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Mississippi Music Inc. still hitting the high notes

Hattiesburg — On February 5, 1946, a small music store opened for business on North Main Street in the Hub City. Called The Music Shop, it was based in the home of husband-and-wife owners Jim and Bertha “Mac” Johnson, with the store in the front three rooms and the Johnsons living in the back.

Today, that company is called Mississippi Music Inc., and it bears little resemblance to the original business after numerous acquisitions and marketplace maneuvering. Mississippi Music is the one of the largest complete musical instrument companies in the U.S., according to Music Trades magazine.

It stocks all types of musical instruments including pianos, organs, band and orchestra instruments, guitars, amplifiers, sound reinforcement equipment, synthesizers, sheet music and accessories for all musical instruments. Mississippi Music employs 67 workers in four retail stores located in Hattiesburg, metro Jackson (Flowood), Biloxi and Meridian.

Yet, there are still characteristics of the original company that exist today at Mississippi Music. Jim Johnson, a school band director, founded Mississippi Music because he felt that Pine Belt-area schools had too few bands, mainly due to the lack of places to buy musical instruments and find related services. Mississippi Music still maintains a close and successful relationship with area school bands and band directors, and still follows the founder’s vision concerning the power of music in education.

Critical education component

“The arts are so important in children’s education,” said Rosi Johnson, Mississippi Music president and daughter-in-law of Jim and Mac Johnson. “Studies show that music education enhances learning, that children exposed to music perform better. We believe lives can be enhanced by participating in music. Our goal is to help everyone enjoy the world of music.”

(Mississippi Music offers a special section on its Web site at www.mississippimusic.com that provides information to parents of band students, as well as information on research on the benefits of music education to school-age children.)

Rosi Johnson also pointed to Mississippi Music’s product lineup as a big plus for the company. It offers nearly 200 brands including such household names as Fender, Marshall, Peavey, Martin, Zildjian, Yamaha, Roland, Seagull and Bach. Mississippi Music’s stores routinely draw customers from a 200-mile radius, including those from Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana.

Which led Rosi Johnson to what she feels is the most important component to Mississippi Music ‘s growth — the company’s staff. “I believe the main key to our success and longevity is our employees,” she said. “We have employees who have been with us for years, up to 34 years. When you have employees that you have trained and have been with you for that long, they are very valuable, and we want to make sure we take care of them.”

Mississippi Music also offers a wealth of services. Its stores offer lessons, from beginner to advanced levels, in guitar, piano, drums, voice, violin, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and trombone. (The types of lessons offered vary from store to store.) The company also repairs all brands of products. It employs more than 12 full- and part-time technicians with a combined experience of 200+ years in electronics, brass, woodwinds, strings and guitars. All repairs are guaranteed in 30 days.

Yet another service is Mississippi Music’s audio services division, which offers professional sound installation and counts dozens of customers including Chesterfield’s Restaurant in Hattiesburg, Courthouse Racquet and Fitness Club in Jackson. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Mississippi State Fair Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Indiana National Guard and a myriad of schools and churches.

Mississippi Music has offered sound installation since its inception, but formed the separate division in 1990 to further focus on that side of the business. Not only does Mississippi Music offer installation, but it meets with owners and contractors to coordinate efforts. It also is available for service and future upgrades as the facility grows.

Weathering the storm

Mississippi Music’s stores fared well through Hurricane Katrina. Its Biloxi store came through relatively unscathed.

Rosi Johnson said the biggest challenge after the storm was limited communications. The lack of telephone service shut down the company’s computers and point-of-sale technology, and the staff was forced to manually enter sales and other information. (Mississippi Music operates a separate central services office on Main Street in Hattiesburg.) But this was overcome, and Rosi Johnson said sales in some stores were up due to the damage and destruction experienced by some of its competitors.

However, the company’s customers were not so fortunate. The damage and loss of schools, such an important component of Mississippi Music’s customer base, is a big blow. The destruction of clubs and casinos is also a substantial loss, and local musical groups have been scattered due to the loss of both homes and venues in which to perform.

Still, Rosi Johnson, her husband and company senior vice president Dex Johnson and the Mississippi Music staff plan to not only survive, but thrive, by keeping to its time-proven formula.

“We treat every store individually, concentrating on hometown and family,” Rosi Johnson said. “We strive to maintain a friendly, homey atmosphere. And we remain dedicated to being the preeminent music store in Mississippi.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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