By Michelle Loeb
MS Retailer September, 2015
Community and family loom large over the day-to-day business model at Westmont, Ill-based Uncle Jon’s Music. Those themes permeate every aspect of the store, from the events in which they participate to the ways they interact with their customers and even how the store is staffed. Jon Kostal Jr., co-owner and manager, has a few private music instructors and part-time workers on the payroll but mostly, he runs the store alongside his parents and his wife.
“The store is primarily family operated and we treat the customer like a close family member,” said Kostal. “We want to treat everyone like family and be friendly and attentive, regardless of whether you’re buying a sound system or one pick. We go above and beyond to make sure everyone gets what they need and is treated fairly.”
Kostal fostered that open atmosphere from day one, when he and his father purchased and reopened the store on January 1, 2004. This location had been home to music stores dating as far back as the 1950s and for a year, Kostal had been running a music store in the same location for a friend. Kostal had a background as a musician, having recently completed Masters of Music at Eastern Illinois University and his father repaired musical instruments for many years. The two had talked before about the possibility of opening their own music store and when this opportunity came along, they decided to take it.
“Since I already had experience running the previous store in the same location, I felt I had an advantage with that experience under my belt,” Kostal explained. “At the start, the store was in a transition so I spoke with a lot of local musicians and started looking into the products and services that the local community wanted.”
Kostal began stocking his store on the basis of these requests from local customers. Specifically, Uncle Jon’s Music soon became known for their selection of Heil Microphones after some of their customers started asking for them. Kostal is always happy to do a special order when customers ask for specific items and he’s even gotten so good at gauging his customers’ needs that he is sometimes able to order the things they want before they even know to ask for them.
“We had one customer who wanted a specific type of music stand light and so I found one from OnStage that I thought she would like,” said Kostal. “I ordered it and she ended up liking it.”
Listening to customers’ suggestions also led to the formation of a lessons program at Uncle Jon’s Music. “The store didn’t offer lessons when we first started but customers were asking for them,” said Kostal. “Since I have a background in teaching, I taught some of the lessons myself at first before we started hiring teachers.”
Now lessons are a major part of the business, “a close second” to sales in terms of generating revenue for the store. Kostal is committed to growing the program, adding students and rearranging the store to create additional lesson space.
“We see a lot of first timers,” noted Kostal, who said the store has a good mix of children and adult students. “The family atmosphere helps because they're not intimidated. We let them know it isn’t too late to start and it’s nice that they stay with us a long time and don’t give up.”
Kostal recalled one student in particular who made an impression on him over the years. “Our oldest student was in his late 80s and he passed away recently,” Kostal said. “He was the most diligent and dedicated student. He practiced every day. We got to know his family well. It was great to see.”
The relationships fostered at Uncle Jon’s Music are visible not only in the customer service and the repeat business but also in the décor. The store features a customer wall of fame decorated with Polaroid pictures of customers posing with their new instruments. “It’s like a family album,” Kostal remarked.
Kostal and his team host events, both at the store and in other surrounding local businesses, and take part in local activities to foster that spirit of family and community, making sure everyone feels welcome and appreciated.
“We have a downtown business alliance and we’ll get together and plan events,” said Kostal, who is involved with the local Chamber of Commerce and whose children go to school in the town. “We help out with community events, for example providing sound equipment for street fairs and things like that. Also, our business district does a Trick or Treat Trail at Halloween where the stores give out candy to the kids. It’s a really nice thing to do and it gets people into the store who may not have seen it otherwise.”
The most popular event at Uncle Jon’s Music is their annual customer appreciation party, which they held for the first time on the store’s five-year anniversary and have kept going ever since.
“We have the party out in the parking lot in back of the store,” Kostal explained. “We have a real stage for local bands to play,” including the Flat Cats, a popular local swing band that Kostal and his father both perform in. They also have a student showcase and an open mic on that stage, while inside the store they put items on sale and hold a raffle with items such as guitars and ukuleles that were donated by the store’s suppliers.
“People look forward to the hot dog party,” Kostal said. “I ran into a guy outside of the store and he told me that his brother never misses it.
“It’s nice to hear people talk like that and recognize me as Uncle Jon from the store,” Kostal continued. “It’s like the old days when you walk into a business and everyone knows each other.”