Shoppers Guide to Buying Musical Instruments 1

Posted: November 19, 2011 in Piano

Shopping for an expensive musical instrument can be a very difficult and intimidating process.  Pricing and product offerings differ from town to town, and it is all too convenient to rely on the buying preferences of your friends as you select an instrument.  In this series of blog articles I am going to share some tips on how to get an incredible deal on an expensive musical instrument.  Before we talk about how to select the best product, let’s create a plan about where we can shop.

When you limit your geography, you limit your possibilities.

The World is a Big Place

How far would you travel to shop for a piano? Most people shop in their local market area.  Is that the best option? Ten years ago I was the guest of Juan Orozco, luthier and owner of Aranjuez Strings. I visited his manufacturing facility in Puerto Rico. At that time, Aranjuez strings were sold to distributors in 72 countries. Orders were received by fax and fulfilled as you might expect. What you might not expect to learn is that Aranjuez Strings were not distributed in the United States. (They are available now, but are very hard to find.)  Here is your first lesson: the world is bigger than just the United States.

Know Your Market

You aren’t going to find the same products in Ardmore, Oklahoma that you will find in Houston, Texas.  What you may not have considered is that you will not find the same products in Houston that you will find in New York or Los Angeles.

Within the U.S. the #1 market for pianos is the Los Angeles area. New York is probably #2.  When national sales quotas are created, sales forecasts in each state are computed based on the buying power index of each state.  Stronger markets tend to have more product width, more buyers and more competition among retailers.  It might not be necessary to travel outside your market area, but it is important to keep the option open.

Be Prepared to Travel

Many years ago a man approached me with the idea of buying a piano.  At that time, i was a rep for a prestigious piano line. There was no dealer in his town and none in the state where he lived.  The company CEO referred the customer to me so he could buy a piano direct from the distributor. I challenged the customer to accept a few things about shopping that he may not have considered.  I explained that the best products are not found in every town, and if it is cost effective to travel to a different market, it is in his interest to do so.

Let me use Steinway as an example. Let us say that Steinway built an incredible Model B piano that was for some unknown reason was a much better piano than usual. Maybe it was voiced differently, or for some other reason the stars aligned for a brief moment and this particular piano turned out to be something of a marvel.

Now let us suppose that a Steinway dealer somewhere in Kansas orders a Model B for their floor stock. Among the several available at the Steinway facility, ready to be shipped, what chance remains that the super incredible Model B gets shipped to Kansas?

We can’t know. We can assume  it is generally true that the best products will receive a different consideration as to where they are to sold, but we cannot know if Steinway hoards its better pianos for its more prized retailers.  That is a possible outcome, but not one we can confirm as true or false.  Steinway would want everyone to think that their products were of similar and consistent quality.  Let’s ask the question a different way:  Do you think the best Steinway’s available are in New York, or Billings, Montana?

Most consumers will shop for a piano in their own town. But if you could save thousands of dollars by shopping in another market, would it not be worth $300 in airfare to visit that city? Sure it would! And since Los Angeles and New York are the largest markets, offering the largest selection of products, would it not make sense to fly there and shop?

Be Prepared to Act
One manufacturer of a very fine, but widely unknown line of pianos, was in such earnest to secure a dealer in a major metropolitan area, that he shipped the piano to a dealer with no requirement other than to try to sell it for a few months. The piano retailed for $54,000, making the dealer cost $26,000. Time passed and the piano was not sold. The distributor contacted the dealer and arranged to have the piano picked up and shipped to yet another dealer in another market area. Knowing that the piano was going to be shipped out of the market area soon, and since the dealer had no money whatsoever invested in the piano, he was willing to sell the piano for $28,000. He makes $2,000 in that situation. Stranger things have happened. The trick is knowing where those pianos are, and when are they going to be shipped.

Years ago, a small university sought to buy a new concert grand. They had narrowed their choice to several brands, and each distributor had shipped a piano to their market area for their inspection. One manufacturer, the one that got the sale, did something entirely different. They flew the entire music selection committee to Europe so they could tour the plant and see their piano as it was being produced. The retail price was $265,000 (dealer cost was $130,000), but since there was no dealer involved in the sale, the manufacturer had a lot of room in the price — enough to fly the customer to the plant — in EUROPE! It costs $1,100 to fly to Frankfurt, Germany round trip.   If you could save $1,100.01 from buying direct from a manufacturer there, it would be worth the expense of the ticket.  If you could save thousands of dollars, you would be less than brilliant not to consider that option in your shopping strategy.

You may think you are just a small fish in a small pond, but keep in mind that you are not a fish, and there is no pond. You can shop anywhere you want. When you limit your geography, you limit your possibilities.

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