The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.

Front and Center: Guitar Center Director of Merchandising, General Accessories / Media, Kristy Porter

By Leslie Buttonow

Kristy Porter is all about business––the music retail business, that is. Since 2001, she’s been a top performer at Guitar Center, where she’s held a number of roles in their retail stores and at the chain’s Westlake Village, CA headquarters, receiving several promotions and distinctions along the way. She has also put her experience as a guitarist to use in recognizing a customer’s need for an enjoyable, stress-free shopping experience in Guitar Center stores.

Below, Porter shares some of her story and advice, as well as a behind-the-scenes tidbit about life behind the counter at a music retail store.

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WiMN: You’ve held a number of roles at Guitar Center, working hard and climbing the proverbial ladder. Can you share some of your previous positions there, and how long you’ve been with GC?

KP: I’ve been with Guitar Center for 15 years. I started as a sales associate at the front door in our Oxnard, CA store when I was 18 years old. I quickly moved into the Accessories department, then became the Accessories department manager, and soon after, I was promoted to Assistant Manager of the whole store. Along the way, I took several training courses to learn all about pro audio and guitars, so that I could sell in all departments. I was also the top salesperson for three years running while I was there.

Several years into my career, a job opportunity came up at Guitar Center’s corporate office in Westlake Village, CA for an assistant category manager of accessories. That was my dream job, so I applied, and got it. I became the first female to have a buying role at GC at the time.

WiMN: Please share your background as a musician. Is that part of what attracted you to join the Guitar Center team initially?

KP: I have been playing guitar since I was 14 years old. I went to the Oxnard store to buy some strings and was quickly impressed by the cool vibe and gear in the store. My love for music inspired me to apply to work there.

WiMN: Your current role focuses on a specific business segment––musical accessories. Many people may not realize how something so seemingly small can be so impactful, yet your track record proves it to be true. How important is that segment of Guitar Center’s business and how do you keep it a success?

KP: The accessories business is a vital part of Guitar Center’s overall business. From a merchandising standpoint, the power of presentation is very important. We want to ensure we have the right selection, and that our products are easy to identify, easy to shop and easy for our customers to buy. It’s also important to analyze the business on a daily basis, look for opportunities, try new things, and take risks.

WiMN: Time to dish out a little dirt––during your time working on the retail side of things, what challenges did you have from customers? And what songs were the most overplayed by customers in the guitar department all day long? 😉

KP: I think with any retail store, you will have great customers and also difficult ones. I always viewed the difficult ones as an exciting challenge for me to make their experience great. I’ve had a few customers not want to deal with me because I was a female and they thought I didn’t know my stuff, but I saw it as an opportunity to prove them wrong.

I’d say the most over-played songs in my store would definitely be “Enter Sandman” by Metallica and “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne.

WiMN: Your company seems to be very supportive of female customers and employees, from the ground floor up. During your time there, what changes and advances have you seen, and what do you attribute that to?

KP: When I started, the industry was very male dominated. In all the positions I have had––from a salesperson, to category manager, to director––I was the first female in Merchandising. Now, I see more and more women joining the industry every year. Guitar Center has worked hard to change the ratio of female/male customers and employees, and it seems to be increasing.

WiMN: What advice do you have for young women looking to break into our industry?

KP: The biggest advice I can give is to be assertive and tenacious; don’t be afraid and seize every opportunity. Learn who you are and don’t let fear of failure talk you out of taking risks, branching out, and putting your best face forward.

During my time as an assistant category manager, a head accessories buying position opened. I spoke to my boss and told him I was very interested. He was reluctant because I was only in the assistant buyer seat for a year. Instead of accepting that answer and waiting, I asked him what I had to do to prove myself, and he told me to write up a business plan for the department, so I did. He was very impressed with my plan, and I got the job.

Remember, you are your own business card. Tap into the confidence you were born with so that you can stand toe-to-toe with anybody and be successful.

WiMN: Any new events or promotions coming up at Guitar Center that our readers may be interested in?

KP: Guitar Center recently launched a free mobile app for musicians that makes it easy to shop, browse used and new gear, read reviews, build wish lists and more. It’s available now on the iOS App Store and Android Google Play, with all the unique features musicians need to help find their sound.

Additionally, Guitar Center’s Sixth Annual Singer-Songwriter competition Grand Finals will take place on March 24, at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. After nearly 10,000 submissions from across the country, the top five undiscovered songwriters will compete at the Grand Finale event. GRAMMY® Award-winning producer RedOne (Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Usher) will choose the winner. If you can’t make it to The Troubadour, go to Guitar Center’s Facebook page to watch the event broadcast live.