13 years ago this February, Jim Toris, owner of The Guitar World in north Mississauga, set out with a clear and simple vision: to provide astounding and unmatched customer service, fair pricing, a great selection and expert advice.
Pretty standard business practices, right? Well, some things are easy to say, but prove difficult to execute. Jim’s found a way, through perseverance and by treating every customer like they’re the only customer.
It’s been a long road for Mr. Toris. From humble beginnings working at MusicPlex in Brampton in the early 90s, to a golf club based business through the early 2000s, he nostalgically says, “I still remember the smell of the fresh carpet when I opened the doors for the first time.”
Once the doors opened, he had less than 10 guitars (he’s got over 200 now) in the 1,850 sq.ft store. He even brought in guitars from his personal collection to make the walls look less vacant. Hey, everyone’s gotta start somewhere and be resourceful while they’re at it.
He remembers an “early days” customer who asked “Are you going out of business or is this a new store?” Ouch.
While some may have fallen at those words, Jim believes in visualizing success. “See what you want things to be,” he says to me with astute confidence. Despite opening a new store with minimal inventory, he had ambition, confidence and knew that if he stayed the course, he’d start seeing success, despite it being early days.
As word spread about The Guitar World and their unmatched customer service, day by day, more and more curious folks walked through the doors at 6435 Erin Mills Parkway, a couple of clicks north of Britannia. And of course, with more customers came more guitars. And more guitars. And even more guitars. He’s got some quality brand names in the store that come in acoustic and electric form. He’s got bass guitars. Heck, he even channeled his inner Ned Flanders and has left handed guitars! Not to mention plenty of amplifiers and accessories, for the beginners right up to the experts and everything in between.
Jim and his team believe in educating customers, and that it’s not always about the almighty dollar. He prefers establishing, building and growing relationships with customers, rather than a transactional customer experience. And I, for one, absolutely agree.
As the saying goes, customers may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel, and converting first timers into long standing customers is no easy task, regardless of what industry you’re in.
Yes, the money will come but happy customers are armed with the most influential tool: their voice, which results in referrals, which Jim has received plenty of over his 13 years of owning The Guitar World.
It’s not just guitars and accessories that keep the register singing; he also offers lessons, available in 14 different rooms through a variety of talented, friendly and encouraging instructors. It’s quite smart to offer lessons under the same roof that you sell the instruments – a customer who plays their instrument regularly is usually happier than one who sticks it in the closet after a few weeks.
The Guitar World also offers a thorough repair service for not only items purchased in store, but for any guitar. It’s like having an automobile showroom, service bay and driving instructors all in the same place.
Jim notes that with the rise in online instrument purchases, he’s seen a dramatic increase in his repair business. He credits this to the ever growing amount of consumers buying guitars based on website images opposed to picking up the guitar itself. He’s not out to gouge these online shoppers when they come to him saying their guitar needs fixing, though. Jim and his team are very thorough in explaining the repair issues and making recommendations. It’d be easy to say “it’s broken, $XXX to fix it,” but the house that customer service built thrives on transparency, honesty and giving customers all their options.
This piece on Jim wouldn’t be complete without touching on the “Kara’s Guitar” story.
Kara Shred, a Mississauga musician and graphic artist, tragically passed away in September 2013. She and her family were customers of Jim and at her parents' request to have her semi-hollow body custom guitar not be forgotten in a case, they asked Jim if he could keep it at The Guitar World and let anyone play it to help keep Kara’s memory alive.
Of course Jim enthusiastically agreed and now there are over 120 people that have played Kara’s guitar.
Most famously is Bon Jovi’s guitarist, Mississauga’s own Phil Xenidis, who played Kara’s guitar at the Air Canada Centre in November of 2013 to the wildly popular hit “Dead or Alive.”
Phil heard the story and quickly connected with Jim, expressing his interest in being a part of this heart-warming story.
It was a moving experience for the Shred family, knowing that their daughter’s memory will continuously move forward via the power of music and her now famous guitar.
Here's a video clip of the performance:
A modest man, Jim gives his staff plenty of praise for making The Guitar World into what it is today.
He’s got an army of happy, loyal and long-time customers who fiercely support him and works diligently to show new customers the same respect. He takes the time to connect with each customer in store and has even run into the parking lot if he’s accidentally missed saying goodbye and thank you to someone.
He’s a great talker, evidenced by some cool rock and roll stories he shared with me during our few hours together. He’s an even better listener, as that’s what you need to do with your clients.
There aren’t pushy sales people here - only educated staff who know that it’s the customer service aspect that separates them from the rest.
As a new father, Jim is carefully planning his next steps and while he couldn’t disclose what’s coming next, he did assure me that it’s something big.
Until then, there’s plenty to keep him busy with a burgeoning customer base wanting instruments, lessons and repairs from an established entrepreneur who has shown us that if you build it well with customer service, they most certainly will come.