Loan Program. Reaching out to students on a younger level is an ideal that Fender is dedicated to supporting, and they soon extended their Loan Program to Morris.
As part of the program, Fender supplies new guitars and amplifiers to the school, which are free to use them for educational purposes. When needed, the schools can exchange the now-used instruments for new ones, benefiting both sides in that students are able to learn to play on quality instruments and are continually updated with innovations in music technology.
The Roadhouse offered them not only a chance to try out equipment that might be unfamiliar to them, but also a chance to see the history of the Fender guitar as well as a step-by-step process as to how guitars and amplifiers are made. They were given the tools to make an educated purchase when the time came for them to buy a guitar of their own, and it was Fender who had given them the tools.
By spending equal time with the guitars themselves, and with a thorough look at the influence Fender has had on popular music throughout this century, we are able to associate our product with the musicians that many of the students consider to be their idols.
Product presentation is an important part of the strategy here. Of course, most people who visit the Roadhouse will immediately want to go straight to the guitars and play them. However, for this particular exhibit, the young students must first go through the display which highlights the history of Fender. They are taken through an education on the development and evolution of the guitars themselves, which correlates directly with the artists that use them and the effect that they have had on popular music. Seeing their idols associated with Fender guitars just builds the anticipation of getting to the next part of the exhibit and actually playing the instruments. With a guitar in hand, the students see themselves as their hero, up on stage and entertaining thousands of people.
Promotional efforts for this exhibit were at a minimum, and rightfully so. Once again, these kids are excited about their new-found ability to play the guitar and have eager appetites for the product. While they play guitar in school, a good percentage of them do not yet own their own guitar, but have plans to purchase one very soon.
"The kids have been coming to me a lot lately," says Morris, "with questions about guitars. They're at the pint where they're looking to buy an electric guitar, and want advice as to which is which. Because of the Fender Loan Program, they're already familiar with many of the Fender products. Getting a chance to spend a day with the Roadhouse was very helpful because they were able test out a wider variety of guitars. Also, they were exposed to guitar making process and given a much better understanding of what to look for in an instrument. The Roadhouse is a wonderful tool!"
The Roadhouse itself is quite functional, in that it can be easily set up anywhere. Its compact size enables it to travel to venues (which include retail outlets, live music & sporting events, and in this case, a school) and set up shop in any parking lot.
Measuring 10' by 6' when traveling, the Roadhouse takes up little more space than the average U-Haul trailer, making it easy to get from one destination to the other. Once there, the Roadhouse opens up on both sides to span 20 feet of display area on each. Showcasing a product that takes up little space itself, the Roadhouse is able to display any number of different guitar models on one side, while highlighting its information area on the other. Portable guitar amplifiers are easily stored within the Roadhouse and are quickly set up for product demonstration.
With both sides of the Roadhouse available for product display and education, we are able to attract people from all directions, while maintaining the question of, "What's on the other side?".
For this exhibit specifically, students must first visit the educational side, building the anticipation of the other side: the product. Once they have studied the history, they are then able to venture around and try out the guitars. This keeps a steady flow of students easily manageable by avoiding too much of a build up on one side or the other, eliminating the possibility that one of them might not be able to see the display, get discouraged and then leave. The same holds true in other venues, such as trade shows or retail outlets. There is always something equally intriguing on the other side!
Measuring results in this instance is quite easy. Morris' students are encouraged to shop at a local retailer, Pat's Desert Music, where they will receive a discount on any Fender product. Not only are the kids buying the guitars, but they know why they are buying them.
"They're not just picking out a guitar because it looks cool," said Pat Khan, owner of the store, "they know what specifications they are looking for and are very knowledgeable as to the different models."
Today's young guitar students are tomorrow's musicians and guitar consumers. The situation at the exhibit was that all 200 children were interested in buying guitars... soon!
There are currently four Fender Roadhouse exhibits, which visit educational programs in the United States and Europe.
Fender is one of the world's foremost manufacturers of guitars, amplifiers, and related equipment. Corporate headquarters are located in Scottsdale, AZ, with manufacturing headquarters and the world-renowned Fender Custom Shop in Corona, CA and the Guild Custom Shop in Nashville,TN. Artist Relations offices are located in New York, NY; Nashville,TN; Corona, CA; and London, England. Fender also publishes Frontline magazine and Guild Gallery magazine twice a year. Fender has marketing distribution offices in London, England and Dusseldorf, Germany and additional manufacturing facilities in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico; Nashville, TN; and Westerly, RI. Fender manufactures and distributes electric and acoustic guitars; related strings and accessories; amplifiers; pro audio equipment; and branded apparel and merchandise. Fender markets using the brand names Fender", Squier", Guild", Rodriquez, and Solidbody Gear.
Morgan Ringwald is Public Relations Director at the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.
For more information contact Fender Musical Instruments Corp., 7975 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85258 or visit www.fender.com and www.guildguitars.com.
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