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.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Violins and Costco - A Rant.

I noticed today that the 'Costco Effect' has gone to new levels, much to my chagrin and ultimate frustration. The 'Costco Effect' is known in the musical instrument trade as essentially the raping of the marketplace with poorly constructed, mass produced, readily available musical instruments of all types, priced so low as to singlehandedly adjust the marketplace pricing of the low end instruments to new lows. In all, bad news for the entire market - lower threshholds for pricing, poor quality instruments (which can encourage or develop frustration in the player), uneducated sellers, poor fitment and/or setup, and lack of support.

Previously, I noticed that only ultra-low end, ultra-low priced stringed instruments were offered, complete with "factory setup" (read: not setup to even the most remedial playing standards). Even from the photos you can see poorly fitted pegs, maligned bridges, cheap thin steel strings, and low quality wood, all finished off with a layer of lacquer. Frankly, I don't see any need for such low quality instruments in the marketplace and they do more harm than good - those looking at a budget can find used instruments of quality priced similarly or rent their instruments to stay budget-conscious. There is no need to have your child (or adult student) suffer through a poorly made, and extremely poorly setup instrument. Little does the uneducated consumer know that a stringed instrument (or just about any musical instrument) is NOT a commodity that is given a UPC code, put on the shelf, bought from a box, taken home and used - at least it shouldn't be. Unfortunately, the Costco Effect (also known as the Wal-Mart Effect - same issue) doesn't reveal this to the consumer, likely since it remains unknown to them as well.

Today I noticed that Costco is selling some sort of limited edition, special violin priced at roughly $2,000.00. To me, this goes from frustrating to ridiculous, and now Costco enters a whole new world of incompetence and ignorance. When you are talking about a $150 violin outfit, some leeway can be granted for general lack of quality, setup, and support. When you move to this pricing level, where there exists any number of fantastic, handmade instrument sporting fantastic tone, beautifully done individual setup and play testing, and generations of tradition, it is ludicrous to assume that spending this amount of money on an instrument from the warehouses of Costco is worthwhile. Still, I'm sure that many violin shops and music stores will lose customers, albeit uneducated ones, who will not realize what a serious, tactile, educated framework surrounds a purchase of such an instrument.

Costco is a friend to many of us - their warehouse pricing of products with brand names saves families a lot of money year after year, and it has proven its worth many times over with electronics, food products, and even lawn furniture. Musical instruments are not electronics (in most cases, mind you), food products, or lawn furniture. Stringed instruments in particular require expert development, execution, setup, and distribution - I wish Costco would recognize this, and stop robbing the hard-working violin shops and music stores of the business they SHOULD be getting.

I'm stepping off my soapbox now. Probably have to shop at Costco this weekend anyway...hope they don't read my blog or my membership may be revoked.

14 Comments:

Blogger curtis said...

I an't stand any of those major big stores. The K, the Wal, the now defunct Caldor, the one with the bullseye, BJ's, (gosh, I cringe when I say that) Costco, you name it. I even have a beef with Home Potheads, oops, I mean Depot.

I've seen SOOO many business close on Long Isand and I'm sure they are across America because of these cheap price, less quality stores. WAKE UP AMERICA. Can't we get an eye for quality?

Unfortunately I'm guilty of running there for the mega bottle of olive oil once in a while, but hey, drive out mom and pop and that's all you've got.

So go ahead and buy those crappy violins. We all make mistakes and as far as I'm concerned, you deserve it.

Corporate America. Burns me up, dammit.

4:05 AM  
Blogger tidesong said...

I totally agree with you both, Todd and Curtis. We're settling for so much crap nowadays; it's very sad!

The $2,000 violin at Costco shocks me, too. It's almost insulting. But I must admit, I'm darn curious to try one of them....

10:35 AM  
Blogger litebkt said...

There is a hesitancy to trust anything that these big chains sell. But here's the thing. Many quality companies are importing instruments from China. How long does it take before instruments of similar quality show up in the big retail chains? I agree it is unlikely that you'll not get one as nice as a shop that gives you that personal attention. But I've seen some beautiful Korean made grand pianos in Costco. I've played them and they seem to be of exceptional quality. Would I buy one from Costco? NO. I buy my products made in the USA if at all possible. I only buy groceries at Costco. My business for quality instruments will still be with a business that can give me personal attention even if the instrument is still from China.

But we do have to alter the ways in which we do business these days. I build and sell telescopes. In the past two years, cheap versions of what I sell are crossing the pond. I have had no orders for telescopes in the sizes offered even though what I build is a far superior product. I do lament the loss of value in our society. The lowest price is the only feature required. In this one way I agree; I am willing to invest zero dollars in cheap crap.

But I must change my model to keep my business "in business". I have to reach deeper into the niche market and really push impecable quality and customer service. Quality sells. That's my motto.

I see other companies changing as well. They are moving online and importing some or all products from China. Are all products from China cheap crap? Nope. If they are now, they will have better stuff next year. Then what will we do?

The world is changing my friends. And we, in the USA, are selling our way of life, our country (literally), and our jobs to other countries just to get the lowest price. What will happen when no one can affort to shop at Walmart? What will China do when the flow from the good ole USA ceases? I shudder at the thought.

Michelle

1:51 AM  
Blogger KristinDeV said...

I especially love that Costco advertises that their Marquis™ 4/4 Cello (Model MC 100-4 $499.99) comes with a User guide!!!!!

1:03 AM  
Blogger CelloBuyer said...

I just received the Costco Cello that I bought for my son. It is Chinese made. It has a brazilwood bow with m.o.p. birds eyes. It is straight and very well made. The cello has a solid maple back and sides, not laminated or fiberglass like the ones for 5 times the price at the local music store. The bridge is well made and fits perfectly. The finger board and pegs are ebony and fit perfectly. There are no burs on the nut or bridge that shred strings like on the cello that we just got rid of that was 5 times the price from the local music store. The sound post is in the proper position and fits well, unlike the one that was set up by some high school kid with a pocket knife at the local music store. The Costco cello is by far a better value than anything that I have found up to $2000. I guess the local music stores wish they could keep selling poor quality junk with no service or competition. Not any more. Thanks Costco!

7:03 AM  
Blogger CelloBuyer said...

I just received the Costco Cello that I bought for my son. It is Chinese made. It has a brazilwood bow with m.o.p. birds eyes. It is straight and very well made. The cello has a solid maple back and sides, not laminated or fiberglass like the ones for 5 times the price at the local music store. The bridge is well made and fits perfectly. The finger board and pegs are ebony and fit perfectly. There are no burs on the nut or bridge that shred strings like on the cello that we just got rid of that was 5 times the price from the local music store. The sound post is in the proper position and fits well, unlike the one that was set up by some high school kid with a pocket knife at the local music store. The Costco cello is by far a better value than anything that I have found up to $2000. I guess the local music stores wish they could keep selling poor quality junk with no service or competition. Not any more. Thanks Costco!

7:03 AM  
Blogger Mike D said...

Cellobuyer I have a tough time believing a $500 Cello from Costco is better than anything you could find up to $2,000 from a luthier. If you're getting your setup done by a high school kid with a pocket knife that was the first mistake, the second one was buying a Chinese junker from costco.

7:41 AM  
Blogger John said...

Looks like many Luthiers are experiencing the cringe reflex whenever they see that some violins are selling better than the ones they are hocking for many times more. I am a violinist with over 40 years experience, and I can tell you that many Chinese instruments today are made very well and sound great. The setup may or may not be up to par, but you can easily bring one of these intruments up to "violin shop" standards for less than $100 in most cases. I sell violins, cellos, and violas. If you are interested in obtaining a quality instrument visit me at Fineviolinexpress.ecrater.com, or see my auctions on ebay. My seller name is Sebastiankr0. I have several quality instruments for sale there that I would recommend for anyone who wants a great instrument for a very reasonable price, and I will even set up the violin myself if you choose that option.

11:30 AM  
Blogger CelloGeek said...

Out of curiosity, I looked at costco.com to see what the cello(s) looked like and there was only one there for almost $4000. It looked like a nice instrument, but I'd sure like to try out a cello before buying it (or have someone ready to trade it in or adjust it). But, I did have one moment of amusement. Whoever did their marketing blurb doesn't know much about cellos since this $4000 4-stringed cello came with an "E-string tuner"

1:14 PM  
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3:28 AM  
Blogger violin said...

I guess, costco is not selling Violins anymore, i just searched it and it showed me no results..

7:39 AM  
Blogger violin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:41 AM  
Blogger skyline420 said...

I just bid $101 on just such a cello with a loose fingerboard in the description. I'm hoping to start practicing my versions of the Hayden cello concerti. Will be looking for some Youtube lessons on beginning cello.

11:56 AM  
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4:28 AM  

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