Shop Spotlight: Inside Ottawa's Only Drum-Only Shop

Opened in 2007 in Canada’s capital city, Dave’s Drum Shop proudly reigns as Ottawa’s lone drum-only shop. Run by Dave Dudley, a touring and recording drummer turned shop owner with a passion for repairing and restoring vintage sets, Dave caters to all rhythm-makers, from curious beginners to seasoned pros and beyond. We caught up with Dave to find out what it takes to run a niche shop in Canada’s capital.

Ottawa’s only drum-only shop is a pretty bold claim—are you truly the only one in the area?

In Canada, it is very rare to see a specialized drum shop. We have a number in the large Toronto Metropolitan area and one in Vancouver, but for some reason it has never been a thing. We do have some chain stores in town that are full line, one with a healthy drum department, but I am the only completely independent specialty shop.

What are some of your favorite Canadian brands and what sets them apart from the rest of the world?

Obviously, we have Sabian cymbals. They probably don’t need any introduction, though it’s possible some drummers may not realize they're a Canadian company.

Ronn Dunnett’s line of snares and his company George Way Drums are great vintage tribute drums that have become very popular with drummers. George Way was a legendary American drum inventor who was the father of Camco drums and an inventor of many drum features we take for granted today. Ronn purchased the rights to the name a few years ago. There is a little known fact that George Way lived in Edmonton, Alberta for a short period and actually built drums under the "Advance Drum Company" banner. Very rare drums, I sold the only one I have ever seen to Ronn Dunnett about 4 years ago.

Another great line from Ontario is Headhunters Drum Sticks. Headhunters sticks are very popular up here, but never had a huge impact outside of Canada. They have a unique line of lettered, maple sticks that feature grooved handles shaped similar to a pipe drum stick—great feeling sticks that many people grew up with. The owner Dave Rundle is the epitome of the mad professor with an amazing line of brush FX sticks.

Dunnett and Headhunters are perfect examples of companies that are independent shop friendly, as they allow us to offer products that will not be found in larger retailers.

How do you run a niche music business in a country that’s so vast and spread out?

I tend to do a little bit of everything, and remain as consistent as possible. I have a very local focus and really try to put my brick-and-mortar walk-in traffic first. The key is to listen to your customers. As I get older, there are new trends or gear that the up-and-coming drummers have knowledge about, and I learn from them.

Reverb sales are growing for me, too. I find that the community there is as great as my local community. It has a very different vibe compared to other online auction and classified sites. It’s certainly helping me achieve my financial goals, and it’s a great place to go for a pricing reality check.

Reverb sales are growing for me, too. I find that the community there is as great as my local community."

This past January, I completely rebuilt my website using the popular Ottawa-based platform Shopify. This is enabling me to keep stock between the shop and website synced, allowing a better customer experience online and not disappointing people with “Sorry, that's no longer available.”

My website is a portal to my store, and as I update almost daily, the first thing you see is “What’s New,” so you can get a feeling of what is going on at the shop. Many customers come in when they see a new item listed to try it out.

My online sales tend to be more used, vintage or unique items, and I sell worldwide weekly, so it certainly has an impact on my business. I am not interested in selling a Pearl Export mail order to somebody on the other side of the country. I’ll often suggest a local dealer in their area if I have the chance. To me, we still need to build that community of brick-and-mortar, and I encourage customers to shop locally as much as possible.

There are a lot of parts to a drum set. What should you keep in mind when selecting cymbals? A snare? A kick?

A drum set is a very complex instrument, but times have changed drastically and customers are very well-educated now. I’m often helping people find what they have already decided on, as opposed to telling them everything they need to know. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of being a specialty store.

I really emphasize “quality first” for even the youngest drummers. I decided over the past few years that selling the cheapest things I can find to satisfy a price point fills my store with junk for the most part, and that is not what I’m interested in.

Generally, when making your selection, it’s good to know how you play, who you play with, and where you play. In Ottawa, for instance, there are very few large venues for the average band, many shows taking place in basements. If you are buying gear that your favorite drummer uses, you need to be aware that these drummers play stadiums and their choices are geared towards this. Not that the same gear won’t work for you, but you need to consider it. This is where the conversation starts.

As much as I enjoy selling someone their dream set, most drummers only have so much to spend on their kits—I try to help them spend it wisely."

Tuning is very important with drums. Many times, people will think they need a new snare or whatever, but then they describe their issue and I can usually tell if it’s a tuning problem or something else. I am constantly reminded of how expensive this drumming thing can be, so I’m happy to help people save money. As much as I enjoy selling someone their dream set, most drummers only have so much to spend on their kits—I try to help them spend it wisely.

Other than that, it’s a lot of trial and error. I allow people to bring stuff back if it doesn’t work, and we try again with something else.

Guitarists get all the credit, but drums really hold everything together. Who’s the drummer you most admire and why?

That’s a tough question, as it changes every day! My musical tastes are varied, but I think a drummer that most people should know about is Tony Allen. Originally of Fela Kuti’s band, Allen made a huge impact internationally as a solo artist and collaborator. He is completely unique, strives to be the best and has grown out of some very difficult circumstances. His discography is still growing, and it’s already mind-boggling.

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