Confrontatonal email from violin dealer/repair sho


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Good morning:

I received the following email, after contacting a local violin repair shop (in another state), regarding having him rehair some old bows I have around here.

I responded by saying that I was absolutely not any competition to him: I ship my instruments and cases to Asia (Japan mostly), Australia, Canada, and never yet within the three state area where I live.

I also took issue with his insinuation that I wasn't "legitimate." I understand his position, but what he doesn't realize is that I ship these products (the cases are always perfect, or they go back), the instruments and bows, so people can get them, and then, when necessary, they take them to local shops. The local shops (like him) *benefit* from what I'm doing. It's not a detriment, and it's not competition. Core won't sell direct; somebody has to get them out there. I'm not Satan's daughter, despite what this fellow thinks. Drop shipping is a perfectly legitimate and ubiquitous way of doing business. Here's the note (minus the man's signature, of course):

Dear Ms. Sunday,

Having visited your web site I find that you have chosen to place yourself in direct competition, not only with us, but also with every other legitimate full-service violin shop that is a Howard Core dealer.

It is our firm policy not to do repair work or perform any other service for a competitor. Therefore, you should not send your bows to us for rehairing.

If you are going to sell instruments, bows, etc., you need to find a way to service them yourself.

We shall also be removing your name from our teacher list and shall also remove the Violin Web Ring link from our web site.

Respectfully,

xxxxhis name

xxxtheir business

.....Your thoughts?

Thanks,

Connie Sunday

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While you may not like it, I don't see any problem per se with that letter.

The word "legitimate" also came in the context of "legitimate full-service violin shop", which you apparently are not, so even that word isn't really misused.

I'm not in the violin business so I'm just guessing, but I'd like to conjecture that there are more profitable things full-service shops do, and there are less profitable things, and that the less profitable things they do they do so that they will have the draw of "full service" to keep customers coming in for their more profitable things.

What he most likely believes is that you are attempting to do the more profitable things and shirk off the less profitable things to others to do. And he doesn't want to do it. You can't really blame him as a business decision. He's in business to build his business and help his customers, not to help you build your business.

If you take all the profitable work and leave his local customers coming in to him only for the less profitable work, where's his business going to go?

Anyhow that's my take on his letter. I don't know you or condemn you or anything else, you just asked an opinion on the letter and that's my opinion.

That bit about "If you are going to sell instruments, bows, etc., you need to find a way to service them yourself." comes up in all sorts of contexts when you deal with mail order products. The full service camera shops would say the same things. The full service hobby shops would say the same thing. Basically the fully service anything shops would say the same thing to the drop-ship or mail order anything shops.

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Connie:

This person sounds like sour grapes to me. Maybe you have a better business plan than he does and he knows it. Maybe he can't compete against you at the level of profit he wants. Either way you are the winner. By not doing business with you he only hurts himself becuase you will find somebody to do the repair work you need.

It sounds to me like you are searching for a way to service your bows and instruments and contacted this business person to hire him to perform these services.

I can undestand why this person would not want to sell to a competitor. Were I in his shoes (and I have been before, but not selling instruments) I would sell to any competitor. Business is business. Period.

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But would you sell to your competitors only the low-margin business? If so your own business would slowly sink.

How long does it take Connie to "drop ship" a case? About 5 minutes? For heaven's sake with proper software you could take online orders and have practically no human time spent at all, worst case is you talk to someone on the phone, enter their info into a computer to send it on to the manufacturer, and then you're more or less done. What is the profit in that? $10? $20? $30? I don't know, you'll have to ask Connie. Now how long does the full service dealer spend doing a rehair to make the same $10 profit? I'm going to bet it's a *lot* longer in terms of time spent, not to mention having to maintain a workshop, tools, etc.

The guy feels Connie is cherry-picking the easy work and trying to get him to do the harder, higher skilled, higher overhead, and lower profit work. I don't think he's sour grapes at all.

And as to having a "better business model", what's going to happen to all the customers when all the full service shops go out of business and people are only doing business online with drop-shippers and mail order? Who's going to do the rehairing? The repairing? The adjusting and set up?

I'm not condemning Connie at all by the way, I'm merely pointing out what I believe is this other businessperson's point of view, and showing that it probably has some merit.

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Thank you both for your thoughtful (and quick) replies. I understand that this is controversial - that's why I posted it, to get to the truth(s).

But my contention here is that, rather than competing with him (remember, I'm not selling instruments anywhere near him, via three states and more), I'm selling to people who might not buy an instrument, who just see the page and think about it, and buy from me. I don't mark up those instruments very much (not anywhere near so-called "List" price) and, okay, I make $100 or $200. But what happens after that, long term, with these good instruments? Answer IS: they go to the local shops, and you guys get the benefit of long term business with these people - people whom you might not have had otherwise. Long term, the shops are the winners. When upkeep time comes, and better bows, they'll come in, and you benefit, not me...

Connie

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I think it's a bit naive for you to think that taking the cream of the initial sale in return for throwing the local guys an occasional $20 seam-gluing is doing them a favor.

Many shops have only enough staff to use repairs (which on student instruments aren't particularly high-profit) as support for their original sales, and are forced to turn outside repairs away. You're giving them something they don't want in return for going after the easy and higher-profit part of what they do.

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Many years ago, I taught a child whose dad was in the import business. He filled me in on how manufacturers in China were selling things at way below cost, just to establish themselves in the newly-reopened trade channels with the USA. At that time, you could get Chinese violin outfits shipped direct for about $36 apiece.

This enterprising fellow wanted me to attach my "good name" to his dealership. I smiled with my teeth firmly clenched, and declined as graciously as I knew how. That was long before the internet.

In recent years, people have been bringing me students from distances of up to sixty miles. Some of these kids have shown up at their first lesson with a $60 internet special. A fine local repairman has adjusted a few of these instruments, and I feel that he shows exceptional largesse. The stars in his crown are already twinkling, but I know how long this was in coming. If other dealers feel they don't have time for living so near the edge of weirdness, they're probably right, and I find no fault with them.

P.S: Yes, Connie, I do believe that the edge of weirdness is a frontier.

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Seth and Michael,

I agree with your reading of this letter/situation.

Drop shipping/internet marketting may be ubiquitous. That doesn't mean it's a good thing for the health of any of the businesses in which it is growing/thriving.

It may be good for individual consumers (for the lower price per item), but it certainly is cutting into the businesses that are land based (or is it reality based? ) that have leases and furniture and inventory and staff.

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Hi Connie,

This is interesting. We're in a similar position to you except that we don't drop-ship, we get everything here first and check everything before sending.

We do have a local repairer who is not attached to a violin shop, and sometimes we use him (mainly for special order items that have arrived with problems), but far more often we simply write the faulty item off, the customer never evem sees it, it just gets put on ebay as "suit repairer" and it goes, only rarely do we make a loss on it.

Drop shipping seems to be a US phenomenon. It has serious problems: for example, if some supplier who uses dropshipping is waiting 7 weeks for stock to arrive (as has happened), the supplier has absolutely no control over the situation and therefore neither do we. We don't like selling stuff we haven't got in stock, and we don't like buying from suppliers who don't have items in stock, unless we know that supplier to be totally reliable. Your customers, surely, expect their contract to be with you, not at the mercy of a third party unknown to your customer.

In short: if there is any way you can get out of drop shipping I would recommend it! I just can't imagine how we could cope with a drop shipping situation, we are personally responsible for getting the order to the customer.

There was a time when we would arrange, on rare occasions, for Gligas to be shipped from Romania direct to a customer in the US. This saved a lot of money both on shipping and (at that stage) on VAT (UK sales tax) as we were not at that stage registered for VAT and could not reclaim it once we had paid it. After a couple of problems with gligas arriving with us with problems (rare, and trivial, but still ones that would have required us to take the violin back and refund everything including all shipping and customs charges) we decided the risk was too great.

The man was rude to you, no question about that! I have come close to being on the receiving end of such myself. At the end of the day surely those who call themselves "legitmate violin retailers"

can take comfort from the fact that the huge majority of teachers are going to warn their pupils away from the likes of us and therefore we are going to be selling a very large proportion of our instruments to adult beginners or to parents of pupils who have not yet commenced lessons. Most of these people are never going to pay specialist violin shop prices because they have no idea that violins can arrive in any condition other than immediately playable.

in our case we are now seeing teachers sending pupils in our direction which is great, but it has taken months to reach that stage.

Liz

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I too must side with the local repair shop on this one. Rehairing a bow (possibly the very worst job in a violin shop) for a client who purchased from a discount/no service dealer is really rubbing salt into the wound.

"....and never yet within the three state area where I live"

Are we to be lead to believe that if a client from your area wished to purchase a $2000 outfit from you that you would turn him down out of respect for the local repair shop? I'd venture to say no.

Learn to service what you sell, or not. It's your call. As a consumer I would be reluctant to purchase anything from any dealer/retailer that they were not capable of servicing themselves.

Barry

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I really appreciate everyone's response to this question, and especially being forthright about it. I think I am leaving out an important element in my argument, however, that is that sociologists, business experts and government entities predict shopping online will become more and more viable in response to social conditions in the future. There is the notion of "cacooning," which means staying home more. Shopping online also saves on gas and cuts down on traffic, and I beleive is encouraged by governmental entities.

My business is one which requires a great deal of creativity and imagination; we're moving into a different kind of culture - actually it's right on top of us at the moment - and the online shopping is only one aspect.

People resist change. That's natural. But lots of people are far away from shops, and will not come in, due to the distance, physical inability, or other reasons.

Connie

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Quote:

Rehairing a bow (possibly the very worst job in a violin shop) ...


I understand this & realize that this is also one of the least profitable shop enterprises, especially in a high-end, high-skills shop. So, I would like to learn to rehair my own bows.

A not-so-hypothetical question: If I were to ask you (that is, anyone of you who finds this task unprofitable or onerous) to teach me how to do rehairs, what would you reply? I would, of course, willingly pay you for the instruction. What would you charge?

(With five string players in our family, this would be a valuable skill for anyone of us to acquire, & we do have the tools/material. My husband has tried to follow Wake's instructions, but the result has NEVER been satisfactory. I'd actually like to have my kids learn to do their own rehairs....Michael Vann started on his path to award-winning bow-making by deciding that he should do rehairs for his wife, Dolores.)

Hmmm?

J.

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I am not sure what prompted them to check your website, but I think they are just being defensive not offensive. We all live on one planet. People in the same industry always compete with each other. In the pharmaceutical industry, we (i work for a brand name health care company) compete with generic makers who spend very little on developing a drug. Where the brand name makers take 10-15 yrs and millions of dollars in providing a better drug. Not only that, we also have to fight the counterfeit knock-offs in the US and other countries. I can certainly understand why competitions are not welcome.

If you visit various shops other than the tradition violin shops, such as bluegress shops, you maybe able to find people who do a half decent job on jobs such as rehair. It may not be the best quality but why pay $50 on a rehair if it only cost you $35 to buy that bow, right?! Also, look up or visit the bow/violin making schools. Maybe you can find students or recent graduates who can perform the tasks for you.

Don't get offended Connie, Darwin said it best... "survial the fittest".

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"I think I am leaving out an important element in my argument, however, that is that sociologists, business experts and government entities predict"

They can predict whatever they want, and often do, but that doesn't mean that their predictions are correct, or that they apply universally. Personally, I think the day of the one-hour in-shop rehair over the internet, or adjusting your violin over the internet is not a day in the near future. If consumers choose, however, to kill off the shops that do this, by their shopping methods, they WILL pay for it, one way or another, you can be sure.

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Hi Connie,

I found this thread very interesting. I have been operating an eBay violin business for about a year now. I have bought and sold about 90 violins through eBay. Fortunately, I connected at the start with a local luthier who does violin repairs as a sideline out of his home. He has a pretty good following of players who send him violins to repair and bows to rehair. He works primarily on inexpensive instruments and does the work at a very reasonable price. I visit him once a week to bring him recent arrivals and pick up repaired violins and bows. He is a somewhat of a loner and is pleased to have a regular visitor. He does not have much of a sales business himself so I market some of his stuff on eBay for him. I also advertise his luthier services on eBay from time to time and now have a number of eBay dealers regularly sending him work. He has been kind enough to take me under his wing and teaches me a little about violin repair. Every time he is working on a violin he says,"I just wish I could do this all day long." He really loves his work. He doesn't charge me for the adjustments and minor repairs he does and we partner on the bigger projects. I buy him supplies and a gift now and then(like an antique violin in the white I found and some great antique fittings). He seems to enjoy the business we do together. Being from NH, he has attended the courses at UNH each summer and raves about them.

Maybe you can find a similar situation where you are. Otherwise, if you would like, I will be glad to put you in touch with him. He would be delighted to do your work, I am sure.

Jesse

PS I certainly understand why a full service dealer would hesitate to provide low profit services for a competitor. In my commercial printing business, I am always being beaten on price by mail order gang printers. When a custom job, or difficult turnaround, which is not available through mail order, comes around, those same customers who smuggly boast of the great pricing they can get elsewhere come to my shop for full service. It would be nice to get some of the cherry work along with the specialty tough stuff. I cannot imagine though, sending those customers(who are often resellers themselves)away to buy elsewhere. Then again, there are commercial printers on every corner-not luthiers.

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I've often wondered what people who sell via internet/ebay/dropshipping think they are getting paid for? Personally I've always thought that the businesses that bought inventory, had a shop, and could properly serviced their sales were the ones that earned the right to buy products wholesale and hence receive a profit.

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If you sell cars, used and new , you better have a shop to fix them. If not, be prepared for some pissed off people hanging around, making your life as unpleasent as they can when they breakdown. I will try to fix anything, but if it did not come from my shop, I charge a flat rate that is comparible to that of an auto shop, and work in the same manner as a auto shop. I will give an estimate, and call the customer with the cost of repair after I look it over. If they feel that they can get it done elseware, for a better price, so be it. If it came from my shop, I try to complete any repair at the lowest cost that I can, unless the instrament was abused, than the flat rate is again used. I was once an auto mechanic, and beleave me; string instraments are harder to fix, and get running right than autos.

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Quote:

sociologists, business experts and government entities predict shopping online will become more and more viable in response to social conditions in the future. There is the notion of "cacooning," which means staying home more. Shopping online also saves on gas and cuts down on traffic, and I beleive is encouraged by governmental entities.


Sounds like the first paragraph in an internet marketting seminar.

No matter how convenient online shopping, no matter the price breaks possible when you don't have to worry about staff or inventory or a store or even knowing how the stuff you sell works -- online shopping will not replace the local luthier.

I doubt you are selling only to people who are remote from violin shops, or disabled.

I don't see how you can expect a local shop to help you promote an online virtual business. Why should he help you to *seem* a full service violin shop when you are not?

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The comparison between violin dealing and car dealing is an interesting one. Maybe because a defective automobile can kill you, the car business is regulated to a certain extent. Used cars, like commercial fiddles from overseas, can be had for shockingly low prices.

How many people are aware that those friendly folks who ran that ad in the paper might easily be "curbstone dealers" who just pretend they've owned that pretty little old car all its life? If they've been dealing for long, you can bet they've got guns and Krugerrands stuffed up between the joists in their cute little basement. Enjoy the lemonade.

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As a postscript:

I presented this query to a dozen listservs, this forum, and two others, and got lots of responses. Some people really do not understand what the issues are, and so it makes it difficult to evaluate their input. I spoke to a local luthier in this area today, who knows the man who wrote me, who is a single owner of the little shop, and my friend here told me that the other fellow is just "like that" and has always been like that, and gave me examples of his past behavior going back many decades. Both gentlemen are in their '80's.

I'm fine with it, and I really learned a lot today. I'm not mad at anybody. I think the vision of my business is right on target, and the numbers certainly support that.

Thanks again,

Connie

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Seth Leigh--

You raise good points and I believe all of your comments have merit. Would I sell my competitor only low margin business--No. I would make my profit selling to a competitor. If this guy can't make his needed margin on his repair work, then a wise business decision would be to to exit the repair market or change pricing strategy. My bet though, is that this full service shop generates more gross prrofit on his instruments than Connie which will be an offset against his low margin repair business.

As for your time comparision of labor/revenue I would contend that a free market rewards productivity and performance, not time spent. Again, as this specific case is presented, I believe Connie has a superior business model. The short fall in her model that she is trying to address is that she needs to provide addtional services. I bet Connie has a superior return on assets--less assets generationg more revenue.

This repair person could do Connie's work and charge her more for it--if the market will bear his higher price. Connie may be in the position that would allow her to pay a premium for his service. He doesn't know becuase he ended the dialogue. If I were him, I would have attempted to negociate something rather then send a customer away.

Speaking theoretically, maybe there are too many repair shops in the market place. If there were less, the repair persons skill would be more scarce and he could charge more for services rendered. So yes, maybe the free market will dictate that there are fewer full service type shops. This would be great for the full service guys that survive the downsizing. They would have less competition, higher demand and could charge higher prices for services.

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"This would be great for the full service guys that survive"

Yes, those big shops in major population centres would, eventually (there would be a delay of years), profit as the market "rationalises".

However, a ratianalised market invariably means less choice for the consumer. So the result in this case would be that the consumer (i.e. musicians) away from the population centres would have a much reduced choice of where to get repairs done. The choice will be either a long journey plus higher unit cost, or not getting the job done.

And are those who can't (won't) leave their house now to visit and buy from a local luthier going to travel much further to get their repairs done?

Rob

Regards

Rob

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