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Don Noon

How does a maker sell his instruments?

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This topic surfaced recently in another thread...

After all how can a maker sell instruments? Win as many competitions as you can. Have customers with a big name. Partner with a well known violin business. It is not just about making great looking and sounding instrumets...

... and has been discussed previously, as I recall.

However, it is of increasing importance to me as more fiddles are coming off the end if the assembly line, and I only need two or three for myself. It might be worth discussing anew.

Of my own work, I have sold one of them to a friend, have another at a local shop on commission, and another is on trial with a local fiddler friend. I would love to have a "customer with a big name", but don't know any, and they don't know me. I wouldn't know how to go about "partnering with a well-known violin business", other than walking in the door and asking if they want to sell my stuff... and I'm not exactly near the hub of the violin trade.

So, let's hear some ideas, and PM me if you know of a reputable violin dealer that might be interested in carrying the work of newbies like me.

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I'm very much interested in what others will say, too.

However, I guess the ideas and "strategies" may vary quite a bit depending on the geographical context and on the quality of your work, that is on your target audience.

As a hobbyist, I made four violins so far and simply donated #1 and #2 to a NGO who will send them to Cuba or Haiti. I currently have two which are ready or almost ready. Fortunately a violinist friend of mine was so kind to test them, so I have a rather fair idea of what they are worth (as far as sound and musicality are concerned).

I live in a middle-sized town in southern France with very few professional musicians, only a local "Conservatory" - I guess about 150-200 violin students there at the very most, of all ages. Only one maker in town, who has a sometimes dubious reputation, so this may be my chance. Nevertheless, I wrote to all string teachers of the Conservatory 2-3 weeks ago and got no response until today. But this may be normal, perhaps they just have no needs at present.

I just wish I could find someone who wants to play these instruments of mine, so I have one good reason to make another one or two next year :) , so my situation and strategy may well be very different as compared to someone who really aspires to enter the business.

(Oh, forgot to say: I don't play the violin myself, but the cello. Initially I made violins to learn making, until I make my cello. Which I will do, sooner or later! :rolleyes: )

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If I were in the "business" of selling my instruments. I would go locally to the music school or orchestra and get some feedback from the players. After all most players are always looking for the perfect instrument. We love to try fiddles. Even a concertmaster that has a strad might be looking for an instrument to teach with or god forbid play outside for summer gigs. Check your ego at the door and be open to suggetions. Make changes if needed. Loan your instrument to a big shot locally and hope it grows on them. The good ones have students that are good prospects.

If you have the courage enter competitions like the VSA and throw the dice. If you are amazing like David Burgess, you will be banned from competitions! A good problem to have I would think ;)

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(snip)

(Oh, forgot to say: I don't play the violin myself, but the cello. Initially I made violins to learn making, until I make my cello. Which I will do, sooner or later! :rolleyes: )

Hello Marc - Hi from a fellow voyager - also a cellist. Way back in 1964, I promised myself that one day I would build my own cello. Finally, in 2007, I began to learn the details of making instruments under the eyes of Brian Lisus.

Maybe you have folowed his making of his Quartet of Peace - in honour of South Africa's 4 Nobel Peace Prize winners.

http://www.violinafrica.co.za/

I am also building a violin before tackling the cello - back glued to the rib garland, bassbar fitted and should be glued in tomorrow evening. Then for the neck/scroll. After that I think that I'll make a viola before starting the cello.

As to finding buyers - I would visit any/all teachers and ask them to test play your violin - leaving them with your card.

good luck - edi

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I'm very much interested in what others will say, too.

However, I guess the ideas and "strategies" may vary quite a bit depending on the geographical context and on the quality of your work, that is on your target audience.

My geographical context I think would have to be: Fedex or UPS connection to all of the USA.

Quality of work: good enough to win at a small (VMAAI) competition, but not yet in contention for VSA... respectable for 2 years, self-taught, but not yet world class.

Target audience: I recall Tom Lehrer's story of the doctor specializing in "diseases of the rich"... so my target would be professional violinists or fiddlers, or those who are willing and capable of paying top price for top work. That, therefore, would require the highest quality in sound and workmanship, which may take some time to acquire. For now, I see that my early instruments will have to be priced toward the lower side, being only decent instruments from an unknown maker.

I'm not sure how much of a marketing disadvantage there is to being a maker who has not come up through the ranks of a large shop, or hasn't done time in a makers' school. I don't have time for that now (too dang old).

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(snip)

I'm not sure how much of a marketing disadvantage there is to being a maker who has not come up through the ranks of a large shop, or hasn't done time in a makers' school. I don't have time for that now (too dang old).

Hi Don - what's with old?

I'll finish Violin #1 in my 73rd year! - then Viola #1 followed by cello #1. After which I have a set of matching bird's eye maple in my strongroom for a quartet.

I had thought to begin the quartet in 2012 but in 2007, just as I started at Brian's, I was press ganged back into harness (shortage of engineers!). The first three guys to arrive at the office, at 06:30, are all over 70! Maybe I'll give them another year or two. Retiring at 75 seems a sensible thing to do. After that I can begin to concentrate on building instruments.

cheers edi

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Don,

I look at my friend as a model who has a good number of prof. musicians playing and endorsing his fiddles...he explained to me that in order to sell you have to get the instruments into the hands of the musicians...and for him that means traveling the circuit to the festivals and contests...setting up a booth and having a good website...he is retired of course. For credentials he has won numerous awards...no formal schooling...although his father was a violinmaker. He has a nice RV and his wife accompanies him in their travels...which include most of the west coast and the annual BMA...His target audience is the bluegrass community which is very closeknit and word has spread over the last 10-15 years he's been selling...Last time I spoke with him he had just sold another fiddle at a local festival to a lady in Seattle...They were on their way to another festival...He has made around 200 fiddles...not a bad way to retire...for sure. I thank him and his wife for all their generosity and wish them much more continued success.

-Ernie

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Hi Don - what's with old?

I'll finish Violin #1 in my 73rd year!

OK, so I'm not as old as you :) . Age is only one of the factors in why I won't be apprenticing or going to violinmaking school, but admittedly in other circumstances it might be reasonable at my age where 60 is looming within view.

...he explained to me that in order to sell you have to get the instruments into the hands of the musicians...and for him that means traveling the circuit to the festivals and contests...setting up a booth and having a good website...he is retired of course.

The "retired" part I'm fine with, but travelling extensively and setting up a booth is not going to work for me. The travelling part wouldn't work for the wife and kids (in grade school, no less), and setting up a booth sounds a lot like a working salesman... the farthest thing from what I find enjoyable. A website, yeah, I probably should do that at some point.

edit - Oh, you mean Frank. I met him at VMAAI last year. Nice guy. I don't think that is the business model that I'd want for myself, though.

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Winning competitions can certainly give one a leg up. Either way, you first have to make instruments that someone will want at a price that's worthwhile to you.

I specialize in working with non-classical players of all styles, but I worked with classical players for some years before that. I think the most important thing is understanding your market, knowing what people are looking for. I spent quite a bit of time just learning what people in my market respond to. Then I started developing instruments and voicings to meet those desires. Once I had something that I thought was getting close, I approached a number of high level players and asked them to critique my instruments. Almost everybody likes to be asked their opinions, and most were very helpful - especially the ones who were less than flattering. I listened carefully, and made changes, and repeated the process. Some pretty well respected players were willing to work with me, and I think they would do so with anybody who really wanted their honest opinion. I have a thick skin and appreciate criticism as long as there's information that I can use to improve.

Eventually, some people bought instruments, and some gave me good testimonials. Other people saw, heard, and liked what I was offering. I got good word of mouth on the internet, and sales started expanding. I continue to get as much feedback as I can, and to constantly refine and improve the instruments I sell. I'm developing new instruments as well, and basically following the same approach: research, prototype, improve, and continue to refine.

I work with a fair-sized maker, and develop and market instruments on a small scale, so I'm in a little different position than a one-person shop, but I don't see why the same approach wouldn't work in that situation. No matter what you do, you have to focus on a particular market. I don't think it's possible to make one instrument that pleases all. If you have a local market, start with that. Same principle applies. It's nice to have a good web site and such, but the most important thing IMHO is to get your instruments into the hands of players, and asking for critiques instead of trying to sell is a very useful approach. IME if they like your instrument, some will buy, and each satisfied customer builds your reputation and credibility.

Once you know you have a good product, don't underprice it. Underpricing tells people that you are not confident about what you are offering, and that therefore there must be something wrong with it. If you make a good instrument,price it at what it's worth on the market. People who buy hand made violins are not usually bottom feeders or bargain hunters, IME. Keep in mind also, that most buying decisions are emotional, and rationalized only later. If it ain't love, you've got no sale, so selling might be called a sort of seduction. I'm not very good at that, so I tend to shut up and let the instrument do the seducing. Listening is the biggest part of the process, anyway.

FWIW, that's not the only approach, and probably not even the best approach, but it's been pretty successful for me so far.

BTW, I don't think putting instruments on consignment with a local violin shop is necessarily a great idea. I'd expect a shop owner to try to sell the instruments that he made good margins on, and only to sell low margin consignment goods if that's what the customer insists on. I've got a couple of instruments by new makers, friends of mine, in my shop, and I'm very interested in promoting them, so I push them, but on consignment goods in general, I have to confess that if I'm going to make a sale, I'd rather do it at full margin. I did wholesale to a couple of shops in critical market areas, but that's not been nearly as beneficial as good word of mouth from players.

Might want to read "YES! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive" by Cialdini.

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I'm not sure how much of a marketing disadvantage there is to being a maker who has not come up through the ranks of a large shop, or hasn't done time in a makers' school. I don't have time for that now (too dang old).

How about a website where you describe some of your ideas and show nice pics of your instruments along with some sound examples? You have shared some very fine articles on low cost violin acoustics issues. Why not put them up on a website along with some of your original documentation?

You are a decent fiddler as well, and have a highly reputeable engineer career background (how many have participated in making a remote controlled toy driving around on Mars?). The playing skills give you a clear advantages over a maker with no or limited playing abilities. And you have far above average skills in solving practical engineer problems, semi-intuitively cracking how the instrument works, which also are (or can be) some of the issues in violin making. Your first fiddle was not less good than any of the top fiddles I have played in the Oberlin violin acoustics environment. I doubt there are many out there with such a good sounding "first violin".

Being a fiddler, maybe the market is easiest to target there?

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This is a difficult subject. I wish to be specific, but do not wish this to be taken as an advertisement.

Music teachers know all of the serious students who will eventually be looking for an affordable first serious instrument.

In this small town environment, I have sold several of my violins this way.

I avoid all of the politics and conflict of interest issues by not giving a finders fee to teachers period, even if it hurts my chances (which it hasn't) for a sale, as, everyone is happy with the huge price break available by buying from an "unknown" maker.

Serious teachers are happy when the student gets a great instrument at a great price. If lack of a fee would stop the teacher, then, I wouldn't want to do business with that teacher anyway. I'm not that hungry -

It helped that I did all of the school string repairs for about ten years, and so, I got to know all of the school district music teachers very well. But, that said, I can now say that if I knew then what I know now, it wouldn't have mattered that I got an "in" because I was the repairman.

If you seek out the teachers anyway, the serious students will still eventually need a serious violin, whether you are the school district repairman or not - and most of them (students and teachers alike) have priced serious violins from one of the larger shops, and have tried them, and will know, if you can get one of yours into their hands, if they want to buy one of yours or not.

I Just make sure that there is a hassle free trial period, and no pressure to buy. I don't like to operate like a car salesman, and in this atmosphere it works for me, no pressure gets the sale more often than not. Once they have the violin, after playing a student violin for years, they don't want to let it go. (that is, assuming there is something to the violin, of course.)

The other thing that has worked for me is attending fiddle contests, violin in hand, and let them play yours there, hand out business cards, and (in my case) I let them know that I am a repairman and that I do rehairs.

One champion fiddler friend of mine now owns two of my violins and is thinking about whether or not he can afford one of my newer violins for a third one..., so, it can happen that way also.

Plus, I have gathered a following of ranchers, fiddlers, students, teachers and music stores who bring their heirloom or family fiddles, student violins or store instruments to me for repairs and they bring their rehairs. Other than me, they have to travel the four hours to Albuquerque for these services or ship out of town.

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Great information, guys.

Some might not apply to me (like doing rehairs and repairs), but great information anyway.

The one consignment fiddle is at a shop where I have known the owner for a while, and he mostly deals in the handmade instruments. Not your typical violin shop. But I do see that getting that one out to someone who will play it (trial, loaner, evaluation, etc.) might be a better plan, rather than having it hanging in a row at a shop.

Most of this is for future reference; I'm not exactly suffocating under my inventory, and I don't need to sell right away to buy groceries or anything like that. More instrument inventory might be a good thing.

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FWIW, I think it's very worthwhile to get your instruments into the hands of people now, and start developing relationships. People like to help, and can develop sort of a proprietary interest in your success. When I was developing my 5-strings, I showed them to Darol Anger, Brittany Haas, Michael Cleveland, Lauren Rioux, Stephan Dudash, and every other 5-string player I could get close to. Every one of them was helpful and gave me useful information to some degree.

Also -- fiddlers in general don't like the "classical sound", so you sort of have to choose your market. Fiddlers are just as picky about sound as classical players, but they tend to prefer quite a different sound. That crystalline character of sound that classical players tend to favor is not popular with most fiddlers. They tend to like a stronger, grittier bass, and darker, sweeter treble than most classical players like. I spent several months, trying different grads, grounds, and setups, and having local pros and Nashville fiddlers try my 4-string instruments out. I got the comment "too bright" time and time again until I finally figured out what they were wanting to hear, and how to get that sound. Right now, I'm working on a "superfiddle" that will take that character to an extreme, just to see what kind of response it will get, as well as another line of 4-string fiddles made from scratch to give the sound that fiddlers generally favor. Some top fiddlers really like the stereotypically French sound, as well.

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This one is easy...... sorta. :unsure:

Just go to the various Competition homepages, and look-up all the winners.

Then try finding their web-pages and get a quote on time and cost for a violin, and you will see

the real value in winning competitions.

Read their Bios and you will see how long they were at it, until they got their big break.

You can see if they antique, or not, or both, and then you will have a fair idea of what

the road ahead looks like if you want to go that route.

Also note how some people came up through the business side of things, while others went to school, etc.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Give or take a few feet! :D:P:huh::o

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Logically enough, the first step is of course to put the instruments in the hands of players.

In this respect, would anybody please be willing to comment on events like MondoMusica, Musicora, etc.? Do they really offer an opportunity to get in touch with the playing community? Thanks!

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Don't expect to sell your first instruments with a huge profit, consider them part of the expenses envolved in your development as a maker.

I participated just in the last International Viola Congress in Cincinnati, no sale but many many contacts and the possibility to see instruments made by other makers, get the opinion of makers and players. I am considering going to the next International Viola Congress in Germany.

Whenever you meet a good player or maker ask "what can I do better"? And keep your ears open... Sometimes I had to ask that many times (the player had no remarks to make) till the moment the player said something important that I incorporated in my making. Top soloists are the best test drivers for instruments because they have a big exposure to the best instruments in the world.

Reserve some of your time for sales, in the broad sense. I receive musicians lots of musicians, meet them in concert rooms, ask to questions made by email, etc. In many many cases I sold an instrument to a player that was not looking for a new instrument.

Keep good relations with the violin makers comunity.

Try to draw a profile of your clients and discover what they are looking for. Under the label "violinist" there are hundreds of types of players differ quite a lot: soloists, orchestra players, amateurs, fiddlers, advanced players, begginers, etc. They have very different needs and ideas about what a good instrument is. If your making skills change for better, try to sell to more demanding players.

Notable sales: it is good selling for top musicians, but the would be buyer will decide based in the instrument you are offering to him.

Don't think that sound or beauty will sell alone. You have to develop both.

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Don,

I registered at violinist.com and someone near me found out about me from that source. I sold three violins that way.

Make sure when someone googles violinmaker in CA, they can find your website.

John

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I avoid all of the politics and conflict of interest issues by not giving a finders fee to teachers period, even if it hurts my chances (which it hasn't) for a sale, as, everyone is happy with the huge price break available by buying from an "unknown" maker. Serious teachers are happy when the student gets a great instrument at a great price. If lack of a fee would stop the teacher, then, I wouldn't want to do business with that teacher anyway. I'm not that hungry -

Nicely said CT. I was going to mention 'that' option. It's one that I know some makers use to sell their instruments but I absolutely agree with you... "I wouldn't want to do business with that teacher anyway. I'm not that hungry".

Long may you have food on the table!

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Many years ago, I did sell some of my violins to a teacher (who happened to be my relative). How did she sell these violins to her students was not my problem. When some of them contacted me, I did know that she had 100% mark up. Nowadays I only do commissioned work. Since this thread is about how to sell instruments, I would like to point this out: makers here should not ignore the Asian market. Parents there would spend $5K-8K for a child's violin. I know an LA based maker who almost exclusively sells his productions in Taiwan.

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I plan on bundling up a suite of instruments

and taking them to reading sessions at a local

college and circles of friends. Building these

first instruments is purely paying my dues. Several

of my works are gifts to schools.

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How does a maker sell his instruments?

????????

How does a maker sell his instruments in this day and age with NAFTA,globalism and the central bank occupation in full swing?

there, thats better.

I'd say the first step is to get rid of "money printed as debt", everything else seems to fall in place once thats gone.

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