Can you tell me a little about the business and what you offer?
“We are a full-line music retailer. We sell everything… band instruments, brass and woodwind, but guitars are kind of my focus.”
How much of your sales do guitars account for?
“About 80 percent is guitar oriented, from strings to guitar repairs.”
How long has the business been here?
“The Thiel family opened in this location in 1974. I bought it in 2000.”
How did you first get involved?
“I’ve worked for the Thiel family for quite a long time. I went to work for the company in 1993. In 1996, I opened the Longview location [for them] and managed it. I was running the locations [for them] in the 90s. When they decided to get out they came to me, and it worked out well for the both of us.”
Since you took ownership, how has the business evolved?
“We definitely have gotten more focused on the strings — guitars are my instrument. I don’t want to be selling something I don’t know a lot about.”
What instrument[s] do you play?
“Guitar is my main instrument. I play strings and frets, a little bit of mandolin and ukulele.”
What’s the easiest instrument to learn?
“The instrument that’s going to be the easiest to learn how to play is the instrument that sparks the most interest for you. If you find yourself listening to classical and flute music, you probably should be playing flute. The thing that’s going to make you get better is the want and need to pick up that instrument and play a lot and the more you play the better you’re going to get.”
What advice would you offer to someone learning a new instrument?
“Practice, practice, practice. And when you get discouraged just know that you’re about to figure out something really cool.”
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a business owner?
“I think the best lessons come from my customers, what they’re expecting and needing.”
Are there any products or services you offer that you wish more people were aware?
“We do consignments. There are a lot of people who have higher-dollar and vintage instruments and we’ve been doing a lot of consignment with that. Every time we do a consignment with somebody they are thankful because we make it so easy.”
Have you seen trends come and go in regard to instrument popularity?
“The time of year will dictate what’s selling. Right now acoustic guitars are big because everyone is gearing up to be outside, and not something that they have to necessarily be tied to electric. In the wintertime, electric guitars are more popular. I believe it’s because people are focusing on what they can do right then.”
What influence has the Internet had on your business?
“It’s affected us greatly. Personally I’m not a big computer guy, but in some ways it’s better and in some ways it’s worse. I wish things would go back to the way they used to be in the 60s.”
You survived the recession in 2008-2009. Did it have an impact on your business?
“Oh yeah. We got a lot — a lot — smaller. It’s one of the reasons why we don’t do as much with the brass and woodwind [instruments]. Before the recession, the brass and woodwinds was fairly large with us, but I couldn’t get it to jump the recession very well. A lot of people couldn’t afford to be doing those things for their kids.”
Did the recession generate interest in other instruments?
“Actually more people picked up musical instruments during the recession because [playing an instrument] is something you can do that doesn’t cost money and it’s enjoyable to get a bunch of people together and play. And I think it really promoted guitars because it’s something you can play without a bunch of other instruments.”
Do you have a favorite customer story you care to share?
“I had boy come in about 20 years ago, about age 11. He really wanted a guitar. His parents came in and put the guitar on layaway and he said he was going to start mowing lawns that summer to pay it off. He came in just about every other day and would bring $15 or $20, sometimes it was $5, but he kept doing it until he paid off that guitar. Today he is a worship leader and the guitar is something he uses in his everyday life.”
What part brings you the greatest satisfaction?
“Starting people off [on a music instrument]. Playing a musical instrument has helped me through so many things in my life. It’s one of those things where if you just had the worst day ever you go home and pick the guitar, flute or trumpet and you start playing and it just makes everything a little bit better, that’s what I love to share with people and that’s why I do this.”