I recently read the autobiography of Johnny Marr. His band, The Smiths, continues to polarise opinion, largely due to the voice and lyrics of the singer, Morrissey. Musically they were pure pop and still sound fresh today. With his intricate riffs and rhythms, Marr is something of a ‘guitarists guitar hero’.
He’s also passionate about his craft and legacy. The Smiths signed to Rough Trade because they were an independent label that seemed to really care about their bands. When success came, The Smiths were courted by much bigger companies.
One particular passage about this period struck me (page 173 if you have the book). Marr talks about the impression that he took from going to see the various record companies. This is what he says about the experience:
“What struck me most about the majors was that I didn’t see any records in the offices, whereas at Rough Trade and Factory [a Manchester independent record label] there were boxes all over the place. The other thing I noticed was the huge pictures of shiny pop stars I didn’t like, which confronted me from the moment I entered the building.”
Marr and Morrissey were put off by these impressions, and ended up staying with Rough Trade. They wanted a label that would understand them, yet the major labels were demonstrating values of money and success, not of art and creativity. They subsequently didn’t believe what the executives told them about how they would be treated, because the image didn’t match.
So what are we doing to make sure our business demonstrates the values that matches those of our customers?
At Ovation, we like working with people who enjoy their lives and realise their wealth should be used to accumulate life, and not the other way round. They are going to be engaged in the planning discussions, not just hand over their savings or inheritance and await unrealistic investment returns. Finally, we do want clients to think we are good at what we do, but not in a way that is too flashy (as this would go against the first two principles).
How do demonstrate these principles to a new client?
Well first of all, our office is in Queen Square, perhaps the premier address in Bristol for a small professional firms. The staircase up to our office is stunning, with stained glass windows. We don’t, however, have a large reception desk and waiting area. Instead we go out to meet clients and take them into our modestly sized meeting room.
For many years now our meeting room has consisted of two sofas, rather than a large imposing boardroom table. When moving to our current premises we added a table and chairs to give a second option. We have a couple of paintings of Bristol on the wall by a local artist (who is a client). A guitar sits on a stand in the corner – an Ovation, the make of guitar that originally inspired the name of the company. A pot of tea and coffee sit waiting for the client. The lighting is from several standard lamps, rather than the overhead fluorescent strips.
These things aren’t accidental. We want people who spend time in our meeting room not only to feel at ease, but to understand that we feel about their wealth the same way as they do. We respect how important it is, but also want to make sure it is used to maximise wellbeing, that their financial plans and structure match their hopes and dreams for the future.
One day, I’d like to think Johnny Marr himself might come into our office and feel right at home!