Putting Harmony on the Web
Todd Oldham learned to beat on drums at an early age at his childhood home in Magna.
He also learned how to sell them, because that was the family's business while he was growing up. His parents sold drums out of their home and owned a number of drum shops around the Wasatch Front, making a living from the business, but never getting rich.
Today, that early experience however, has created one of the fastest growing internet companies in existence, and brought Oldham international recognition for growing what was a part time business in college to over a four million dollar enterprise in 2004.
"It was a big thing for me when we had two days last December when we took in more money than my mom and dad made in an entire year when they owned their business," says Oldham as he lounges back in his chair at his office in Helper. "We shipped 700 items each day and with over $35,000 each day in sales."
National Music Supply has become a success story in a geographic area that many entrepreneurs have given up on or moved away from. Carbon County has long been known for coal and power, and also for the growing coal bed methane gas supplies it produces from holes poked in the ground with the help of million dollar investments.
But musical instrument sales and distribution? Who would have thought.
|Matt Ball, marketing director, works in the photography studio at National Music Supply taking photos of new products for their web site.|
"My parents sold one product; used drums," states Oldham. "When I went to college in Cedar City I started looking through musical instrument catalogues and started realizing how many things there were to sell. So I began a company that sold various kinds. At one point I had eight or nine people selling in four different states."
Oldham said he wanted to expand so he began putting ads in various shopper papers throughout the United States. Sales picked up even more. He knew with the right advertising and delivery engine he could make this enterprise a real go, because he felt his background was such that business was in his blood.
"I know it's an old adage but my dad used to tell me 'Buy low. Sell high," he says. "So I started to realize that I needed to buy from the lowest priced source I could find and that turned out to be suppliers in China. And I knew that to sell high the best way was to go direct to the consumer."
Oldham gives his dad and his upbringing in general much of the credit for the success of what he is doing today.
"I got it all from my parents and from playing football at Cyprus High School," he says. "Football taught me about teamwork and that working toward a goal should be fun."
Oldham honors his past more than many do. On the walls of his office are various mementos of the past. A Cyprus High Pirates banner hangs behind his desk. On his wall he has photos of one of three mid-1960's Mustangs he restored in high school and then consequently sold for money to go on a mission for his church.
"So even though I realized going directly to the consumer was the best way to make the most money I started out by selling to wholesalers at first," he says. "But I did learn to buy the lowest I could by purchasing our stock from China. Then when we started with our website and then Ebay, we began to move toward the consumer side of sales."
|Todd Oldham points out some items on the concept and idea board. |
That first website in 1998 was the beginning and Oldham says "it wasn't a very good site" but it "did get our name out there."
"It wasn't that the site failed or anything, but it was not as good as it could have been and that bothered me. It didn't provide us with the opportunity we could have had," he states.
Eventually with a web presence the company has migrated from a wholesale supplier to an extremely big retailer. Today 90 percent of the company's business comes from their Ebay sales and 10 percent comes directly from the company's own website.
Last year Ebay executives came to Helper to visit the company, which Oldham said he has been told is the 26th biggest seller on Ebay. They strategized with him on how to increase business and asked him to help others who are trying to get into website based businesses by speaking at a conference.
"I was a somewhat nervous about doing that because I worried I would be giving away how we achieved our success to competitors," he says. "But then I realized you can have the best idea in the world, but if you don't have the right plan, and the commitment to carry it out you won't reach the goal you are looking for anyway. So I quit being nervous about it."
Today National Music Supply employs 14 people, half of them full time and the half part time. Employees say the firm is a good place to work and that Oldham is a good person to work for. That relates back to his philosophy of having fun.
For instance, last summer he took the employees of the company for a four day trip to Lake Powell. Photos of that excursion hang in the front office.
If fun is the key to getting people to work and at the same time making a company profitable, as many team trainers say it is, then Oldham has produced a firm that should be the poster child for that kind of management.
In 2000 the company sold about $40,000 of instruments and accessories. In 2001 sales jumped to $700,000. In 2002 the firm passed the one million dollar mark and in 2003 it sold 2.3 million. This year Oldham predicts that sales will approach or even go over five million.
|Brandt Litton, one of National Music Supply's employees packages an instrument for shipment at the Helper warehouse and office facility.|
Last year the company conducted a total of over 43,000 transactions.
Oldham's company measures it's efficiency and customer service by looking at the feedback that comes from Ebay. He says he wants to continue to improve their delivery system and the only way to do that is to measure what they do.
"We run reports on our sales, service and refunds," he states. "One of the things I have tried to do here is to build in accountability for all the employees. If something goes wrong we try to figure out why and to find a way to keep it from happening again. If someone goofs up I want to know about it so we can fix it. We don't cry over spilt milk, but what we are trying to do is to be sure it doesn't get spilled in the first place."
The product line that the company offers is very narrow, but Oldham intends on expanding it.
"Actually even at that we have the largest selection of guitar packages in the world to offer, about 3500 when you look at all the options," he states as he stands in the warehouse amongst boxes piled to the ceiling. "Our basic line consists of about a 1000 products."
Oldham says the future is unlimited, but he does expect the growth to slow down, largely because the company is nearing maturity on Ebay.
However he continues to make plans for other things. One of the things the company needs is a much larger facility than the 18,000 feet they presently have on north Main Street in Helper.
In addition there is an idea board in the marketing office that is chock full of concepts. Some of those will probably lead to new things over the next few years.
"Some of these have been on here two years, but we continue to think about and work on them," he says as he points to the scribbled text drawn in red, green and blue on the white board. "Once in a while a new one appears and sometimes one we have had on here for awhile shows up somewhere else because another company had the idea. But we continue to look for new ones."
Oldhams company ships everything with one company and in fact, they park a 40 foot trailer at the loading dock everyday so National's employees can fill it up for shipment.
For Oldham it has been quite a ride, one that takes him many places around the country and even the world. He goes to China 3-4 times a year to visit the factories that produce the products he sells. Altogether there are 18-20 different manufacturing plants involved. In fact, just this week his company hired 4 employees in China to expedite products and to work on quality control.
But no matter how far he ventures, anytime he is on a trip all he has to do is get on line and there is his companies website, leading him right back to Carbon County, and where the business he has committed his life to, exists, and better yet, thrives.