I joined a band four weeks ago. I have never played a wind instrument before – unless the recorder counts.

The New Horizons Band is sponsored and run by Long & McQuade, a family-owned music store in Canada. The store started out with a single location, near a subway station in a “mixed” neighbourhood in west Toronto. The company now has many locations across Canada. Among other things, they supply most – if not all – of the instruments children rent in Toronto to play in their school bands. That is how I came to know them.

We have been loyal customers since we rented our first trumpet 25 years ago. Since then, my family has rented and bought many instruments, music, and paraphernalia at Long and McQuade. On a quiet weekend, my son, who lives around the corner from the flagship store, will walk over and rent an acoustic guitar and amplifier for about C$15 – sympathies to the neighbours! He still plays a couple of other instruments.

My very new and wonderful band experience got me thinking about how to connect and build your customer base in a competitive marketplace.

I heard about the band by word-of-mouth – my cousin told me – but they have a fabulous Web site.

You have to be over 50 years old to join the band. You can be a raw beginner like me, someone who wants to get back to an instrument played in younger days, a seasoned performer, or someone who simply wants to try something new. There are four bands, depending on your skill level. The practices/lessons – for a fee, of course – are at the store. Long & McQuade hires the instructors and rents me my clarinet.

I think it is brilliant! I would not be in the store spending my money without this opportunity. I assume they chose 50+ to build a cohesive group but, more importantly for Long & McQuade, most of these people would not otherwise be customers. If we are not playing an instrument, we no longer have a reason to be in the store.

They have provided baby boomers with a community, entertainment, and a new opportunity for learning – all while bringing paying customers into their store.

Long & McQuade has built a small, family business into a popular, national retail brand. The company understands how to build that brand by hiring musicians as staff, providing lessons by talented teachers, putting on events and seminars, and renting instruments at rock-bottom prices to get you hooked. They sell new and used instruments, from basic to beautiful and expensive ones for professionals. They provide lessons, run seminars, and host events to get people into their stores and their programmes.

Last Friday night, they had an open house to recruit band members; anyone was welcome and about 25 people came. The leaders talked about the band and spent time demonstrating and helping each person decide just what instrument would be right for them. There was a great deal of coaxing individuals to join the band. The regional public TV station was also there filming and interviewing everyone; they are working on a documentary about the band and the programme. They began shadowing the group nearly a year ago and will be with us for at least another six months.

How can newspapers spread their message and bring that kind of community and loyalty to their brands?

There is no doubt that newspapers are not retailers, but they do face many of the same challenges. Newspapers need to build on their historical brand heritage by engaging their readers. They need to have interesting conversations with readers, let readers get involved; find ways to get readers “hooked” and contributing to the brand.

One of our national newspapers maintains a full page every day for editorials from a wide variety of citizens. These editorials are not written by their team but by people with a specific knowledge, point of view, and message to communicate.

Other newspapers access readers to get insights into topics for investigation that might otherwise be missed. Are there ways to have community leaders regularly submit articles of interest to their communities? Web sites are ideal for dialogues with informed journalists or community and business leaders, as well as politicians.

Outside of the newspaper itself, there are opportunities to get readers to attend lectures, seminars, and other events. These could be followed-up by coverage by journalists and participants.

These are just a few ideas; I am sure you have many more! The days of simply providing the news are over. Today’s newspapers must engage their readers and make them feel that the news is relevant, designed for them, and includes them.

Being Long & McQuade can take on a variety of forms, but to be at the centre of the consumer’s life should be the goal.