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Q&A with Rick Plushner, Guitar Center Pro

Rick Plushner is director of GC Pro, the pro AV side of Guitar Center, which launched about six years ago. Today, the division is growing and adding even more capabilities, despite the challenging times.

PRO AV: GC Pro is getting more into AV installation. What has the company done?

Rick Plushner

Rick Plushner

PLUSHNER: We launched GC Pro Installations November of last year. We've always provided consultation at no extra charge; now we're able to offer turnkey systems. A house of worship customer or small venue can come to us and talk about the equipment for a new room or a re-vamped audio system. We can spec out the system and install it. We expect to soon have an agreement with a nationwide contractor to provide these services in all states.

PRO AV: Do you do all the work yourself?

PLUSHNER: We consider the entire project–equipment and installation requirements. If the project requires things like flying speakers, building walls, or running power, we work with licensed, bonded and insured contractors who generate a bid that's incorporated into one quotation. GC Pro has 66 staff members in the division, many of whom are trained to integrate complex systems. If a customer requires an acoustical design, we reach out to professionals we know who are certified designers.

PRO AV: Is it a challenge helping people understand how GC Pro is different from Guitar Center?

PLUSHNER: We've done a lot of work branding [GC Pro] in the trades. The Guitar Center stores are the retail arm of the company; we're the business-to-business division. It has been an ongoing process to educate communities and local markets that our services are available. We've grown at about 20 percent per year. As we grow and open new offices, we reach out to the recording, post production, live sound, and educational facilities in the community. The Guitar Center name often gets us in the door. We have 214 stores, so that's quite an outreach. I don't envision GC Pro in every store location, but we do envision an operation in each of our 24 districts. We're in 22 right now.

PRO AV: Does having retail and business-to-business operations help weather the economy? Has GC Pro felt the downturn?

PLUSHNER: We had a solid 2008 and the first quarter of '09 has also been strong. We have a great deal of opportunity for growth and expansion, even in this economy. All managers in business today have to be astute and as sharp as possible when running their operations. Return on investment is key when planning expenditures. We've been careful, planned well, and run a tight organization. We're hiring sales staff–six people this year already and we have four more openings.

PRO AV: How do the products you offer differ from Guitar Center's?

PLUSHNER: We sell everything that Guitar Center sells–all SKUs. About 40 percent of our business is special-order items. For example a customer will come to us wanting a dozen items; ten of which are in stock, the remaining needs to be sourced. We have relationships with so many vendors, in both lighting and audio, that we can acquire the one-off items. We source what's needed for each job.

PRO AV: Lighting?

PLUSHNER: Yes, that's a growing area for us. We're just starting to get our feet wet. We see lots of applications in live sound and small venues, as well as architectural lighting. We're finding that when a customer is looking for a sound system, sometimes they're also looking for ways to enhance their lighting. So our staff is undergoing training on the latest lighting products and applications. Looking forward, I'd like to see GC Pro involved in more lighting projects.

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