The dropship argument


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I guess I should expand a bit on my initial response.

I'm not directly in competition with internet businesses, except that they probably put some downward pressure on what people think is a reasonable price for all violins. So I expect that my perception of the situation will be different than those who are in direct competition. However, not competing directly with internet businesses is a choice, and a decision.... one which was made after some experimentation.

I'd certainly encourage people to do business with their local stores, when it makes sense to do so. With violins, I think it almost always makes sense, unless the local store is some general music store, where they don't really know what they're doing anyway.

When I was flying RC helicopters, I bought most of my parts and supplies from the local hobby shop, even though this was more expensive. It was valuable having them there for advice, and for parts I didn't want to wait for. Now they're gone, largely from internet pressure, I expect.

When I bought a washing machine recently, I paid quite a bit more to purchase it locally. It came with an extended warranty, serviced by a local repair establishment. I thought this was important, because these "front load" washers have more to go wrong, and a higher incidence of repair so far.

I also purchase things off the internet. Sometimes these things aren't available locally. Other times the savings are substantial, and I don't see that there will be much value in local support. As internet prices put downward pressure on our "bottom lines", one way to compensate is to keep our own expenses down by purchasing off the internet, or buying products made in China. Is anyone here not guilty of some of that? :)

A lot of jobs have been lost in the auto business here in Michigan. Some people sit around wringing their hands about it, and complaining that things should go back to the way they were. Well, they won't. It's time for new strategies.

My girlfriend just switched from a company that appeared to waste a lot of money, and has been attempting to downsize to reduce the bleeding, to a "lean and mean" startup company. I don't know if the change will work out, but it seemed better than waiting for the lights to go out at the old company. Gone are the spacious, fancy corporate headquarters. Gone are 40 hour work weeks. Everyone is expected to do their regular job, plus a host of other tasks. She might be called away from an 8 pm business conference with China, to climb on a fork lift and unload a truck (yes, she just got her fork lift operators license) :) . In the old days, someone would have been hired especially for that job, and stood around doing nothing much of the time.

Business models are changing. We can complain about it, but it won't do any good. People in our business complained vociferously when the first large mail order retail operation (Shar) came on the scene. Now there are many others.

With internet and global sales competition, one remaining profit niche is local service, and that's where a lot of businesses are focusing their efforts successfully. It's possible to run a profitable repair shop without relying on sales. I know, because I've done it. So has Jeffrey. So has Jerry Pasewicz.

If one wants to convince customers of the advantages of paying a little more to buy locally, it's necessary to educate the customer. Those of you who sell student instruments might take some detailed photos, highlighting the differences between your setups and those from an internet supplier, and put them up on your web site. You could also put special emphasis on any "trade up" policy you have. If there are advantages to doing business with you, versus purchasing off the internet, I think you need to highlight them. How else will people who are fairly new to stringed instruments know the difference?

I have a small side-business selling hygrometers on the internet. The difference between these and the ones that can be purchased elsewhere? They're much more accurate. People who are aware of how far off they can be, and understand why it matters, are willing to pay a little more. It's a very small market niche, (as are my fiddles), but indicative of what can be done.

If MingLoo's purpose here is to advertise, I reckon that will be taken care of. Businesses like that are here to stay though, so some creative thinking is in order.

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>> 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.

Josh, that's really insulting. I've been working with HC for over a decade; their setups have rarely been less than top notch, and we are on good terms with them.

You ask what my qualifications are? I'm nearly 60 years old and have been studying and playing the violin since I was seven. My first teacher, Joseph Pitzinger, was a luthier and I have always loved instruments. I have two university degrees in violin performance, attended law school, and am taking coursework in two different doctoral programs. Not a year here, and a summer there, as the bio on your web page seems to indicate. I don't just "work out of my home" as you do; we manage music studios full of children and adults, studying violin, viola, piano, fiddle, guitar. I had a performance career when I was 12. I've been teaching privately since then.

You ask why I asked the question: to find out what people think, and if anyone has insights into this incredibly fast changing environment I find myself in. I don't need to advertise here in order to have a successful business.

I suppose I'm just hopelessly old fashioned, but I think it unwise to be unaware of the distinction between argumentation for the purpose of discovering the truth of matters and personal, ad hominem attacks. In other words, it's one thing to argue about issues; it's quite another to attack someone's character. This error is often found in contentious threads such as this one.

See you at the trade shows. I'm the very tall lady with the gray hair and the cane (I have MS).

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I think it is useful to have this kind of discussion, it can put a lot of things into perspective.

The best I can do is to summarize what has been mentioned in this topic so far:

1. The violin trade is a pretty unique kind of business. One cannot rely on "brand names" the way one can with cars or washing machines.

2. Even in the case of cars or washing machines back-up service is of paramount importance, but with string instruments it is much more so.

3. In the violin trade, most people's "common sense" goes on hold. There is no such thing as bargain-hunting in this market for the average buyer (meaning someone who knows nothing about violins and the violin trade). This is a gap that can be taken easily by those offering "bargains".

Whether sellers of that nature omit to inform buyers of the CONSTANT attention of a COMPETENT luthier to keep their instruments in optimal performing condition, or whether certain buyers consciously decide that they are going to skip that part of the the operation of owning an instrument, or whether, in both cases, the services of the "local luthier" will be depended upon, for me the equation is simple: I don't service instruments from my competition, whoever that may be. I have that right as much as anybody has the right to buy from whoever and wherever they please. To the best of my abilities at introspection, I can find no legal or moral justification to let moonshiners feed off my services.

For myself, I would feel pretty weird about selling any article which I cannot guarantee or maintain. I guess that's my problem, but it's an easier problem to deal with than telling a customer with a problem "that's YOUR problem."

I might be wrong, but even in the current economic climate bone fide luthier/dealers aren't about to go out of business. I've got a close associate in North America who has done better this past year than ever before because of his services as luthier. Yes, he sold less - and repaired and set up more. The drop-shippers and such who sold less - well, they just sold less, period.

I'm not about to pass judgment on MingLoo, but given the CV she provided, I'm kind of mildly surprised that she doesn't consider her operation worthy of a regular luthier (witness the legendary ebay seller " Pahdah Hound"). Perhaps it does not seem to make financial sense at this point (at whose cost is the "savings" then?) but, apart from probably being a good investment, it would turn her operation into something which doesn't resemble a fly-by-night enterprise.

One last point: it is good for business to show respect not only for one's customers, but also for one's products. The same goes for the customer. If a violin is treated the same as a package of online Viagra, that is what you will get from it: a one-night stand.

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David, may I make a suggestion? I visited your web page and it's horrible; amateurish, impossible to read, odd color scheme, print too small, screen too wide. It looks home made from circa 20 years ago.

I'm telling you, if you guys want to compete, you need to do better than this.

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>> I'm not about to pass judgment on MingLoo, but given the CV she provided, I'm kind of mildly surprised that she doesn't consider her operation worthy of a regular luthier

I don't understand; are you not reading what I wrote? I *do* have a local luthier...See post #11:

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.

I hear all your arguments (since I've been doing this business for 15 years, it's hardly fly-by-night), but I maintain, still, that it's a service to provide nice instruments, which may not be available locally, and then have the customer have the instruments and bows serviced by their local shop. Since this happens, every day, I don't see that any complaint is anything but competitive antagonism. I understand it, but it's only logical from the short sighted perspective of the local shop.

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I don't service instruments from my competition, whoever that may be. I have that right as much as anybody has the right to buy from whoever and wherever they please. To the best of my abilities at introspection, I can find no legal or moral justification to let moonshiners feed off my services.

I can think of no moral or legal reason, but I can think of a very practical one. There is the potential to make money off these repairs. Why shouldn't you be the one getting it? At the same time, you can be educating customers on the differences between your services, and what they get on the internet. Many people who purchase violins do so more than once. You can get 'em next time. :)

If one already has too much business, or doesn't want to work on crap, I understand.

I don't like change either. I can shoot myself in the foot in a futile attempt to resist it, or I can figure out a profitable way to embrace it. :)

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>> I can think of no moral or legal reason, but I can think of a very practical one. There is the potential to make money off these repairs. Why shouldn't you be the one getting it?

Yes! Thank you. Exactly. My thinking, backed by long experience, has always been that I'm doing these local luthiers a favor. People will be coming into their shops who would not have come in otherwise.

Look; my ethnic background is Native American. Money is not, and has never been, my primary concern. I could care less about that, as long as I can feed my family. Connie's Violin Page** has over 300 pages of information regarding string pedagogy; this is the real core of my business. We get four or five thousand hits *a day* on these pages. I've spent two decades and hundreds of thousands of hours, developing them. I answer questions every day (which is the reason you see my asking so many questions here and elsewhere).

Offering these $148 instruments -- the very best I can find at that price -- is a function of knowing that people without any knowledge in this field, want to try out studying the instrument, and they frequently don't have very much money (which correlates with their lack of education in this area). They are going to buy *something*, anyway; better they get something decent, something which may be traded in or up, or returned, to me.

Offering the Core instruments -- which I know are good instruments, beautifully set up -- is a step up, but just a byway to those who will, hopefully, stick with their studies. And support their local luthiers, and continue to buy more and better products.

** See: Table of Contents/Affiliate Sites

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David, may I make a suggestion? I visited your web page and it's horrible; amateurish, impossible to read, odd color scheme, print too small, screen too wide. It looks home made from circa 20 years ago.

I'm telling you, if you guys want to compete, you need to do better than this.

Thanks for the input, MingLoo. The web page is different and "retro" on purpose. What I was specifically trying to avoid is "more of the same". The world already has plenty of that. :) In a business like mine, there doesn't seem to be much value in conformity. The contrary may be more true. I seem to be competing OK. :)

It pulls up on Page 2 out of 385,000 entries under a Google search for "violin maker", so I'm reluctant to make major changes. Something is working, even if I don't know exactly why. :)

As for the font size and screen proportions, I'll look into that. It shows up fine on my screen and browser, and others I've checked it on. I guess I should check it some more.

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Nice web site, MingLoo. Very useful.

You should put this link in your MN "signature".

Mike

+++++++++++

If a website contains a lot of informations and these informations are gethered from different places

then some contradictions may exist.

I do not see MingLoo's site has this problem.(please be clear)

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>> Offering these $148 instruments -- the very best I can find at that price -- is a function of knowing that people without any knowledge in this field, want to try out studying the instrument, and they frequently don't have very much money (which correlates with their lack of education in this area). They are going to buy *something*, anyway; better they get something decent, something which may be traded in or up, or returned, to me.

I realize I'm quoting myself, :) but this is a key issue in my argument. I understand that most luthiers look down on the $148 instrument. They would much prefer that every parent come into their shop and purchase a "decent" instrument for $300-$500.

I would love that, too; that we lived in a culture where everyone can afford this. But do you not understand that they cannot? $500 is prohibitively high for parents who are both blue collar workers, or migrant farm workers, like we have here in Texas. Do these children not deserve to start their studies in classical music?

I have students who started on the $148 instrument, which I continually traded up, at no cost, to larger sizes, and parents who eventually after six years or more, buy a $500 instrument and $100 bow, for a child who is now playing in the local youth symphony and headed for a full scholarship in university. Dad presented the bow as a birthday present, with tears in his eyes. He never had the chances that this child has. And this became possible because of what you are calling my shoddy business model. Forgive me if I'm not overconcerned about your comments.

Now multiply this worldwide.

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>> It pulls up on Page 2 out of 385,000 entries under a Google search for "violin maker", so I'm reluctant to make major changes.

David, your success on search engines is not a function of design, but a function of how your headers are set up. Are you counting your hits? By analyzing those, you can determine if people like returning your site.

There is a wonderful, free service I would recommend to get your started:

http://www.statcounter.com/

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+++++++++++

If a website contains a lot of informations and these informations are gethered from different places

then contrartions may exist. For example, I believe it is good to know

"Buy the best you can afford" a good advice

or "Buy the cheapest one at $149 so you can not break your bank, going on study"

Anoher example, you should hold the bow this way (some website shows pic.) . In fact, if you follow the pic shown,

you can not play the violin, believe me, some students think pic instructor is God)

(I am not saying these examples in Mingloo's webside, please be clear)

Which one is right advice?

I'm very sorry, but I cannot make heads or tails of this. I would like to respond, but I don't know how. :)

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I'm very sorry, but I cannot make heads or tails of this. I would like to respond, but I don't know how. :)

++++++++++++

There is no head or tail here.

I showed by example that some statements could be contradictory yet on the same page.

The danger is from being collected from different places. if you (reader or presenter) are not careful.

Thank.

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David, your success on search engines is not a function of design, but a function of how your headers are set up. Are you counting your hits? By analyzing those, you can determine if people like returning your site.

Thanks again for the input. The web "experts" and designers I've talked to can't seem to agree on what's important for page positioning, and didn't live up to their claims when I had them involved, so I've concluded that this sort of thing is mostly a "hustle". One of the supposedly most knowledgeable people I had involved managed to get it pushed back to page 77. :)

The silly page has done best when I totally ignored it. :)

Yes, I look at the stats from time to time. Return visits? Not sure if that applies. Hopefully, one can get all they need from one visit. The web experts may disagree on this, but you already know what I think of them. :)

Of course, Google claims that they aren't in favor of attempts at page positioning, and claim that they change things continuously to confound efforts to do this. They even have claimed that there are positioning penalties for such attempts.

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Here is my argument against drop shipping. Howard Core is essentially making you their retail outlet. With your prices being so low, lower than is reasonable for any store that carries an inventory and has a staff to pay, they are preventing anyone else from fitting in.

Mother goes to local shop, finds a nice HC400 for a reasonable price of $199.00, their lowest priced outfit in the midst of many finer brands of violin outfits. Those that include trade-in value and a proper set up. She goes home to think about it and looks online to find one at $148.00. Mother orders violin online. My argument is with Howard Core! They will be killing their potential business from elsewhere, like mine. I couldn't carry HC violins for this reason. Unless I relabeled them and I wouldn't do that, they are not that good!

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MingLoo,

I'm curious. If I were to tell you which state my violin shop is located in, would you agree not to send violins there? Since money is no matter?

We have fantastic instruments in every price range, a great rental program, and do business with some of the same suppliers. If you goal is truly to put good sounding, well set-up, well functioning instruments into every players hands, then they could do no better then our shop.

I am very familiar with the level of violins you offer, and have no doubt our are every bit the equal, if not superior.

How bout it?

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Let me get this straight: if a student and their parents come into your shop, and they have a $148 SV175, and want you to set it up with a new set of Dominant strings and maybe a Guernari chinrest, would you refuse? Would you tell them it's a "piece of crap?"

If that's all they can afford, it would seem that you don't care about the student, their family, or their financial situation. And I would maintain that you're calling it a piece of crap solely because you can't make any money off it.

And people call *me* mercenary?

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David, let me get this straight: if a student and their parents come into your shop, and they have a $148 SV175, and want you to set it up with a new set of Dominant strings and maybe a Guernari chinrest, would you refuse? Would you tell them it's a "piece of crap?"

If that's all they can afford, it would seem that you don't care about the student, their family, or their financial situation. And I would maintain that you're calling it a piece of crap solely because you can't make any money off it.

And people call *me* mercenary?

Well, you missed completely on interpreting my motives. I don't do repairs any more, and I have never sold student instruments. You never know though, I could be part of some other great conspiracy.... :)

"Crap" wasn't aimed at any particular model of instrument, or those who own them. There are those who don't like to work on student instruments, and are in a position that they don't need to do so. In general, lower level student instruments are harder to work on, and built with more compromises, so many in the trade refer to them as "crap". Welcome to professional trade lingo. :)

I could easily spend $500 on a really good setup alone, so let's face it, a $150.00 instrument is going to come with some compromises.

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David, let me get this straight: if a student and their parents come into your shop, and they have a $148 SV175, and want you to set it up with a new set of Dominant strings and maybe a Guernari chinrest, would you refuse? Would you tell them it's a "piece of crap?"

If that's all they can afford, it would seem that you don't care about the student, their family, or their financial situation. And I would maintain that you're calling it a piece of crap solely because you can't make any money off it.

And people call *me* mercenary?

David, I know this was addressed to you, but I have to interject here... you can slap me later if you want. :) And of course, you beat me to it!

The problem with the $148 SV175 is not that it has cheap steel Chinese strings or a bad chinrest. The problem is that at least half the time, the neck angle is all wrong. About 75% of the time, the pegs freeze up, and on almost every violin, the fingerboard has more humps in it than a gaggle of camels. All of these things impede a student's progress on the instrument directly, by affecting posture, hand setup, and intonation.

I used to work for a shop that sold Sagas set up to proper standard. We would plane the fingerboards, replace the pegs, install new bridges and posts, a set of Dominants, and if the neck angle was wrong, we would send it back and get another one (as I said, about half the time). We did sell those instruments at a loss in terms of the labor necessary to get them proper, as a way of introducing people to the world of violins with one that was well maintained. The business model was sound, because they would come back to trade it in, and we would sell it again after a while.

I've transferred this model to the shop I now own, and in some measure, it's working. So I wouldn't tell your hypothetical parent that the violin is crap and simply show them the door. I would gently explain to them why the violin they just bought for $148 will hinder their child's progress, show them the difference between one that's set up properly and the one they have in their hands, tell them exactly how much it will cost them to get their instrument set up in this manner (in most cases, easily north of another $175, including bridge, pegs, strings, planing, chinrest...). I'd then suggest that they send it back to you for a full refund and purchase one that is properly set up from me, for less than the combined cost of the $148 plus the repair charges. If they choose to keep the one they have, that's their decision and they'll have to live with it.

So where are they really saving money?

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Let me get this straight: if a student and their parents come into your shop, and they have a $148 SV175, and want you to set it up with a new set of Dominant strings and maybe a Guernari chinrest, would you refuse? Would you tell them it's a "piece of crap?"

If that's all they can afford, it would seem that you don't care about the student, their family, or their financial situation. And I would maintain that you're calling it a piece of crap solely because you can't make any money off it.

And people call *me* mercenary?

A new set of strings and a new chinrest.

Does the bridge fit? Is is cut well? Do the pegs fit and work well? Is the sound post well fit and in the "right" place? Is the tailpiece appropriate? Is it in the right place? Does the fingerboard have any flaws? Is the nut well made or is it just going to break the new set of strings I just sold you? Neck projection? Is the instrument so poorly made that no amount of "fixing" will get an acceptable sound out of it?

It's called throwing good money after bad, and I try to discourage people from doing it. I've seen so many non-functioning violins from the internet, bought by well intentioned people trying to save a few bucks. In the end, if you want a pleasurable experience for a young student, an experience that will last a lifetime, you need a good, functioning instrument.

People call you mercenary? Is there something you're not telling us?

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I have the Howard Core catalogue in front of me. I do not see a 148$ violin outfit.

Unless you are selling them at your dealers discount, without any mark up.

In which case, that particular price range includes some of the same outfits I've seen being sold in Walmart. Some a little better.

HCore is, in my opinion, a fine and respectable company. They offer dealer discounts to allow their customers to make a little profit. Not to just flip their instruments to students out of the goodness of their heart.

MingLoo, I don't know you in the least, but I get the feeling there is something else going on with your "business" model.

But good luck to you!

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>> I have the Howard Core catalogue in front of me. I do not see a 148$ violin outfit.

That's because the SV175 (obviously, not a HC product number) is from SAGA (as you will notice if you read the thread). See (for example), message #6:

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:

We've always offered the SAGA guitars, banjos, etc., but we quit selling the SAGA violins for some time (couple years, I think), and added them a few weeks ago: we were using the GEWA, but since the recent upgrade of the SAGA 175, we found that this is a nicer outfit than the lower end GEWA.

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>> I have the Howard Core catalogue in front of me. I do not see a 148$ violin outfit.

That's because the SV175 (obviously, not a HC product number) is from SAGA (as you will notice if you read the thread).

We quit selling the SAGA violins for some time, and added them a few weeks ago: we were using the GEWA, but since the recent upgrade of the SAGA 175, we found that this is a nicer outfit than the lower end GEWA.

Fair enough.

Besides that first sentence, as I said.

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