On July 1, 1949, Ken Stanton Sr. founded Ken Stanton Music, which has become one of the largest independent music retailers in the Atlanta metro area.
Ken Stanton Music originally opened in a 10-foot by 20-foot space at the back of a drug store on the Square.
In 2007, Ken Stanton Sr. died at the age of 95, but his son, Kenny Stanton Jr., had already taken over running the business in 1992.
The younger Stanton, now 55, started working in the music store when he was 11 years old, cleaning out the horns and eventually making his way onto the sales floor at $6 per hour.
He remains the head of Ken Stanton Music as president of the company, but his son, Kenny Stanton III, 26, who goes by Zach, is the operating manager of the main Marietta store.
Zach Stanton started with the company at 14 years old working in the warehouse during summers and on winter breaks.
More of a sports guy, Zach Stanton played baseball for Georgia Southwestern State University and two years in a semi-pro league.
Although Zach Stanton does not “claim” to play an instrument, his father is a “big time drummer” and trombone player.
“He has two, three drum sets in the basement. He would shake the house,” Zach Stanton said about his father’s passion for music.
As for Ken Stanton Sr., he was amazed at the evolution of musical instruments, which today includes computer technology and software to translate vibrations into music, Zach Stanton said about his grandfather.
“He was in awe of how the music business had changed from just a person with an instrument,” Zach Stanton said.
The director of a county-wide band
At the time Ken Stanton Sr. started the company, he was a band director who provided instruments and instructions for one dollar per school student in the county, essentially starting a band program.
All the Cobb School Board had to do was agree to hire instructors that would eventually replace the businessman as full-time music directors.
A picture in the current Marietta store shows Ken Stanton Sr. in front of a store at 777 Roswell St. in 1969. The image shows employees standing around large station wagons with the Ken Stanton Music logo that serviced the six schools at the time.
Now, Ken Stanton Music has five dedicated “road staff” people who assist Cobb’s band programs, delivering supplies and picking up instruments for repairs.
Inside the Marietta store are seven full-time and two part-time technicians who make repairs by pounding out the dents and cleaning the pipes of instruments placed in the school system.
Once those instruments are tuned, there are almost 100 independent teachers in 57 lesson studios providing more than 1,000 classes each week by Ken Stanton Music.
A sign in the Marietta store states, “Get a free lesson” with a purchase of an instrument valued at more than $99.99.
Customer care creates customer loyalty
Despite competition from national-chain, big-box music stores, Ken Stanton Music offers a personal touch that is hard to match, employees say. It is also able to negotiate prices.
“This hometown music store keeps open and running,” said General Manager Scott Cameron, who has been with Ken Stanton Music since 2003, with 41 years in the music retail business.
Even on weekdays, Ken Stanton Music’s main superstore has a constant sales staff of 10 employees on the floor with distinct specialties. The company employs 72 workers, 46 in the Marietta superstore.
“This is all I have ever done since I was 19,” Cameron said. “I’ve seen the music business go from the Stone Age to the Space Age.”
This passion and enthusiasm is common among the Ken Stanton Music employees, some whom have worked for the company for 30 years or more.
Cameron said the sales staff, each with their own niche of expertise, does not work on commission, so the focus is on assessing the real needs of customers.
“They are not paid by how much they sell, they are paid by doing the customer the right thing,” Cameron said. “We want folks that like people and want to serve people.”
Salesmen are also musicians
One dedicated salesman is Billy Darling, 53, who has played guitar since age 15 when he joined the first of 10 bands he has performed with over the years.
“I love playing in front of people and entertaining people,” Darling said.
For the past three years, Darling has been the lead guitarist for a band called No Sweat.
“We are probably one of the most active bands in Atlanta,” he said.
It took dedication to make a lifelong passion also his profession, Darling said.
Becoming a good musician takes a lot of time, he said, which is not something today’s youth is exposed to much, given the instant satisfaction of their electronic gadgets.
But, Darling is encouraged when he sees aspiring young guitarists coming into Ken Stanton Music wanting to learn to play 1970s and 1980s rock music.
New locations increase sounds waves
In 2002, Ken Stanton Music built a state-of-the-art 17,500-square-foot superstore off North Cobb Parkway, at the North 41 Shopping Center next to the antique mall, across from The Big Chicken.
The superstore has more than 7,000 square feet of retail space, 15 lesson studios, corporate offices and a warehouse that supports all of the Ken Stanton Music stores.
There are five locations total, with other retail stores in west Cobb off Dallas Highway, in Alpharetta, Woodstock and Stone Mountain.
John Bond, a store manager with Ken Stanton Music since 1990, was with the company at the previous location.
“We needed the space,” Bond said.
Although Bond said he was not nervous about the family-owned business being successful in a larger venue, he was surprised by the sales of accessories doubling as customers were better able to access displays in the spacious store.
Inside the superstore location, Cameron points to a back section filled with reflected light coming off the silver and gold horns of saxophones and trumpets.
“That is what got us all started,” Cameron said.
Under the direction of Kenny Stanton Jr., the company expanded beyond selling new and used school band and orchestra instruments to stocking electronic keyboards, recording equipment, lights, soundboards, mixers and recording devices.
Now, the walls are lined with guitars of electric blue, white, black, bright red, lime green and plum purple. A separate room is set up like a humidor so the solid wood acoustic guitars will not shrink and split.
There are also displays mimicking palm trees with ukuleles hanging down, near more instruments like banjos and mandolins.
Across the expansive space from the guitars are platforms with drums sitting above a floor display of small electronic kits with small black pads and amplifiers.
On Friday, Ken Stanton Music started a Music Madness Sale, a blowout event celebrating the 65th anniversary that will last through the end of the month.