And Mark Augustin, owner of Mark's Guitar Exchange at 3233 Midway Drive since 1985, has no shortage of “playthings.”
In fact, there are 400 guitars hanging from the music store's rafters. That's not counting his stock.
“We're the largest independent guitar store in the county,” said Augustin. “We're the last man standing. The last ones left.”
Augustin, quite literally, has grown up in the Loma Portal neighborhood of Point Loma. Where his shop is located now was a guitar store back in the '60s. It was also a pizza place before he took it over.
Who is Augustin's competition? “Big boxes,” he answered, but added, “No one can compete with us.
“Why? Because of our service, our prices, and our selection,” he said.
An old school guy, Augustin prides himself on continuing to do all the little things that have always made small-businesses successful.
Noting “every guitar is different, the weight of the wood, the grain, how straight is the neck, the way the neck is cut,” Augustin noted the real key to business success is taking care of the customer right and catering to their specific needs.
“What we do is look at every price point, and find the best value for every customer,” he said. “I tell people, 'You want to support Main Street – not Wall Street.' ”
Augustin added his merchandise is all-American.
“All my straps are American made. All of our cables are American made. I try to go back in time with service (delivery),” he said. “We're not self-serve here. We're full-serve.”
The guitar shop's marketing consultant, Jeff Lazarini, explained why Mark's is one of a kind.
“This store is unique because we treat people with kindness and patience,” he said, adding that rule applies regardless of age or musical style.
“You come in here, I don't care if you're 7 years old, or what genre you play, we're going to treat you as an individual,” Lazarini said. “We're not going to say, ‘You play bluegrass, or you play metal, we don't like you, go to a music store.””
Citing just one example, a 7-year-old girl named Abbey came in recently with her mom to buy a guitar.
Later, Lazarini said, another 7-year-old girl came in with her mother and asked, “Are you Abbey's friend.”
When the answer was yes, the girl said, “That's why we're here.”
Augustin said Mark's carries all three major guitar brands – Fender, Gibson and Martin. The store also has professional techs who handle guitar repairs.
“We are the only Fender premium showcase dealer in the county,” he said. “We have more selections than the big stores. We're also the service center for everything that we sell. If they bought it online, they bring it here and we fix it.”
A musician himself with albums out who performs at local jazz and blues clubs, Augustin said he's a nerd who likes fixing things.
“I learned how to repair guitars in the mid-'70s,” he said. “I would buy them from print want ads, then fix them up and resell them. That's how I started, buying and selling, and it just grew.”
Mark's carries everything imaginable for guitars from strings, to pics, to amplifiers, to pedals to all the spare parts anyone would ever need.
Guitars in Mark's range from $70 to $30,000.
You can also learn how to play guitar at Mark's, as local musicians like Charles Burton of the CB3 Blues Band, teaches at the shop.
“That's the neat thing about it, I have my roots here,” Augustin concluded.
“This is not some big corporation that has stores everywhere. My passion for San Diego and the area … I'm a homegrown guy. This is my 'hood. I love being here, love this location, love the people. We love what we do.”
Mark’s Guitar Exchange
Where: 3233 Midway Drive.
Hours: Mondays to Fridays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.;
and Sundays noon to 5 p.m.; 30-min. lesson time slots: Mondays to Fridays 2 to 8 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Info: www.marksguitarexchange.com, 619-221-9011.