Guitar Center exec Laura Taylor on the changing attitudes toward women in the music industry

Categories: Profiles

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Laura Taylor, the Los Angeles-based vice president of operations for Guitar Center.
For this week's print feature, we spoke with Laura Taylor, Vice President of Operations for Guitar Center regarding the company's recent initiatives to improve the treatment of female customers in the company's 219 stores across the country.

When we spoke with Taylor, she was very candid about the steps the company is taking to increase relations, from hosting customer experience surveys to having sit-down dinners with female musicians. Guitar Center has also made a concerted effort to incorporate women in its marketing and in-store promos, and is also working to educate its sales staff on the equitable treatment of all customers, regardless of gender.

Below is the transcript of our recent conversation with Taylor, a musician in her own right, who's been with the company for more than two decades.

Westword: How and why did this women's initiative start?

Laura Taylor: That is a great question. Let me give you a little history on where it all started, and we can go from there. I've been with Guitar Center for 22 years. I've been in the music industry for a long time. I started in our Hollywood store. Our industry is very male-dominated -- well, it's not just our industry, its not just music industry retail, it is the entire music industry. It is weird. It has evolved a lot, and there are so many more female artists and players, and I myself am a guitar player.

I started at the Hollywood Guitar Center, because I moved out from Chicago [to Los Angeles] to go to Guitar Institute of Technology [now known as the Musician's Institute.] I have a history in the music industry from this standpoint, so I've watched it evolve. The big initiative for Guitar Center came to us, really, through me. Being a female, being a player, being in a male-dominated industry for so many years, I was the one who approached my boss [Gene Joly, Executive Vice President of Guitar Center stores]. I said, "Look: this is something that we really need to focus on." It has been off everyone's radar, and it is just how it has always been.

So we thought, what can we do to really drive a difference in this industry? In music retail? In the music industry in itself? That's how it started to evolve. It isn't just Guitar Center; but we are big, so it is easy for us to get called out. When you look at Sam Ash and some of the other big competitors of ours, it's the same experience over and over again. And we have a huge initiative to change that, and that is what we are driving towards.

So you know that going into a store like Guitar Center, women have to kind of mentally prepare themselves. How did you zero in on the problem?

Absolutely. I've lived it. I mean, I'm a musician as well. I go into our stores and have that same experience because people don't know who I am. A lot of the initiative we're working on [is based on] a lot of customer surveys and customer panels. We've had three dinners with professional women musicians in three major cities around the country. Just sitting and listening to their experiences. They are very much the same -- it is the same everywhere they go. It is the intimidating environment. It's the not being treated seriously as a musician. The assumption is who they are with is always the musician, if it is a male.

It is something we have very much focused on, pushing training down into our stores. We have 219 stores around the country. Not only have we surveyed our customers, we have surveyed our employees. Here's the interesting part: A lot of what our female sales associates are experiencing is kind of the same thing on the opposite end. It was something we hadn't really thought of. Male customers will come in, and they don't want to talk to a female sales associate.

Once instance in particular that I can think of is: We have a phenomenal drum department manager in one of our stores. A male customer came in and wanted to talk to the drum department manager. When she said, "Well, I am the drum department manager" the customer said, "No, I want to talk to a guy." So when you look at it, it isn't just the musicians going in, it is also coming from the other side. We know it is an area we need to help drive through the whole industry. So that's what we're focusing on.

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