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MMD > Archives > October 1997 > 1997.10.03 > 08Prev  Next

Selling Mechanical Musical Instruments
By John A. Tuttle

Hi Everybody,

Without intending to sound too sarcastic, if the answer to Joyce Brite's
question about creating demand for Mechanical Musical Instruments were as
easy as 1-2-3, most of those who sell such treasures wouldn't be reading
the Mechanical Music Digest, they would be sailing in the Bahamas and
drinking exotic concoctions prepared by beautiful island girls or (for
you ladies) guys.  (that's suppose to be humorous)  :-)

In a single word, one answer is "LISTEN".  Listen to your customers,
listen to current events and most importantly, listen to your heart.
But that won't create demand.  ;-(

In every business book, seminar and class, the key word is always 'listen'.
Most retailers fail in this regard because they have an agenda or a quota
to meet.  However, listening provides you with a wealth of knowledge
about your customers and their desires.  Focusing on their desires is the
surest way to capture a sale.  But they have to be in your store or
looking to buy before any of that becomes important.  ;-(

Keeping up on current events is a big plus because it helps the customer
identify with you as a person.  A good salesperson will always find a way
to relate the product to the person, and to a current event that
interests him or her.  Still, they have to come looking.  ;-(

Listening to your heart is, for some people, the hardest thing to do.
It typically conflicts with the 'bottom line' and is, therefore,
disregarded.  My personal and professional attitude is 'half a loaf
is better than none'.  I don't like selling anything at less than market
value but if my heart says it okay, then I sell it for less.  (So how do
you get them to look?) ;-o

Some of you who know me pretty well might be thinking, 'John doesn't buy
or sell instruments, what does he know?'.  That wasn't always the case.
For the first ten years that I was in business, I did buy and sell.
However, I discovered that I could profit more by selling work than I
could by buying old broken down players and rebuilding them.  The basic
problem was that I couldn't compete with the much lower labor rates that
factories pay their laborers and, therefore, the cost of my goods were
often higher than the cost of a new unit.  That situation hasn't changed.
(So get to the point already!) (;->)

Lots of business advisors say, "Advertise, advertise, advertise", yet in
the same breathe they admit that if you get a two percent return from
advertising, you're doing above average.  That's not very helpful in our
industry when you consider that 40%-50% of our potential profit is eaten
up by taxes (15%), administration (20%) and advertising (12%), that we
must have so that people know we exist.  (Now we're getting close) ;-)

Realistically, there is no easy answer to Joyce's question and convincing
the general public that they need a luxury item in this day and age will
remain difficult.  However, I believe I have part of the answer.

One of the reasons I've poured hundreds of hours into my web site is that
I realize that the people using the Internet (approximately 63 million)
are economically above average and, thus far, it's paying off.  Roll sales
have increased at least 20% over last year and I'm still backlogged about
two years for major restorations.  Conversely, regular service calls are
down, which indicates to me that people are a bit more concerned about
the poor state of the economy, taxation and high insurance costs here in
New Jersey.  :-(

My point and partial answer, although I took a while to get here, is;
invest your time in creating a presence on the Internet.  Show the world
what you have to offer, they're looking for you.  I know this is true
because I refer some people to other sites, companies or individuals when
they ask me for things that I sometimes don't even mention at my site.
And provide pictures and sound bites of the items.  Nothing gets a person
more excited about something than a little taste.  Use the tools that are
literally at your fingertips.

Here is just one of many very similar letters that I get almost everyday:
received 10/2/97 7:00 PM (EDT):

> John,
> My wife recently received the player piano of her childhood
> from her parents.  It is a "Fayette S. Cable, Chicago" upright
> player piano serial no. 160153.  It rewinds well but drags
> and plays at irregular speed.  A visit from the local piano
> shop keeper was quite unsatisfactory.  Do you know of a parts,
> instruction manual, or information source for this piano?
> While it may not be in the greatest shape, it has huge emotional
> value to our family.  I would like to repair/have it repaired
> reasonably.
> Thanks for your help,  Gene Flipse (Ricardo, Texas)

My Response:

> Hi Gene,
> It's sad that you live so far away.  I'd love to come in and get
> it going for you but.. the best book for you is "Player Piano
> Servicing and Rebuilding" by Arthur Reblitz.  This book is
> available from the Player Piano Co., in Wichita, KS.  You can
> order it by calling 316-263-3241.  It's a great reference book.
> Also, check out my Player Technicians Listing at:
> for a player piano
> technician in your area.  I highly recommend hiring a qualified
> professional to work on your keepsake over "do-it-yourself"
> repairs.

Note: I can be really long-winded when I'm trying to make a point.  So,
'listen' to me.  I know it's working.  And if you won't listen to me, ask
some of the other retailers about their successes with the Internet.  We
create demand by showing people what they can get and by being there when
they are looking.

And if you (the technicians) aren't listed at, drop me a
line.  I'll have you listed within 12 hours for FREE.

Musically Optimistic,

John A. Tuttle (

(Message sent Fri 3 Oct 1997, 14:05:03 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Instruments, Mechanical, Musical, Selling

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