Pepper’s Pro Shop has just celebrated a grand reopening at a new location, still within the
Berry Hill creative community in Nashville. Pictured here at the 2012 Nashville Recording
Workshop + Expo are Pro staffers (l-r) James Oliva, owner Pepper Denny and Clint Gee.Nashville, TN—There’s no denying that the last few years have been economically challenging for most people. But Pepper Denny, owner of Pepper’s Pro Shop in Nashville, has found a way to do business in an industry he loves, while also finding time to pursue his own music career.
“The only way we can be in business and continue to do what we do, which is taking care of the upper end of the music business, is to go with the boutique eclectic stuff that holds its value, and to sell used gear. We have a low overhead with a small business; we’re not trying to be a huge store,” says Denny, who previously worked in Nashville for Vintage King Audio and GC Pro, and in Los Angeles for West L.A. Music before that.
Denny likes to put equipment into people’s hands so that they can form an opinion for themselves. “I could tell you what sounds better, but that’s my opinion. Why not make up your own mind? Here are three microphones that sound like what you’re looking for, why don’t you be the judge in your own studio?”
He continues, “I think people got lost in the momentum of this corporate takeover of the entire country. It’s all about numbers; it’s not so much that they care about the end-user as much as they care about making a profit. We care more about somebody making a good record and continuing to have a relationship with them throughout the business.”
Nashville would seem to be an ideal location for someone with that attitude: “When I first moved here from Los Angeles in 2005, it felt like home; everybody cares. It’s a different environment. You can relax and concentrate on your work of making a good record.”
That caring attitude extends to the professional organizations, he reports. “The AES is the most active society that I’ve ever been involved in. I help out with the Nashville Engineers Relief Fund. I try to take care of Nashville as much as possible.” That said, he adds, “We do have clients all over the world.”
The high-end focus makes sense for an independent store, he believes. “The high-end boutique products are the only things holding their market in today’s world, as opposed to the imported $99 to $999 products. Nobody can compete with the chain stores; it’s impossible in today’s market.”
Furthermore, any local retailer faces a price disadvantage when they are up against the internet-based companies. “A lot of businesses have closed down over the past few years, due to the 9.25 percent sales tax in Tennessee. We have to match that price if we’re going to be competitive. We pick up the tax for our clients locally because they can buy it online and get it shipped into Nashville without the sales tax added on,” he says.
As a result, Denny is selective about the lines he sells, especially if they are already well represented in the big retail chains: “I turn down a lot of lines. I’ve got 10 percent tax, so that means after an initial buy-in with your products, I’m making 5 percent. That makes no sense. We sell a lot of used gear; we do a turnaround generally within 30 days. We’ll take in their gear, sell it for them and apply it towards store credit. We only take a 25 percent margin for the used gear we sell, so it’s less than anyone in the market.”
As a drummer in a touring band, Denny also has a musician’s perspective on the current state of the record industry. “The entire music business has come back to being in the artists’ hands all over again. The good thing is we can do things at our own rate and make our own records as our budget allows.”
Denny’s band, Blooddrunk Shenanigans (“the illegitimate children of the Sex Pistols and AC/DC”), is a truly international affair that benefits from the new do-it-yourself paradigm in the industry. “My singer/bass player is from Australia, the guitar player and I live here. We communicate over the internet, get together, rehearse, do a record and go out on tour.”
But what really gets him excited, says Denny, is people over profits: “It’s more important for people to make good records than it is to make a buck. Budgets aren’t what they used to be. People are doing a couple of days of a session—which used to be a month—in a studio or doing the basic tracks then going into a home studio. What we’re trying to do is provide the home studios or the enduser/ producer with a better avenue to follow, getting that home recording sounding exactly like the studio.”
Pepper’s Pro Shop