Rue

Selling in a saturated market

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10 hours ago, not telling said:

Like what? An aunt of mine says the same thing, but her idea was to make high-end corporate conference tables, super high-end furniture and such. Oh! So if you have the skills you can just march right into that market?  I laughed but it was offensive too. You pretty much need a warehouse full of expensive tools for that. What else requires only a 4' x 7' space and a few sharp hand tools?

I come from this niche market and business is extremely difficult. Working for the masters of the universe....

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10 hours ago, David Burgess said:

It pulls up fine on a phone, last time I checked.

And what could be better than retro and archaic for a violin making site? :P

I agree that it is a good site. You are proof that for raising public awareness, the value of online presence supplements the quality of the product, which of course is the starting point. Multiple posts on the Internet under you own name mean that as a retail buyer with few connections in the violin world, I know who you are. I have therefore gone on to seek out a recording on Youtube, using pro-grade headphones, and am blown away by the sound, and the potential, I perceive. (The sound clip on your website has only the left hand channel.)

Though the website is technically primitive, it strikes me as personalized. It is not one of those cookie-cutter sites which at first glance is similar to an expensive site but which I would spot (and I think most users would at some level sense) as having little personality or care put into it. This site itself never undermines the message which hits me as soon as I open it:

Burgess, Violin Maker - Multiple Awards
Violin Maker, Viola Maker and Cello Maker
OBSESSED WITH QUALITY

The site goes on to talk about integrity. The photos are good (though a few more images of instruments would be nice).There is a page spelling out a view on old vs new. Even the page rejecting marketing tells me in no uncertain terms the approach Mr Burgess has to selling instruments. There are several more positives. Although on the downside it is not a site which is frequently updated, I find it a good website because it communicates clearly some key points about who I'm dealing with. And someone put time and effort into making that happen.

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15 hours ago, gowan said:

Several years ago I became acquainted with an amateur luthier, a retired history teacher who took up the craft as a retirement activity.  He had coaching from a local professional.  When he had made a few instruments he started going to local community orchestras, playing viola, and when he got introduced to other players he'd make a low pressure pitch to sell them a violin or viola.  His prices were less than half the prices of the instruments of the man who coached him.  He sold instruments that way and after a while word of mouth sent other players to him.  This never made him a living income, of course, but it paid for tools and wood which was fine with him.

That gentleman devised a business model that if he'd started  doing that  when he was 21, and then gradually raised his prices as he became more well known,  he might have retired a famous violin maker and  then spent his retirement writing history books.  

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12 hours ago, David Burgess said:

It pulls up fine on a phone, last time I checked.

If the screen is as big as a laptop they can read it too.  But that seems to be the trend...

12 hours ago, David Burgess said:

And what could be better than retro and archaic for a violin making site? :P

No site at all and no phone number.

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12 hours ago, Mike Spencer said:

I come from this niche market and business is extremely difficult. Working for the masters of the universe....

I've heard the same, from a fine furniture maker that lived down road from me,  he decided to retire rather than carry on in an increasingly difficult market. 

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21 hours ago, lawrence furse said:

My experience is the same with websites .   Of course you need one to keep your name out there,  but most sales come from word of mouth reference or just plain hustling, door to door,  conferences,  workshops, etc.  You just can't sit in your shop and think the world will come to you.  It doesn't work that way unless you have a nice downtown location which few makers like us can afford.

I  agree,  I do my best to keep engaged in social media, website and local advertising.  Nowadays my vacations for me are attending the conventions, competitions, workshops, conferences, sponsoring chamber music events, and so on.  I make an effort to support the local string community, students, professionals and amateurs.  I love making instruments and going on 3 years with a shop I do my best to slowly develop as many different revenue streams as I can so that I can continue to pursue my passion for making, all the while learning as much as I can.  From the musicians to the makers I take it all in.  I am just happy to have a wife and family that put up with my obsession  :P

14 hours ago, Evan Smith said:

You have to have a consistent high quality product,

A good snow shovel and a heater.

Evan Shivering

 

LOL  You are too funny:)

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17 minutes ago, lawrence furse said:

I've heard the same, from a fine furniture maker that lived down road from me,  he decided to retire rather than carry on in an increasingly difficult market. 

I did want to make an observation though, based on things I have noticed over the years regarding items that don't 'hit' any market:

1. Example 1: If you are making old-style wooden chairs - who are you selling to?  Young buyers (with money) won't want them, because they look outdated.  Old people won't want them, because they already have them.  Therefore - you are not succeeding because you are not paying attention to the market.  It's not the materials you used, it's not the quality of your work, it's not even the aethetics of what you are producing - it's just no one wants to buy that style of item at  this point in time.

2. Example 2: Well crafted items that are made of 'inferior' or perceived inferior materials.  Ie.  Phentex yarn.  I remember when this olefin yarn came out in mass production, and all the craft knitters when nuts and started knitting everything out of it.  Phentex is fine for crafts and for slippers (and industrial/commerical purposes - but that's not what I'm talking about).  It doesn't make for nice sweaters or scarves, yet I have seen sweaters and scarves for sale.  So, the talent, experience and craftsmanship can be present, but who is going to buy it?

3. Example 3:  Poorly crafted items made out of poor quality materials.  Ie. Pet and baby portraits produced by people who think they have natural talent, or whose mom told them they have natural talent - who have no talent (or untrained talent).  They buy their supplies at the dollar store and they often charge as much as truly talented artists.  They do seem to sell, but hopefully only to supportive relatives.  However, I suggest those supportive relatives employ more of a 'tough love' approach.

4. Example 4: Getting into the game too late.  Ie .  Unique, trendy items that sold well at the craft fair in 2014 won't do well in 2018 because they are passe, and anyone who wanted one already bought one.

5. Example 5: Getting into the game too early. Ie. You have a unique idea - and are enamoured of it, and go whole hog into producing it because you want to have the unique trendy item that catches on - only to find your vision holds no appeal for anyone else.  Can't think of a good example, but upside-down Xmas trees come close...

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 Rue, you are right about furniture.      I hear many of the antique shops here are struggling because young people today don't want the old,  heavy, clunky, antique style furniture.  They like the stuff from IKEA that is neatly folded in to boxes that they can easily move around in the back of their Subarus.

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Rue, it's a good point you make about styles changing. Styles have changed slot in the last 10 years but essentially the same style has been in vogue the last 10 years too. Look in any architectural digest type of magazine and you will see it. It is characterized by Walnut woods, white back painted glass, white stone top surfaces, stainless steel or dark bronze accents. In the business I'm associated with we only build custom designs so it's always the latest. Think corporate America board rooms of fortune 1000 companies. The client always wants the highest quality, lowest cost and custom designed/engineered. In our business one of the things that has changed a lot is how space is utilized and this does require a different type of product. Sorry to stray off topic. 

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12 hours ago, John_London said:

I agree that it is a good site. You are proof that for raising public awareness, the value of ..

My phones show it as if it was a large screen, which results in letters 1/2mm tall.  Here's a roughly roughed-out version of what's there that adjusts to screen size.  Will work on phones:  new, improved

 

 

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21 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

My phones show it as if it was a large screen, which results in letters 1/2mm tall.  Here's a roughly roughed-out version of what's there that adjusts to screen size.  Will work on phones.  home.windstream.net/dev3301/b1

 

 

That link did not work for me. Anyway, the site wants updating, clearly, to make it easier to use on smartphones, and easier to use for people with disabilites. Nevertheless, someone has put time and effort and heart into it and I really wanted to say to Rue that I have seen several friends for whom that kind of investment online, which need not cost much if you do the work yourself, has kick-started success; and I've seen many other businesses where the owners just don't see the connection between poor online presence and slow trade.

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A website is not an online presence.

If people already know who you are, then a website in itself is enough. Googling "David Burgess Violins" will take anyone anywhere in the world to that website.

I think Rue's original question probably relates more to someone who searches "fine handmade violin for sale". In this situation, a website will do absolutely nothing for you unless it comes up on page 1 of Google, in front of the other 500 maker's' websites. And if you have time to ensure that sort of Google recognition, you probably don't have much time for making violins.

And if people do find your site, how do they opt for one maker over another? Everyone says the same thing (extensive study of the classical makers), everyone makes the same thing (closely observed antiqued copies of the classical makers), and everyone has a very similar website. The only thing you can really use to break the mould is a "story", and web designers love this, but when everyone has one then no-one has one.

Ultimately the online side of it becomes quite secondary, and we're back with good old word of mouth.

The internet gives the illusion of control, but in fact the absurd proliferation of consumer choice just paralyses us.

 

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1 minute ago, martin swan said:

A website is not an online presence.

If people already know who you are, then a website in itself is enough. Googling "David Burgess Violins" will take anyone anywhere in the world to that website.

I think Rue's original question probably relates more to someone who searches "fine handmade violin for sale". In this situation, a website will do absolutely nothing for you unless it comes up on page 1 of Google, in front of the other 500 maker's' websites. And if you have time to ensure that sort of Google recognition, you probably don't have much time for making violins.

And if people do find your site, how do they opt for one maker over another? Everyone says the same thing (extensive study of the classical makers), everyone makes the same thing (closely observed antiqued copies of the classical makers), and everyone has a very similar website. The only thing you can really use to break the mould is a "story", and web designers love this, but when everyone has one then no-one has one.

Ultimately the online side of it becomes quite secondary, and we're back with good old word of mouth.

The internet gives the illusion of control, but in fact the absurd proliferation of consumer choice just paralyses us.

 

That may be true, unless you are in a local market for repairs for example, where you can get to the top in Google. I still think a website is part of the picture, though I know it works better in some trades than others. I have visited your site several times and given it considerable attention--partly because there is interesting material there and partly because you post interesting and useful material here. To be fair that has not led to a sale. There again, I have given a bit of business to violin shops near me over the years, and if I were local to you, your positive online presence including the site would give me a push in your direction.

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30 minutes ago, martin swan said:

The internet gives the illusion of control, but in fact the absurd proliferation of consumer choice just paralyses us.

 

Whaddya mean "us', Kemo Sabe? [If you don't recognize the punchline, Martin, please PM me].:lol:

My major paralysis from online buying is deciding which of my delightful treasures I'll restore first.  [Returns to deciding between cleating a crack or wrapping a tsuka]

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Thanks to everyone for their responses! :)

On 2/10/2018 at 3:00 PM, lawrence furse said:

 Rue, you are right about furniture.      I hear many of the antique shops here are struggling because young people today don't want the old,  heavy, clunky, antique style furniture.  They like the stuff from IKEA that is neatly folded in to boxes that they can easily move around in the back of their Subarus.

 

On 2/10/2018 at 3:37 PM, Mike Spencer said:

Rue, it's a good point you make about styles changing. Styles have changed slot in the last 10 years but essentially the same style has been in vogue the last 10 years too. Look in any architectural digest type of magazine and you will see it. It is characterized by Walnut woods, white back painted glass, white stone top surfaces, stainless steel or dark bronze accents. In the business I'm associated with we only build custom designs so it's always the latest. Think corporate America board rooms of fortune 1000 companies. The client always wants the highest quality, lowest cost and custom designed/engineered. In our business one of the things that has changed a lot is how space is utilized and this does require a different type of product. Sorry to stray off topic. 

Styles certainly change, but it's also nice to see that many decorators are incorporating antique with new, or minimalist furniture.  I quite like that overall look, has the best of both worlds.

This brings up another issue too - that of heirlooms and passing things down.  I see a lot of older people who buy things they like, and are confident that they are going to pass it down to their kids who will love it as much as they do.  

Yeah...no.

Buy what you like, but do not buy for others.  No one is obligated to share in your personal tastes.

This goes for violins too - and that's why so many Strads end up in attics...

Having said that though - one would hope that really well crafted products will find a new home down the road when the time comes, just not necessarily with family members.

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It also depends on what market is for you.  If you judge by volume and/or repeat varnish orders, the most successful market these days is in the $5-10 thousand dollar range with fiddler's rather than classical players.

Joe

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1 hour ago, Rue said:

This goes for violins too - and that's why so many Strads end up in attics...

Now I am really disappointed with my Mom for not putting a Strad in my attic... :(

Hope you got some useful info in there somewhere! At least noone told you to take a long walk off a short pier, to paraphrase another thread. Though if you showed with vegemite, hmmm...

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Another thing that really comes into play is something that everyone knows but no one really talks about because in the end it makes it all seem somewhat pointless, and that is ; "it's not what you know, it's who you know"...now in this monkey business you obviously need to have your chops down enough to present a saleable product, but unfortunately the "who you know" thing comes into play very much. 

Often times in biz meeting just ONE key person can turn everything around. I remember as a young man trying to start out in construction, I was really very good at a young age, but it is very hard to get your first jobs, often times, just like in any business, you end up selling yourself short and doing things for cheap. I never really went that route and probably had it tougher at first, but I did not want to lock myself in as "the cheap guy" which what happens if you do that, you do jobs for people crying poor mouth, next thing you know, all your referral work is for "nice sweet old ladies who have no money" and at that point you might as well hang a sign in the window that says "Jesus Christ Carpentry" because every job becomes a charity case. 

At a certain point after toughing it out for quite a while, I had done a job for a smaller contractor, I really liked him, but he ended up owing me 500$ for a final payment and he never sent the check, at this point I had started doing better, but was still growing, for some reason I never got "weird" with this guy, just called every once and awhile and asked if he could send the check, never came. Then one day the phone rang, it was him! I asked if he had my check, he said, no, I have something better, rolling my eyes , I asked what?, he said that his father in law, a "big contractor" had a large job that needed a bid, so I went and did the bid and met his father in law, after that day, I NEVER wanted for work ever again, was able to double my prices and basically found myself on easy street based on this one guy, and all the work that came from him and the 6 degrees of separation from that.

So what ever it is you do, one can not discount interpersonal relationships in business and just "who" and what circle you operate in. If you don't have a circle, you should think about ways to create them. Don't sell yourself short, and don't underestimate the power of the internet and how it gives you the ability to muscle your way into contacts by simply taking the reigns and "doing it" The worst they can say is no or not contact you back, yet on the other hand you'd be surprised what a well thought out introduction can do for you and how that one simple thing could lead to much bigger things.

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2 hours ago, jezzupe said:

Another thing that really comes into play is something that everyone knows but no one really talks about because in the end it makes it all seem somewhat pointless, and that is ; "it's not what you know, it's who you know"...now in this monkey business you obviously need to have your chops down enough to present a saleable product, but unfortunately the "who you know" thing comes into play very much. 

 

Sure, but I've often posted opions semi-contrary to those of the acknowledged experts, and they seem to put up with me.

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My first thought when seeing the thread was, 'what does anyone in the violin trade have to complain about--the situation is far worse for musicians hoping to make a living as classical or jazz performers, however good they are.'

I feel should be able to contribute a perspective as I will probably buy a violin this year. However, it will be by word of mouth (sort of--I approached the maker of my current instrument when I fancied a second one).

The Internet thing does work sometimes, because before buying the current instrument, which I found through a contact originally made online, I ordered a new violin on approval from someone I found on the net. I had picked the maker based on what the website said, and on price, after searching through all the luthiers' sites in the UK and a few further afield. Although I sent the violin back, I really wanted to like it. Too heavy. I like a light violin. With the right online blarney people sell overpriced inferior instruments on ebay, so why would that not work for fairly priced, good instruments, if anyone made the effort to offer them with bold claims about how well they 'play'?

Who are the market? Probably far more instruments are sold to amateurs and teachers than to professional performers (given the under-supply of work for musicians in a saturated market)? And probably they are mostly buying from dealers?

As an amateur buyer it takes a lot of courage to order an instrument from a maker, even a maker with celebrity endorsements. The first fear is being asked for a CV before being added to a waiting list :-(. The biggest barrier is because most of us are looking for that special companion or violin to fall in love with which will make us sound better than we are, so we want to hear the instrument, and mainly to hear it under the ear, before buying. The lack of prices on most websites makes the buying process even more nerve-wracking. So a tryout of several instruments at a dealer, in the acoustically live tryout room dealers seem to favour, is an attractive idea. In other words, a maker who is not selling through a shop, and who is not offering instruments ready-made and clearly priced, is massively narrowing his or her market, I suspect, to more confident buyers. Now that I have given up on the idea that any violin could make me sound better, I am probably atypical for an amateur, but I still feel some of that apprehension about ordrering a bow from a maker.

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When I first started making violas I tried to sell them at a wide range of prices but that didn't work.

Then I tried giving them away to schools and youth groups but nobody wanted them.  Now I'm trying to find somebody I can pay to take them away.

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