Gard Scholarship Award Recipient, Kelly Riordan, Reflects on Working for A NAMM Retailer

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As a Gard Scholarship Award Recipient in 2013, Kelly Riordan gained experience in the music products industry, working with NAMM Member Hartland Music. While there, she was able to learn about and connect with the industry firsthand, selling music products and running a large conservatory. We followed up with Kelly to chat about her experience with Hartland Music.

NF: What are your goals for working in the music products industry?

KR: In my time at Hartland Music I was able to gain experience in music products sales and running a large conservatory. Music education, which is such an important part of a strong, well-rounded education, needs the support of the music products industry to provide all necessary equipment. My goal in this industry is to support music education in our schools by providing equipment and music to all students while providing opportunities for additional learning.

NF: How has being a Gard Scholarship winner helped you fund your education?

KR: The support of The NAMM Foundation and the William R. Gard Memorial Scholarship over the last three years has enabled me to achieve a high level of musicianship and grow in my knowledge of all parts of music making and production. The extra hours that I did not have to be working, because of the generous financial support I was provided by the William R. Gard Memorial Scholarship, have helped to provide me with more practice and study time so that I am better prepared to enter a career in my desired field. I will forever be grateful for the support NAMM has provided.

NF: What role do you currently play in the business? What job do you have now and how did you get it?

KR: I was fortunate enough to have Ellen McDonald approach me to work for her business, Hartland Music, the summer before my senior year of high school. I had been a student at the Waukesha County Conservatory of Music, which is housed in Hartland Music and owned by Ellen McDonald, since I was five years old. Over the last four years I have grown from an intern to a sales associate under her guidance. Ellen, along with my coworkers, mentored me in business operations, merchandising, product knowledge and placement, instrument maintenance, customer service and store inventory. I have learned so much over the four years of my employment, and I am so thankful that Ellen chose me out of all the talented students at the Waukesha County Conservatory to taken on as her mentee.

NF: How did this shape your career path?

KR: I had always loved music, but I had no knowledge or experience with any facet of music other than performing. My time at Hartland Music has opened up the options for my future career beyond what I had initially seen as a possibility. If Ellen had not given me the opportunity for work for Hartland Music I would not have had the wide view of the music industry that I have now.

NF: What did you learn that makes you better prepared for a job in the industry?

KR: The entire staff at Hartland Music taught me a significant amount about relationships. The relationships that I have built with teachers, performers, sales people, and the families and musicians that frequent the store have impacted my life in so many ways. Relationships are a key part of business, and the communication skills, both business and interpersonal, that I have gained from this employment have prepared me for a professional career in this field.

NF: Do you think doing business now is easier or harder than it was 20 years ago?

KR: Business now must be far more difficult than 20 years ago. Everything a consumer could want to purchase and all the product reviews a consumer could hope to read are all available online now. Although online orders give small businesses a larger presence, it can also take business away from local companies. Local businesses are forced to compete with internet giants that can afford to lower prices and carry a larger inventory. Although targeted online advertising, online ordering, and informational websites can provide a widespread audience and customer base, the challenges and benefits likely do not even out for every company.

NF: What aspects of music retail/manufacturer interest you most?

KR: The most interesting aspect of my experience thus far in the music products industry has been piano sales. The purchase of a piano is a large investment in both finance and education for a consumer, and the choices that the consumer makes in that purchase are hugely important since that instrument will be a focal point in their home for years to come, and the sound that instrument produces will be with them for a long time. I love the idea that someone’s experience and the choice they make in our store will impact them for a long time.

NF: What’s the best thing about what you’re currently doing?

KR: We have the most amazing customers come into our store. I have seen the same families bring their children in for weekly lessons over the last four years, and they have brought a lot of joy into my life. I am beyond lucky to be a part of all of their lives, and I love the experiences they have afforded me. One of my favorite memories was receiving birthday cards from all three boys in a family who are regularly at the store for lessons and purchases. They all made handmade cards and brought them to me the day before I turned nineteen. I’m thankful that this job has given me the opportunity to impact their lives, and I’m even more thankful that they have all impacted mine.

NF: Do you have a business mentor or role model?

KR: Ellen McDonald has always been my mentor, since the day she asked me to become an intern. Her work ethic and dedication inspires me daily to work hard and build relationships. She has taught me so much about the operations of a music business and provided me with many opportunities for growth. In addition, she has helped me to develop my strengths and grow my weaknesses so that I am consistently challenged. The focus she puts on all aspects of her business is amazing, and I hope that my career is as impactful as hers has been thus far.

The William R. Gard Memorial Scholarship was established by NAMM, the National Association for Music Merchants, in an effort to encourage individuals to pursue education and careers in the music products industry. The scholarship is available to NAMM Member employees who are attending college.

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