Palmer Music Co. builds community in Conway, preserves legacy
September 24-30, 2018
By Becca Bona
Preston Palmer, a Conway native by birth was born into a musical family. Though he didn’t know it at the time, music would become the fabric that would bring his career together, not unlike a chorus.
As a young boy, his uncle taught him how to play the guitar. “I grew up listening to The Beatles, The Turtles, and The Band,” he says. Before long, his parents recognized his drive, and began taking him to music lessons in nearby Pickles Gap Village.
He learned in a blue grass oriented style, and at the age of eight Palmer was already delving into music composition. He eventually began taking lessons with Tim Trawick, who he describes as “another local, legend music guy.”
As he continued to grow as a budding musician, so did his needs. To switch it up, Palmer began taking lessons at Jack’s Music, which turned out to be life changing, because as soon as he could, he began teaching music lessons and learning about guitar repair at Jack’s.
And just like that Jack’s became a staunch part of his life, as he says, “Basically from age 16 until 30 years old, I worked for Jack.” During that time he went to school at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA). Palmer was also able to play in a band, touring regionally, largely thanks to Jack.
“That job afforded me the ability to be able to do that – to tour and play music while in school,” he says.
One day, Jack asked Palmer what his plans for the future might be. “I saw the potential in this town for a music school,” Palmer recalls, “that was focused on lessons and repairs because that’s kind of what I already did.”
During that time Palmer worked to get certifications in guitar repair, and before long the idea of opening a music school became more than a dream – it became a reality.
School of Rock: Preston Palmer Studios in Conway
In 2011, Palmer was able to open his own music-fueled business, and he was able to work with Jack to make it happen.
“We kind of mutually decided, ‘Hey, I’m going to go open this school and repair shop and I’m going to send my students to you to buy guitars, and you send your customers to me to take lessons and have their guitar repaired,’” he remembers.
The business thrived and grew until 2016, which at that point had up to 160 students learning a variety of instruments with a budding staff at the helm.
“At that time I think I had 11 or 12 teachers working for me teaching all different instruments. I had a repair staff that included myself and one other guy, but we ended up hiring up more,” Palmer recalls.
Palmer and his team provide services to make sure that your guitar is in tip-top shape, especially when life happens.
“If you drive over your guitar we’ll put it back together and we’ll make it look brand new. That’s always kind of been a passion of mine so it’s part of this business,” Palmer explains.
Not everyone knows that the business provides a guitar repair element, but those that do include touring bands, which Palmer intended.
“We do really, really good work,” he says, “touring bands use us for everything. They come through here, drop their stuff off and then pick it back up so they can get back on the road. We try to serve the busy musicians.”
As the only place statewide that works on high-end guitar brands like Taylor, Palmer Studios was making a name for itself, and Palmer had plans to keep the business growing.
In 2014, he began talking with Jack about the possibility of acquiring his business. He remembers telling Jack, “You’ve been trying to sell your business for a long time and I’m interested. It’s a natural fit because I have so much history with your business.”
It took a while to nail down the specifics, and even longer for Palmer to buy up all of Jack’s inventory, but by 2017 Palmer Music Company was a open for business. One of the immediate goals Palmer had with the change was to keep Jack’s legacy alive.
“I really wanted to try to honor his legacy,” Palmer says, “Jack was in business for 35 years. […] We really have done our best to treat customers well and honor his relationships because a lot of them are my relationships, too.”
After a little renovation, Palmer Music Company looks very different than it did when Jack’s was at the helm, but Palmer has left Jack’s sign out front as homage to the man, who is more like family than his former boss.
“Jack still comes around,” he says smiling, “we see him every few weeks. He and his wife are kind of like my grandparents that I never had. I grew up with them.”
Setting up shop: Palmer Music Co. opens its doors
Since the transition, Palmer has focused on the inventory and staying up-to-speed with what musicians want. “We talk to musicians all the time,” he says, “we are pretty heavy on social media trying to keep up.”
One of the toughest hurdles Palmer has faced as a mom and pop music shop of sorts, encompasses the internet and ecommerce at large.
“We’re revamping our website and working with our point of sale company so we will be able to easily, somewhat seamlessly, transition to ecommerce,” he explains. “I’m looking for a niche to fit into […] we’re looking into inventory control and management, and then getting it in front of the right people.”
Along the way, Palmer has been able to utilize quality customer service to his advantage in today’s age of buying online, that truly sets him apart. Plus, paying attention to margins has kept him competitive.
“There are a lot of things that I can’t sell as cheap in the shop as it is online, but we’ve built a business in such a way because we have a margin. Most of the stuff in here you’re going to find is the same you’ll find online.”
Some of the best moments Palmer has enjoyed since opening his doors goes back to his staff.
“Honestly what makes this place tick at the end of the day is our staff. I’m proud of the business we’ve built, but I am super proud of the staff. We have the best teachers and best repair people around – the guys and girls that work here that make this place tick everyday are unmatched,” he says.
Inside Conway’s Music Company
Stop by the shop, and you’ll feel the mantra that Palmer has infused into his business from hiring the correct staff to providing the proper inventory.
“We exist to make new musicians,” he says. “We want to get you in here, teach you how to play, and then once you learn we want to give you what you need to keep playing. When you break it we’ll fix it. We’re making, equipping, and empowering musicians.”
As far as lessons go, all students are welcome. Palmer likes to say that the studio will “meet you where you are,” whether you’re a seasoned musician, a young novice, or an adult who wants to learn campfire songs.
The studio works closely with local Round Mountain Coffee to offer students (who want it) a chance to play live, after they reach a certain level. “There’s a difference between learning the music and being a musician – at some point there’s a turning point,” Palmer explains.
Palmer Music Co. is also home to music lessons for Conway’s homeschool population thanks to a partnership with local nonprofit, Blackbird Academy. Unfortunately Blackbird recently closed its doors, but the business is continuing the services.
“When people are thinking about music, they should give us a call,” says Palmer. “If you’re looking for something we have, you’re probably going to get a good deal on it and you’re likely going to make some friends in the process.”
If you haven’t yet, stop by Palmer Music Company on 506 W. Oak Street in Conway or find them on Facebook.
1. You’ll always find a smiling face behind the cash register at Palmer’s Music Co.
2. Palmer and his qualified team members are more than capable of repairing your guitar – no matter what you’ve done to it. Palmer Music Co. is equipped with areas to do everything from painting and finishing to woodworking.
3. Palmer makes sure he carries instruments musicians are interested in, as well as high-end brands like Taylor Guitars.