“We never intended to be the biggest, just the best at what we do”
Music retail has gone through a massive change in the 40 years since promoter and artist manager Geoff Bonouvrie set up Mall Music in a tiny store on Sydney’s North Shore with a staff of two.
These days, Mall Music is staffed by 28 people over two stores, at Westfield Warringah Mall Shopping Centre in Brookvale and Macquarie Centre in North Ryde, run by his wife Mandy and daughter Simone.
But the brand philosophy remains the same: “We never intended to be the biggest, just the best at what we do.”
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That “best”, explains Digital Marketing Manager Simone Bonouvrie, is expressed in many ways.
“It can be about having the best products and the most qualified musicians working at the stores. We are for everyone – a seasonal musician, a professional musician, someone who’s just starting, a hobbyist, or a student.
“Right from the start, Geoff set up the stores with a high degree of architectural design to accommodate all customers including Mums with prams, because families buy musical instruments too. Given we’re a family business, we are about our connections with our customers.
“When you come into the stores, no matter what level you’re playing at, there are people here who want to have a genuine conversation with you about what’s right for you without being overly sales orientated. You’re going to have a great experience and a positive interaction. You’ll want to feel confident in your purchase. Especially if it’s your first instrument and you’re feeling lost because you don’t quite know what you want.
“But you’re going to walk away with the instrument that’s right for you because of all the advice you got and because we enjoy that interaction with our customers. But having spent quite a lot of money, you’re extremely confident you bought the right one and looking forward to coming back.”
Mall Music has won the ARIA Award for Best Retail Store no less than four times.
Industry leader Roland set up a Roland Store Experience Centre in the Brookvale store with an interactive store set up featuring Roland instruments and Boss effects and amps.
“They had showroom stores in New York, London, Barcelona, and we were the ones for all of Australia,” Geoff says. “It was a great honour for them to select us.
“The Roland fitout is a fully interactive showroom in the middle of the store and a Roland representative Pip (Phillip Leason) works here full-time.”
Leason, a multi-instrumentalist and producer with a background in rock, electronics, and orchestral, is not there just to sell Roland and Boss products.
His after-care includes showing customers getting the most from their gear including the most powerful set-up, getting creative with their compositions and songwriting, tutorials, and how to become better at live performances.
“To survive in retail in the digital era you have to have a purpose,” Geoff says. “You can’t survive without a sense of speciality in a particular area. You either have to be the biggest, like a chain store, or be the biggest online store, or you have to stand out for another purpose. The reason we stand out is because we have that relationship with Roland and Boss.
“We’ve been selling their products for the last 50 years but the experience store started in 2021 during the Covid lockdown.”
Many 40th anniversary initiatives will be rolled out through this year. One of these will be school showcases at the Westfield shopping centre in spring.
“It’s a grassroots initiative that Mall Music does with schools in the area,” Simone says. There are jazz bands, orchestras, strings… Coming out of Covid, it’ll be really special because they haven’t done it for a few years. It gives the students a platform to perform in a non-competitive environment.”
Live performances are an integral part of Mall Music. When it began as a record store selling vinyl, cassettes, and CDs, Geoff says that Mall Music was the first in Australia to introduce in-store appearances and record signing sessions to generate sales.
“We had Icehouse, Tim Freedman, James Morrison, Angus & Julia Stone, Pete Murray, Delta Goodrem, Tommy Emmanuel, and international acts as Michael Buble, Julian Lennon, Willie Nelson, and Kelly Clarkson.
The live music link began with Geoff’s start in the music industry.
While studying business in Bathurst, NSW, at what is now Charles Sturt University, he started booking Sydney bands to play at the college. After he finished his course, a booking agent he used, Bob Yates, invited him to join his Balmain Music agency. He tour-managed Mi-Sex whom Yates managed, and looked after music venues Yates ran.
The biggest of these was the Royal Antler in Narrabeen (now the Sands Hotel), the sweaty boisterous pub which launched the careers of Midnight Oil, INXS, and Flowers. At the time Geoff’s ambition was to become a pro surfer, but late night gigs didn’t fit in with early morning swells so he figured buying a record store would allow him to catch the early waves first.
A local music lover named Mandy used to come in and buy records. “She was my best customer so I thought I’d better marry her,” Geoff quips. Mandy became the Managing Director of the Macquarie Centre when it opened in 2014.
“I was virtually born on the floor of a music store,” Simone laughs. Also a pianist, she began working behind the counter at a young age. She played keyboard in a local band, and with a
Bachelor of Business, built a career building e-commerce strategies for other businesses. Home is where the heart is however, so she says she’s always drawn back to Mall Music and is excited to manage the business for the next 30 years.
When CDs began to decline, Mall Music let go of physical music formats and expanded its musical instrument department. It cites its close association with major brands, convenient locations, and using top musicians for its current and future success.
The new head of EMI Music Australia, Mark Holland, was a buyer at Mall Music. Fess Parker of The Radiators has been its guitar tech for 15 years.
“He’s the best, and people are happy to wait for a guitar set-up by Fess, from the average punter to the well-known rock star.”
Shop 430, Warringah Mall
Brookvale, NSW 2100
PH: (02) 9905 6966
Shop 457/458, Macquarie Centre
North Ryde, NSW 2113
PH: (02) 8870 2000