Rue

Selling in a saturated market

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5 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... 

...So whatever 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.

This is exactly what it all boils down to.  The problem is, for most folks, networking and aggressively building interpersonal relationships are not their "long suit".  They are largely destined to be hobbyists...  meaning the satisfaction they receive from making must be their reward.  I'm aware of one successful luthier who, with one or two of his instruments in hand, spent many evenings in the bar rooms of large city hotels, where famous musicians would unwind following performances- engaging them in conversation, buying them drinks, etc.  He devised clever ways to involve notable people in the use and promotion of his instruments.  He was the epitomy of self promotion, and enjoyed a long and very successful career.

On the town with Sauret.jpg

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20 minutes ago, Ron1 said:

I'm aware of one successful luthier who, with one or two of his instruments in hand, spent many evenings in the bar rooms of large city hotels, where famous musicians would unwind following performances- engaging them in conversation, buying them drinks, etc.

Now I know what to do with that bottle of gin..... ;)

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30 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Now I know what to do with that bottle of gin..... ;)

Sounds like we're slowly coming full circle to my suggestion in the first reply.  :ph34r::lol:

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14 hours ago, John_London said:

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

If you ask someone if a shy person is more likely to be a violin customer or a salesman they will say customer.  But since there are a hundred times more salesmen than customers he's actually more likely to be a salesman.

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During my first career I had a successful side business as a dog trainer.  My clients were mostly professionals in the trade hiring me to put obedience titles on dogs with confirmation championships.  I had good reputation that I earned in competitions.   All my advertisement was by word of mouth.  When I retired from my primary job I needed to become a salesman to generate the cash flow for dog training to pay the bills.  I realized that I found 6 years of college much less painful than being a salesman.  I expect my success in getting my instruments into players hands may be similar to Marty's unless I find a salesman (shop) that happens to like me (and my instruments).

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On 2/8/2018 at 11:01 AM, Rue said:

How do you establish a niche for yourself in this climate?  Most MNers would fall into the middle/high end market. 

8 minutes ago, Jim Bress said:

I expect my success in getting my instruments into players hands may be similar to Marty's unless I find a salesman (shop) that happens to like me (and my instruments).

Surprisingly little has been mentioned about the 600 pound gorilla in the room.  Now, I don't want to start a complaint department (again) on China, but the reality is that the saturation of the market has a LOT to do with those imports.

Dealers or shops need to make money to stay in business.  If you have a product in the middle/high end of the price range, and the quality/performance of your product is not obviously superior to something the dealer can get for thousands of dollars less (and sell for a higher profit), there's a huge headwind to fight.  I had this exact experience with a shop (however, the dealer went entirely by appearance and pricing, without any regard to tone).  And, let's face it... the quality of the competition is pretty good.

The selling options in my view reduce to:

1.  Sell super-cheap and call it a money-losing hobby... compete on price.

2.  Concentrate on getting workmanship and tone consistently above the competition (do you have the talent/skill/time that it takes?).  With a consistently good product, gradually a reputation can be achieved with time.

3.  Make connections to buyers who value personal contact and the "not-from-you-know-where" aspect of your instruments.  High visibility, and energy applied to salesmanship can work, although I haven't tried it myself.

 

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5 minutes ago, Rue said:

...hmmm...wanna take on a daschund (who shall remain nameless...)? Just for old times?

Isn't "obedient dachshund" an oxymoron? :lol:

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49 minutes ago, Rue said:

...hmmm...wanna take on a daschund (who shall remain nameless...)? Just for old times?

I only train for friends and family now.  If you want to drive to Maryland once a week I'd be happy to train you to train your dachshund. :)

42 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

Surprisingly little has been mentioned about the 600 pound gorilla in the room.  Now, I don't want to start a complaint department (again) on China, but the reality is that the saturation of the market has a LOT to do with those imports.

Dealers or shops need to make money to stay in business.  If you have a product in the middle/high end of the price range, and the quality/performance of your product is not obviously superior to something the dealer can get for thousands of dollars less (and sell for a higher profit), there's a huge headwind to fight.  I had this exact experience with a shop (however, the dealer went entirely by appearance and pricing, without any regard to tone).  And, let's face it... the quality of the competition is pretty good.

The selling options in my view reduce to:

1.  Sell super-cheap and call it a money-losing hobby... compete on price.

2.  Concentrate on getting workmanship and tone consistently above the competition (do you have the talent/skill/time that it takes?).  With a consistently good product, gradually a reputation can be achieved with time.

3.  Make connections to buyers who value personal contact and the "not-from-you-know-where" aspect of your instruments.  High visibility, and energy applied to salesmanship can work, although I haven't tried it myself.

 

Never a good idea to fight a 600 pound gorilla on the gorilla's terms.  Good points. 

-Jim

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14 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

Surprisingly little has been mentioned about the 600 pound gorilla in the room.  Now, I don't want to start a complaint department (again) on China, but the reality is that the saturation of the market has a LOT to do with those imports.

Dealers or shops need to make money to stay in business.  If you have a product in the middle/high end of the price range, and the quality/performance of your product is not obviously superior to something the dealer can get for thousands of dollars less (and sell for a higher profit), there's a huge headwind to fight.  I had this exact experience with a shop (however, the dealer went entirely by appearance and pricing, without any regard to tone).  And, let's face it... the quality of the competition is pretty good.

The selling options in my view reduce to:

1.  Sell super-cheap and call it a money-losing hobby... compete on price.

2.  Concentrate on getting workmanship and tone consistently above the competition (do you have the talent/skill/time that it takes?).  With a consistently good product, gradually a reputation can be achieved with time.

3.  Make connections to buyers who value personal contact and the "not-from-you-know-where" aspect of your instruments.  High visibility, and energy applied to salesmanship can work, although I haven't tried it myself.

 

Spot on. You sound more like a businessperson rather than an engineer. I always questioned the business model for just making instruments. A successful shop has to be high end and full service - impervious to the China Syndrome as it were.

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22 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

Surprisingly little has been mentioned about the 600 pound gorilla in the room.  Now, I don't want to start a complaint department (again) on China, but the reality is that the saturation of the market has a LOT to do with those imports.

Dealers or shops need to make money to stay in business.  If you have a product in the middle/high end of the price range, and the quality/performance of your product is not obviously superior to something the dealer can get for thousands of dollars less (and sell for a higher profit), there's a huge headwind to fight.  I had this exact experience with a shop (however, the dealer went entirely by appearance and pricing, without any regard to tone).  And, let's face it... the quality of the competition is pretty good.

The selling options in my view reduce to:

1.  Sell super-cheap and call it a money-losing hobby... compete on price.

2.  Concentrate on getting workmanship and tone consistently above the competition (do you have the talent/skill/time that it takes?).  With a consistently good product, gradually a reputation can be achieved with time.

3.  Make connections to buyers who value personal contact and the "not-from-you-know-where" aspect of your instruments.  High visibility, and energy applied to salesmanship can work, although I haven't tried it myself.

 

A few observations on shops and Chinese instruments, for whatever they are worth that directly tie into your #3: 

The Chinese do make frightfully good instruments.  However, they are not so good at being "individuals."  Yes, many wonderful Chinese makers win tons of awards at competitions... and then seem to promptly open large workshops pumping varying levels of instruments (all with numbers to designate the models) that get set to the sates, driven around the country by two dudes in white panel vans.  These vans stop at violin shops, and the salesmen do their best to show these wares to shop owners.  Many of these instruments don't have labels or brands, even the ones supposedly made by the head of the shop who has won the awards.  Selling these things becomes precarious after a point.  Once you get beyond the most basic of student models, customers love to have an emotional connection with where their instruments come from.  That becomes tough to sell with an instrument that lacks personality, or connection to a person/place.  So, my advice is if you are going to compete with Chinese instruments, your individuality and relate-ability  are just as important as tonal aspects.  

 

And set up....  

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29 minutes ago, Violadamore said:

Isn't "obedient dachshund" an oxymoron? :lol:

But but but!  She comes from working lines!!!  She is not JUST a pretty face.

12 minutes ago, Jim Bress said:

I only train for friends and family now.  If you want to drive to Maryland once a week I'd be happy to train you to train your dachshund.

...

-Jim

Well...that might also be helpful...one can never assume one knows more than they think they know.  We're in Novice classes now - while I'm currently a bit rusty at higher level training,  in the past I've trained up to Utility and FWIW I've taught Beginner and have done some private consults...

We no longer do Conformation...too political.  The last straw was when the Judge and a Competitor were discussing and giggling over their weekend together while we were all in the ring...and I got heck because I was 'crowding' said Competitor's dog (in an attempt to divert attention back to the reason we were all there).  I'm surprised they managed to stop chatting long enough to notice...I'm not surprised said Competitor won.  And yes, my dog was the nicer example of the breed, by a long shot.

Anyway...the happiness of the dog is paramount to me.  If she hates doing it, I won't force her...she has areas she excels in...best lap warmer ever...:wub:

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11 hours ago, Rue said:

But but but!  She comes from working lines!!!  She is not JUST a pretty face.

Well...that might also be helpful...one can never assume one knows more than they think they know.  We're in Novice classes now - while I'm currently a bit rusty at higher level training,  in the past I've trained up to Utility and FWIW I've taught Beginner and have done some private consults...

We no longer do Conformation...too political.  The last straw was when the Judge and a Competitor were discussing and giggling over their weekend together while we were all in the ring...and I got heck because I was 'crowding' said Competitor's dog (in an attempt to divert attention back to the reason we were all there).  I'm surprised they managed to stop chatting long enough to notice...I'm not surprised said Competitor won.  And yes, my dog was the nicer example of the breed, by a long shot.

Anyway...the happiness of the dog is paramount to me.  If she hates doing it, I won't force her...she has areas she excels in...best lap warmer ever...:wub:

It might be useful to remember that the work they were bred for consisted of being introduced into a badger's burrow, wriggling into it enthusiastically, sinking their fangs into whatever warm, furry object they find inside first, resolutely holding on to it while backing out of the burrow, maintaining that hold while a yelling, whooping, clot of hooligans in green felt beat the badger to death while pouring beer on each other, then accepting a treat as their wounds are stitched, and nothing more than that.  Their instincts and personalities are suited to being an elite "tunnel rat".  Such tactical rarities are often "organizationally challenged",  and ill-suited to boring regimentation. :)  [Mentally scratches the long departed "Rakete" behind the ears, relives some interesting memories, and gets appallingly misty.]

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We try to keep things from getting too boring...and I'm not going for high in trial...I just want to pass...^_^

main-qimg-b5c0dd4d7b2c97e91f42a35a981cb2

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 I find it interesting that through out this thread no one has mentioned the role of teachers. In general I find that if a quality teacher is happy with my instruments then I make multiple sales to their students at whatever level they teach. So if they are a Suzuki teacher I will get requests for good fractional size instruments and if they are conservatory professors then my own instruments come into play. By and large the student buys what their teacher reccomends which is why those of us who do not pay kickbacks to teachers are sometimes cut out of sales opportunities. While it is a given that your instruments must be as good or better than your competition there are certainly times when the teachers opinion either based on confidence in your work or by a payment from some other seller makes or breaks a sale.

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3 hours ago, Bill Merkel said:

I'll try one but I'll warn you if I don't like it I'm throwing it away.

Thanks.  Please send me a private email with your address.

These violas are by far the best ones ever made but I don't need to establish a business making them and I don't want the pressure of keeping all the great players in the world happy.

Like some others, all I would like to do is cover my costs of equipment, materials, conferences, books etc.  A  viola player close friend suggested I add mental health counseling to this list.

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2 hours ago, Don Noon said:

Surprisingly little has been mentioned about the 600 pound gorilla in the room.  Now, I don't want to start a complaint department (again) on China, but the reality is that the saturation of the market has a LOT to do with those imports.

Dealers or shops need to make money to stay in business.  If you have a product in the middle/high end of the price range, and the quality/performance of your product is not obviously superior to something the dealer can get for thousands of dollars less (and sell for a higher profit), there's a huge headwind to fight.  I had this exact experience with a shop (however, the dealer went entirely by appearance and pricing, without any regard to tone).  And, let's face it... the quality of the competition is pretty good.

The selling options in my view reduce to:

1.  Sell super-cheap and call it a money-losing hobby... compete on price.

2.  Concentrate on getting workmanship and tone consistently above the competition (do you have the talent/skill/time that it takes?).  With a consistently good product, gradually a reputation can be achieved with time.

3.  Make connections to buyers who value personal contact and the "not-from-you-know-where" aspect of your instruments.  High visibility, and energy applied to salesmanship can work, although I haven't tried it myself.

 

I've been reluctant to wade into this discussion from the selling side, because, despite certain romantic illusions (appearing, appropriately enough, during the Romantic period), while from the buyer's side, the violin market is an attractive (if somewhat murky) pool filled with interesting things, when entered from the producing seller's side, it's a quagmire.  This has always been true, unless one occupies a privileged position within it.  Those positions, IMHO, consist of the following cases:

  1.   Ownership of a large and productive facility/workshop with access to transportation;
  2.   Having sufficient skills, connections, inspiration, product quality, and exposure that the "posh" and celebrity trade discovers you;
  3.   Location in a cultural hub with unusually high demand;
  4. Any combination of 1-3; 

OR

       5.  Being shielded from competition by regulation, subsidization, or isolation (political or geographic).

Anyone living in developed English-speaking Western-style democracies as their politics is currently structured, can forget #5.  Our industry has zero strategic importance, little traditional cultural or patriotic resonance with most of the public (and actually a negative image in some demographics), generates few jobs, and can't mobilize the capital or popular support to lobby government into protecting us.   Our transportation and communications networks are too good for anyone to be economically shielded from the Internet, and none of our countries is at war (hot or cold) with any violin-producing states.

There's also other problems.  There isn't a single, continuous, violin market from cheapest to most expensive, but they are all "luxury" markets from bottom to top.  Except for the absolutely musically obsessed (who will probably purchase only from Case #2 shops anyway), violins are not a necessity. 

Any comments so far, before I slog on with this?

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2 hours ago, Michael_Molnar said:

Spot on. You sound more like a businessperson rather than an engineer. I always questioned the business model for just making instruments. 

I consider myself reasonably knowledgeable about  business and finance, and therefore never considered making instruments to be a viable business model.  Similar to the business model of being a pro tennis player... there are plenty of examples of success, but plenty more (but less visible) examples of non-success.

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1 hour ago, nathan slobodkin said:

I find it interesting that through out this thread no one has mentioned the role of teachers. In general I find that if a quality teacher is happy with my instruments then I make multiple sales to their students at whatever level they teach. So if they are a Suzuki teacher I will get requests for good fractional size instruments and if they are conservatory professors then my own instruments come into play. By and large the student buys what their teacher reccomends which is why those of us who do not pay kickbacks to teachers are sometimes cut out of sales opportunities. While it is a given that your instruments must be as good or better than your competition there are certainly times when the teachers opinion either based on confidence in your work or by a payment from some other seller makes or breaks a sale.

In some areas this dominates, and the student teacher relationship is absolutely key. Sometimes I still walk into a shop and the first thing asked is "who's your teacher".

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Because a lot of buyers (not me) are sold on the instrument's tone, why would a maker not get the help of an experienced specialist in setup, to give his or her instruments the most appealing voice possible? After all, good set up is central to selling famous Italians. I can see nothing unethical about getting help with setup, if the maker is not too proud to admit that there are colleagues who are better at that (though I do have strong views about the ethics and even legality of undisclosed teacher kickbacks).

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7 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

I wouldn't see anything wrong with giving a "kickback" to a teacher.  A real kickback is an enticement to make somebody do something illegal, like rigging a public contract.

An undsiclosed kickback is wrong because a teacher, like a doctor or a priest or a lawyer or financial advisor is in a position of trust. Uninformed students and their parents often are vulnerable to making  a bad decision financially owing to their own lack of knowlege and have little choice but to rely on that person's absolute integrity and impartiality. If that teacher has a financial incentive to recommend a more expensive instrument over a cheaper one, or to recommend a particular vendor, it is not clear that they have the utter impariality required to make, as far as they are able, the recommendations which are in the best insterests of the student who has placed trust in them.

The legality of an undsiclosed kickback depends on whether the teacher is formally held by the law in the field of Equity to be in a position of trust comparable with that of a lawyer or a doctor, and the view of the courts will vary in different common law jurisdictions. The underlying ethics seem pretty clear to me. The conflict is even deeper if the teacher is charging the student for advice which purports to be independent, and owing to a dealer commision is not.

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