StringWorks Blog

Notes from the founder of StringWorks, Todd French. Please feel free to email me with your questions or comments, or even suggestions on blog topics I might tackle.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

State of the Market - Passion or Profit?

I had a meeting today with the new Vice President of Advancement at Illinois Wesleyan University (where I serve on the Board of Trustees, so not exactly as random a meeting it may appear) and he had some interesting, thought-provoking questions that I don't consider all that frequently with StringWorks. Primary among them was concerning future growth or growth potential. I explained that it was sort of a decision between Passion or Profit, in terms of staying the course as it is now or moving on to the more typical scenario of wholesaling and/or distributing the now developed brand of StringWorks.

One the one hand, the current one, the volume is still quite manageable, and customers will always get personal attention. It's a common misconception that StringWorks is an ultra-high-volume retailer - we are far from it - and this is partly by design. However, what business owner does not seek further successes whenever feasible? I guess it all lies in how you define 'success'. The Passion side of running a business such as this marries musician to musician, rather than moving product to the masses. It creates perhaps not the most perfect case of business growth and development, but does foster intangible benefits like loyalty and joy in what you do - hard to put a price/measurement on that type of success, really.

The Profit side pulls the business owner to capitalize on successes and build on them, giving the company the most growth it can sustain responsibly. Several colleagues from all industry paths have made strong arguments that I shortchange myself and the company by not capitalizing on a successful branding of the instruments and the company, that by pursuing wholesale distribution of the StringWorks instrument, case, and bow lines is the perfect and natural opportunity. Obviously one assumes that volume would increase substantially in such a situation, particularly if the distribution channels could be successfully implemented worldwide, but then again this is an industry full of supply, and demand of a diminishing art such as string playing can only be sustained so far. Still, it remains a viable consideration, as the 'pride in the product' could be shared with more musicians the world over.

It may seem apparent that I have chosen the former - to stick with the Passion side and continue to run the business as we have all along - only instruments, cases, and bows, and as much chatter and advice as you want to spend on the phone hearing. (The case (no pun intended) for selling accessories and sheet music has come up more than once as well) We are still able to develop solid, close relationships with a number of our clients, and that would be all but forgotten if we decided to go into the mass market - I'm not sure we could all live without it.

When you have a staff such as I have, it's hard to turn away that dedication and commitment and advance to 'moving product'. Our loyal customers are developing relationships with the StringWorks team, and since both parties enjoy the opportunity to share this common interest, why take it away?

That's my State of the Market in my little micro-niche for now - who knows what will come of next year...I hope nothing changes.


Blogger curtis said...

The work integrity comes to mind where yours is at a high level and will remain intact.

It seems there would be room for advancement without having to become the "Strings Superstore".

For instance, the Stringworks product line has steadily been improved and slightly expanded. A little at a time, maybe you can intriduce a few more instruments, cases and bows without changing the format of the company.

Although the instruments are exclusively made for Stringworks, I always thought it would be nice if the were labled "from the workshop of............made exclusively for Stringworks" along with their model name.
That may help remove any stygma or notion that they are massed produced instruments made for a dealer and give the instruments more individuality. The word Stringworks is a nice name for the company but may give customers a sense of purchasing an instrument from the "Stringworks factory".

Fortunately, many of your customers have established a relationship with the company and amazingly through the forum, with each other which made us a well educated consumer. Hopefully, more customers will do the same.

Thank you for remaining true to you ideals. You've really made it easy for your customers to enter the world of stringed instruments with your honesty and integrity by removing much of the guesswork and hassles and avoiding many of the "hawks" out there pushing an inferior product. That seems to be a major part of your goals which you have acheived. For that, your customers will rremain eternally grateful.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Gary Drainville said...

I agree with you Curtis, the name Stringworks is a fine name but I think that consideration should be given to the idea of "from the workshop of... One of the things that drew me to buy my Cello and Violin from Stringworks was the concept of the "corner store" approach to the customer - not dealing with a large faceless company. I know that if I wanted a particular quality in an instrument, Stringworks would give me that level of service and attention I would expect from a business with the type of business ethic described by Todd French. Pat, Erik and Edmund from Stringworks have all helped me at some time or another with advice and I like the fact that I can pick the phone up and ask for any one of them and get expert personalized support. And to echo what Curtis said - thank you for remaining true to your ideals.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Carolyn said...

Agreed with all of the above. If it had not been for the Stringworks forum, I may not have investigated the Stringworks line of instruments, and the end result may have been different!

6:45 AM  

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