The following “History Lesson” is from a handout intended to be presented to piano dealers who were prospects for used pianos. It is written by Wilton H. Syckes and gives an autobiographical summary of his career in the piano industry. You can view Wilton Syckes where he gives an oral history of his career here: http://www.namm.org/library/oral-history/wilton-syckes
I am sad to inform you that Wilton Syckes passed away last Friday. [March 28, 2014]
Some of us old ‘vets’ knew Wilton and he was one of a kind and his only wish that all people, salespeople could have had the opportunity to talk with him.
Wilton once said he thought he may have sold more pianos than any other salesman in his lifetime. As many of you know he was the person who saved and revived the NPTA. I think he was so passionate because he cared about the little guy, out there on the road day in and day out, and that’s how he thought about himself, even though many in the industry looked up to him. Without him we wouldn’t have an association.
Wilton was also a former president of the National Piano Traveler’s Association. The association provided its lifetime achievement award to Wilton in 2000. His love and knowledge of the piano business was remarkable – a fact clear to all those lucky enough to have met him. He began his career with the Winter Piano Company and attended his first NAMM Show in 1950. Wilton didn’t miss a show until his retirement from the NPTA in 2008.
He will be missed.
Keyboard Concepts Store Manager, Agoura Hills
National Piano Traveler’s Association Foundation, CFO
by Wilton Syckes
Once upon a time there was a piano traveler named Syckes. He was a right fair, hard-working salesman working the West Coast of the United States peddling, for the most part, a piano from East Germany called Zimmerman. His good buddy Ward Fulmer, co-owner of Performance Pianos of Houston (importer of the big Z) also brought in a few pre-owned YAMAHA and KAWAI grand pianos from Japan, which Wilt sold out California way. Business was real good with sales in his territory running well over a million dollars, a goodly amount coming from the used pianos.
Then lo and behold, some folks got together and tore down that big wall in Germany, freed the East Germans from Communist control, changing the system of government and the monetary system, which in turn ruined the great deal Syckes was enjoying with the Zimmerman line. With reunification came a total change in pricing of these nifty pianos resulting in an increase somewhere in the neighborhood of 300%. So much for the Syckes gravy train! He was now up that proverbial creek without a paddle!!
Not too long afterward, good friend Fulmer went to that big piano crate in the sky, but before departing he turned over the importation of used Japanese pianos to Wilt. No question about it, this was a turning point for him! The potential was great. Lots of business was out there waiting to be had, but it was, obviously, going to take s0ome strong financial backing.
Wilt turned to Perry and Gary Galati of North American Music and a joint venture was formed that became known as Syckes Piano Imports, Inc. The first twenty-foot container ordered by this new company left Japan bound for Los Angeles on June 14, 1992. It held 11 grand pianos, a mix of both YAMAHA and KAWAI including, believe it or not, a Concert Grand! In November the first uprights began arriving, but in limited quantities. Interestingly the price of a U-3 (Grade A) now is only $95 more than it was then! Being cost conscious, Syckes has always maintained the lowest possible prices.
Since that small, but auspicious beginning, business has been brisk with several thousand pianos having passed through U.S. Customs destined for piano dealers throughout the country. Sales of these pianos have not done an iota of harm to new piano sales; rather they have helped the bottom line of dealers selling them, while offering quality affordable pianos to the buying public. It is a fact, the very existence of many stores is directly related to the sales of used pianos from Syckes Piano Imports, Inc.
Of course, many competitors have appeared on the scene, coming and going with predictable regularity. It is true, the sincerest form of flattery is competition and while most feel their only way to survive is by cutting price, it should come as no surprise that SERVICE is in itself the BEST business practice! No one in this segment of the piano industry pays more attention to customers than Syckes, and the several independent piano travelers who call on and serve many loyal dealers throughout the United States and Canada!
Selection and inspection of all pianos is supervised by Wilton Syckes, a piano industry veteran since 1950. His final pricing is based on the strict grading system he has developed. Should a problem of any kind arise after a piano is shipped, a prompt resolution is executed to the dealers complete and total satisfaction. No other importer in the business cares so much for its customers. With pride we call it
Guaranteed Landed Quality
That’s Our Motto – That’s Our Promise.
Part 6: FAQS about Previously Owned Yamaha and Kawai Pianos, by Wilton Syckes
Part 7: Seasoned for Destination, by Tom Donahue
Part 8: Gray Market Yamaha Pianos – What is the Truth? By Craig Whitaker