Congress should take better care of the instruments of business

Musical instruments are all about passion. Musical instruments are sold by a group of very passionate people at the brick-and-mortar level. Other than the 5% of our customer base that earn their living as professional musicians, the great majority are semi-professionals, garage band warriors, or just folks who play for their personal pleasure, spending their discretionary income on their passion. As a long-term, 30 plus years in business brick-and-mortar retailer, Advance Music prides itself on, and truly enjoys, the face-to-face relationships we establish with our customers, and the honest information we provide them in making buying decisions that make them feel great and provide a lifetime of enjoyment!

The number one hurdle that we encounter here when it comes to the price negotiation phase is the sales tax issue. We match Internet pricing all day long, but with the economy riding its constant up and down wave, every dollar counts to our customers, and while we absolutely understand that, we are also aware that each customer is legally obligated to pay this sales tax, whether buying in a local brick-and-mortar shop or online. We don’t feel it’s our job to explain this to any customer, and it would probably just alienate them in the process. My feeling is that most people don’t pay taxes on their online, out-of-state purchases.

I’m not stretching the truth when I say that at least twice a day a customer will ask us to “eat” the sales tax on a purchase. It immediately puts the sales person in an awkward position. You can attempt to explain the benefits of paying state sales tax, how the pot holes are fixed, fires put out, criminals arrested, etc., but most customers just care about the bottom line price. This is where the out-of-state Internet retailer has such a huge and unfair advantage over us…THEY ARE NOT REQUIRED TO CHARGE THE SALES TAX! So we, as local brick-and-mortar retailers, are forced to ask ourselves “Am I willing to take that 7% hit to my profit margin?” or “Am I willing to let this customer walk and lose this sale?” My favorite is the customers who use us as an Internet “showroom” and in some cases we’ll even “loan” them a product to try overnight in their home….they bring it back, tell us they love it, and ask “can you eat the tax?” I can’t tell you how much this hurts, especially when I just can’t do the deal at the slim margin and they simply buy online!

Hey Congress, level the playing field out there! Help all of us local retailers make this a non issue in our local brick-and-mortar shops. Let me pay my folks better, offer better benefits, and maybe even hire a couple of more employees based on my increase in business. Let my state receive the tax dollars it deserves to help fund local programs and municipalities. It really is that simple!

Mike Trombley is the owner of Advance Music Center in Burlington, VT.

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