The dropship argument


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About six years ago I received a really nasty email from a local luthier [see: Confrontational email from violin dealer/repair shop ] Many on the thread wrote that if someone sells instruments, they should be able to service them, as well.

People frequently say that. And it's okay as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far. And I often wonder if they've thought it through, or even given it any thought at all. They're just thinking about what's available *to them*.

There are millions of people on the planet who are not anywhere near a luthier, or even a shop that sells violins. To acquire an instrument, they would have to get on a bus, or in an old car, or on a camel, or send a servant to a large city, which is often a dangeros trip and certainly expensive, only to get robbed, very possibly, anyway.

My dad, who taught me what I know about business, used to say that the difference between rich people and poor people is that poor people think about what they're doing on Saturday night; rich people think in terms of the next generation. Think globally. Think long term.

I would also add that, in my years of managing this business, it is never the artist luthiers who are putting out these gorgeous contemporary instruments, who complain about my little enterprise. They know that I'm not in competition with them; their work is irreplaceable, and priced beyond my range. It's always the small, local luthier shop that complains.

I wonder if attitudes have changed at all since then?

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MingLoo, I'm not familiar with your business operation, so my response will be based only on what information you've presented.

There are certainly shops which charge a fair price for repair, and make money that way. If a shop chooses to operate a repair shop at a loss, in order to stimulate sales traffic, that's their choice, and also their problem. Such a shop might let you know politely that their business model doesn't allow them to do work for you, but I don't see why they would need to express resentment.

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I don't blame any violin shop for being touchy about this issue. I have a friend who runs a big shop and he is always complaining about people who come in and "browse" to work out what items they want, then they go home and order them on the internet. He's even had them come back and ask him for advice on how to fit/use them, or in one case try to swap the item because they ordered the wrong thing!

It's all about building a relationship with the shop and the people who will serve you, probably for many years to come. At the moment you can buy a violin at ALDI for $100 whereas we sell Enricos (fully set up as good as they can be) for three times that price. The ALDI violin needs hundreds of dollars of work to bring it up to anywhere near that level. We will take our Enricos back as a trade-in when the time comes to move up a size, but we don't want the ALDI violins. Guess which customer we have the most time and concern for... the ALDI buyer, or the Enrico buyer?

My point is that it is preferable for people to use local people that they can trust and who will look after them in the long term, rather than go for a quick deal just because it's cheap. Unfortunately the internet has made the cheap deal very easy to find and access, but it often doesn't end up being the best option in the long run.

One question for you MingLoo - you say you aren't in competition with local businesses but do you actually check that with every order - ie do you look at the address of the buyer and think: "No, there's a violin shop near them so I will refuse the order and tell them to shop there instead".

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If "drop shipping" means the merchant takes an order from a customer, forwards the order to a distributor or manufacturer, and distributor/manufacturer fills order, if "drop shipping" means that the product never passes through the hands of the merchant that the customer is ordering from, then I don't think that is a good business model for violins. It's ok for violin cases, but not violins. Because setup is such an important part of a violin's performance, the merchant should have the responsibility of making sure that the setup is in good shape before a fiddle is shipped. That can't happen unless the fiddle passes through the merchant's hands.

Making sure the setup is ok means having competent repairers on staff, and I'm not sure that merchants doing drop shipping have that kind of staff.

Yes, I do believe that violin merchants, whether internet or brick and mortar based, have a responsibility to service their merchandise after sale. That's another reason to have competent repairers on staff -- something drop shippers may or may not bother with.

I do a lot of buying of all kinds of merchandise on the internet. So, I've nothing against that. But a violin, even a cheap one, is more than just a commodity. It needs periodic attention by a competent repairer, and if the merchant can't provide that, the merchant shouldn't be selling them.

While I don't have anything against internet/long distance shopping, there are some things about violin adjustment that are best done in person, player with instrument in the presence of repairer -- sound post adjustment, neck shape adjustments, string clearance adjustments. So if you're lucky enough to have a competent and honest violin shop close by, it's worth patronizing them, rather than resorting to a long distance buying, even if it means spending more, because the occasion will arise, if you're a serious violinist, when you will want to be face to face with the guy working on your fiddle.

If you, as a player, are not lucky enough to have a competent and honest shop close by, then it would make sense to buy, long distance, from a shop that can offer competent after sales service. At least you know who you can ship your instrument to for repairs and adjustments.

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Except for our very lowest end, SAGA SV-175 (which are pretty nicely setup in Asia), all of our instruments are set up by the distributor, Howard Core:

Our Professional Luthier Set-ups

Can you be sure that the very lowest end fiddles, every last one of them, has a decent setup if you don't see them? If one of your customers does need repairs, where does the customer send the instrument?

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I don't blame any violin shop for being touchy about this issue. I have a friend who runs a big shop and he is always complaining about people who come in and "browse" to work out what items they want, then they go home and order them on the internet. He's even had them come back and ask him for advice on how to fit/use them, or in one case try to swap the item because they ordered the wrong thing!

It's all about building a relationship with the shop and the people who will serve you, probably for many years to come. At the moment you can buy a violin at ALDI for $100 whereas we sell Enricos (fully set up as good as they can be) for three times that price. The ALDI violin needs hundreds of dollars of work to bring it up to anywhere near that level. We will take our Enricos back as a trade-in when the time comes to move up a size, but we don't want the ALDI violins. Guess which customer we have the most time and concern for... the ALDI buyer, or the Enrico buyer?

My point is that it is preferable for people to use local people that they can trust and who will look after them in the long term, rather than go for a quick deal just because it's cheap. Unfortunately the internet has made the cheap deal very easy to find and access, but it often doesn't end up being the best option in the long run.

One question for you MingLoo - you say you aren't in competition with local businesses but do you actually check that with every order - ie do you look at the address of the buyer and think: "No, there's a violin shop near them so I will refuse the order and tell them to shop there instead".

While your ideals are wonderful, they have no grounding in reality. In the capitalistic free market society, everyone can do anything they want. If manufacturers prefer only certain vendors, then they institute territories and limit sales to authorized retailers. Other than this, it is naive beyond description to hint one person is not entitled to conduct business because it interferes with other more established businesses. It is called survival of the fittest. This is just the way it is, for all businesses. They can be touchy all they want, but they have no entitlement, and she is under no obligations to anyone, particularly a touchy shop.

Having said all that, there are many times when I pay more for something because I recognize the value in the service or warranty that cannot be provided by cut throat cost cutters. When it comes to higher ticket items, I would never buy something from Joe Schmo because he is a bit cheaper than a well established vendor. We have to trust that most good customers will think this way.

Frankly, I would not even want the customers who only look at the bottom dollar. Personally speaking, I would be sending them to Loo, and with a smile on my face. :)

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>>Who does the setup on the very lowest end fiddles? They deserve decent setups too.

The SV-175 is set up pretty well, as stated.

>> If one of your customers does need repairs, where does the customer send the instrument?

To their local luthier.

Say what you will, another perspective is that the small local luthier shop does not carry all the instruments we can drop ship; they purchase theirs, and thus promote sales on what they have, regardless of what the customer may actually need or want. And the prices are higher, due to their overhead.

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"Who does the setup on the very lowest end fiddles? They deserve decent setups too."

"The SV-175 is set up pretty well, as stated."

Sorry for the poor question, above; I wasn't reading carefully. The better question is how do you know that every very lowest end violin, year after year, has a decent setup if you don't see each of those instruments? How do you monitor the consistency of the quality of the instruments being shipped?

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how do you know that every very lowest end violin, year after year, has a decent setup if you don't see each of those instruments? How do you monitor the consistency of the quality of the distributors?

We also have music studios, and buy these instruments for students locally; frequently the shipment comes from a studio, rather than drop ship. We see them all the time. These are great student instruments. Probably the best available at $148.00.

We also upgrade the instruments (in terms of either size, or quality, or both), with 100% of what was originally paid. And this is for both students and webpage customers. At $148.00 and no shipping fee, no one can lose.

As a result of our tradein policies, I have a lot of used instruments in stock, which I sell to schools at a reduced cost. And yes, we have a local luthier who does the work for us, NOT the one who wrote me the nasty email, obviously, but an elderly gentleman who does a wonderful job.

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Can you change a set of strings? Can you replace a broken bridge? Can you adjust a soundpost (or set up one if it has fallen over)? Can you glue an open seam? What do you do when the bow arrives warped? Can you... If you answered no to any of these questions, you have no business selling or renting violins--even from an internet site. You might as well be selling pencil sharpeners or bicycle tires.

If you are drop-shipping instruments, what kind of after sale service are you offering? What about taking it back in on trade. I think that I remember reading on your site a while back that you are a teacher. If so--that's great, but what qualifications do you have to teach the violin/viola? To be a good teacher, you have to have years of lessons and a proficiency in playing the instrument (and an understanding of human nature and learning development). The same thing applies to selling an instrument--it takes years of training and skill-development to be able to know how to stand behind what you sell. Otherwise, your business is no better than any other Ebay store that sells cheap instruments to unsuspecting parents. My point here is this business is not just about selling & shipping "units" but is a service-based trade.

I'm surprised that Howard Core lets you sell their instruments in this manner. They used to be a bit more discriminating about whom they let represent them. There were dealer territories. They must have changed their business model or they don't fully know how you do business. By the way, I've never any of the cheap instruments from Saga that have set-up that is anywhere near "good enough" (playable--yes, but only barely--setup to MENC standards). The setup, strings, and sound tend to be horrible. Also, there are many "local luthiers" (myself included) that will refuse to touch cheap crap from the internet that comes in like this. There have been times that after giving set-up estimates that far exceed the purchase price, I've encouraged the person to "take it back to where you bought it and have them set it up correctly."

I'm curious Mingloo, what prompted you to post this topic?

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>> If one of your customers does need repairs, where does the customer send the instrument?

To their local luthier.

There's a bit of a contradiction here. You stated in an earlier post that long distance merchants are needed because not every body has a local luthier. But you're relying on the local luthier to service your instruments.

If you need the local repairer as part of your business model, why not go into an arrangement with him, offering him some kind of additional compensation for every one of your instruments he adjusts or repairs.

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While your ideals are wonderful, they have no grounding in reality. In the capitalistic free market society, everyone can do anything they want. If manufacturers prefer only certain vendors, then they institute territories and limit sales to authorized retailers. Other than this, it is naive beyond description to hint one person is not entitled to conduct business because it interferes with other more established businesses. It is called survival of the fittest. This is just the way it is, for all businesses. They can be touchy all they want, but they have no entitlement, and she is under no obligations to anyone, particularly a touchy shop.

Skiingfiddler is part of the "capitalistic free market society" and, as a consumer he, along with the rest of us consumers, are shaping the market. He gave his opinion on drop-shipped violins; he didn't hint that MingLoo couldn't conduct her business.

I am pretty touchy about the demise of local retailers and "Mom and Pop" outfits and I would hate to see local violin shops get squeezed out by web-based businesses. Again, as consumers we shape the market. If we buy the cheapest products available, regardless of quality, customer service, and potential impact on local retailers, then we can't complain when the internet and the giant box-stores are all we have left. Local agriculture is my biggest concern, but I will add that, in general, there is more integrity in this world when people do business face to face. If only the giant global corporations and the web-based businesses survive and the local guys go under I wouldn't say it was "survival of the fittest". I'd say that we, the consumers, are short-sighted fools.

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Oh dear.. I think we have just been sucked into an argument that is really just an advertisement.

Where's Jeffrey!

Yep. This is the modus operandi of Mingloo. No matter the response, it will lead back to her website. She could just fork over the $$$ needed to advertise on this website, but I think it's a sport to her to circumvent that idea and prey on our good nature here. I will post any nasty responses I get from her in regards to my post.

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Say what you will, another perspective is that the small local luthier shop does not carry all the instruments we can drop ship; they purchase theirs, and thus promote sales on what they have, regardless of what the customer may actually need or want. And the prices are higher, due to their overhead.

Say what you will, maybe that extra price is worth it when you consider you can walk into an interesting environment, meet interesting people, play lots of instruments, discuss the pros and cons of the instruments with an experienced professional, and get follow-up service. No question which I would rather do...just doing what I can to shape the marketplace.

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Skiingfiddler is part of the "capitalistic free market society" and, as a consumer he, along with the rest of us consumers, are shaping the market. He gave his opinion on drop-shipped violins; he didn't hint that MingLoo couldn't conduct her business.

Hmmm... The only problem is my response that you cited was not directed at skiingfiddler.

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If you answered no to any of these questions, you have no business selling or renting violins--even from an internet site.

This comment, and one or two earlier from Mr. Coggins, are actually delusional. She is not selling motor vehicles, with all of their safety measures that are regulated, she is selling violins. Make no mistake, my loyalties reside with the good side, but I cannot believe the naivete being tossed around here. If she wants to sell violins at a 50% loss for the next five years in order to demolish the competition, she can. This is just the way things are, not how they should be, but how they are. The only way to combat undercuttting by startups is to accel at all of the things undercutters or drop shippers cannot, like service. One can only be glad there are many customers who will not look to buy from the cheapest seller.

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I am pretty touchy about the demise of local retailers and "Mom and Pop" outfits and I would hate to see local violin shops get squeezed out by web-based businesses. Again, as consumers we shape the market. If we buy the cheapest products available, regardless of quality, customer service, and potential impact on local retailers, then we can't complain when the internet and the giant box-stores are all we have left. Local agriculture is my biggest concern, but I will add that, in general, there is more integrity in this world when people do business face to face. If only the giant global corporations and the web-based businesses survive and the local guys go under I wouldn't say it was "survival of the fittest". I'd say that we, the consumers, are short-sighted fools.

On these points, you are very right.

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This comment, and one or two earlier from Mr. Coggins, are actually delusional.

Would you like to point out the comments that you take exception to, GMM22...I like to imagine that I can keep in touch with my delusions.

I never said MingLoo shouldn't be in business - that must be one of your delusions. I was just pointing out that so-called "bargains" on the internet might not work out to be the cheapest or the best option in the long run.

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On these points, you are very right.

I had better quickly dispel any notions that I always make socially and environmentally conscious consumer decisions. I try...most of the time, but sometimes the money doesn't end up where the mouth went.

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Would you like to point out the comments that you take exception to, GMM22...I like to imagine that I can keep in touch with my delusions.

One question for you MingLoo - you say you aren't in competition with local businesses but do you actually check that with every order - ie do you look at the address of the buyer and think: "No, there's a violin shop near them so I will refuse the order and tell them to shop there instead".

That sentence, especially the underlined, has elements of delusion, but I should temper my remark, as I agreed with much of the rest of your sentiment where this sentence was found. More reasonably, I am saying it is entirely unrealistic to expect this person to hold that kind of philosophy. It is just unheard of today, unless one has a certain rapport and working relationship with associates in their area.

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I had better quickly dispel any notions that I always make socially and environmentally conscious consumer decisions. I try...most of the time, but sometimes the money doesn't end up where the mouth went.

This is all one can ask for.

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