Variations on a 20 year old tune
|Neil Breinholt says sound equipment in his store is a big, new seller.|
When Neil Breinholt opened his music store 20 years ago this month, he wasn't sure what to expect, but he knew it would be different from what he had been doing for the many years before.
He also didn't know how much the business would change in that two decades.
"Over that time I have seen a lot of changes in the music business and in the publics interest in music," said Breinholt as he leaned forward in a chair at the back of his store. "I have been constantly challenged by this business by having to adapt to what we need to be and what we sell. We have to stay on the leading edge of the business to be competitive."
For Breinholt competitive means more than price, because he realizes while price will bring people into his store, the services and support a full line music store gives is it's true competitive edge. And while the music store he now owns is his life, music itself goes way back with him, even though for many years he had no idea he would ever run such a business.
Breinholt began playing instruments when he was a little kid and by the time he was in sixth grade he and some others had started a band. In junior high that band took second in the state in a battle of the bands.
"By the time we were in the eighth grade we were playing graduations all over the place, some in colleges and some in high schools," he says. "Life was good. We had girl friends all over the place and money in our pockets. Life couldn't have been better."
During that same time rock n' roll wasn't the only thing Breinholt was involved in. He also played in school band as well. By the time he got out of high school he was well versed in music. Despite that, he couldn't really see a future there so he went to work in the construction industry, where he labored for a number of years.
"For years I had bought everything I played from Lynn Christopherson in Carbonville," says Breinholt. "He ran his music store out of his basement. Then one day he called me up and said he wanted to sell out. I didn't think I could run a business and so I told him no, that I had a good job."
But within a couple of weeks Breinholt began to reconsider and one bad day at work made him realize that a music business could be his dream. However, after telling Christopherson that he would buy the business, he decided that he wanted to do exactly what the previous owner had done and run it out of his basement.
"Problem was that even though I got my neighbors to sign petitions that it was alright for me to do so, the city council in Price decided they didn't want me to do it that way," he stated. "I was mad. I was going to fight city hall on it because I had jumped through all the hoops. Then I drove by this building on Main Street and it was empty. I called up Lynn and he said with the increased traffic I would get in a store on Main Street it would probably pay for my overhead on the building. So I decided to quit my job and jump in with both feet."
Breinholt said that first year was quite an experience, in fact he has only had two other experiences like it. One was his first year as a county commissioner and the second was when he went to first grade.
Everything was new to him.
"People think the music business must be so simple," he said. "But that isn't true. It is so broad and changes so fast. Every facet of this business has a thousand facets of its own."
Breinholt said that the emergence of a world wide market for instruments and the world wide manufacture of them has changed everything. He also says most of those changes have been for the good.
"I can sell a Fender Stratocaster for $99 now," he explained. "But I can also sell one for $3000. They have dozens of models. It is so much different than when I was a kid and the least expensive guitar was $300. People can get more for their money right now than at any other time in the past."
One change every small music store has had to face is the competition from box stores and more recently from the internet. As a small shop his store must be competitive price wise, but must also offer the extras that people can't get out of a box they bring home from a big store or is delivered to them by a delivery service."
"We must do three things to stay in business," he said. "First our prices must be competitive. Second we must have instruction on instruments so people can learn to play them. Third, we must make sure that the experience people have with us is fun and enjoyable. If music isn't for fun, what is it for?"
Breinholt says at present he offers instruction in a number of different instruments with four guitar teachers, one bass guitar instructor, two drum teachers, two keyboard instructors, one violin teacher and even a vocal trainer working out of his store.
"Actually this store is a kind of enigma in the industry," he said. "Small markets like this generally can't support a store like mine. They usually only exist in big cities. Based on the figures I have received we actually have 300 percent of what would normally be grossing for a market our size."
Breinholt says another key to his success actually is the location of Carbon County in relation to big markets.
"We are able to represent almost all lines of musical instruments because the big manufacturers see that we are in a large enough market to produce volume even though less than 100 miles away there is a much larger market," explained Breinholt. "The other thing that I think is important, and something so many small businesses lack, is the will to make sure our credit standing is upheld with the big companies. We pay invoices when we get them. Large manufacturers don't have time to fool around with someone who only buys a few things each year if they don't get paid promptly."
During his years in the business he has also stayed close to the band programs in the schools and offers instruments, rentals and other options to students. Keeping close to young students in schools is a key.
"It's really interesting because in the last few years I am now beginning to sell instruments to kids whose parents bought instruments from me when they were kids," he says.
Breinholt said another facet of the business has become public address systems and home entertainment systems which play music throughout a home.
As for the music itself, things have changed greatly over the last 30 years since he left high school.
"It used to be kids listened just to rock n' roll," he states. "Now they listen to all kinds of music. It not a question of whether it is country, rock n' roll, jazz or classical, it comes down to whether the music is good or bad, that's all."
As for the future he plans on trying to stay up with the business and give his customers what they need to enjoy playing music and doing it well. He also says he has a bit of advice for parents who are concerned about what their kids want to play on their instruments.
"When I was young I was influenced by the big bands of the time like the Beatles, Credence Clearwater Revival and the like," he says. "But I bought my instruments and music from Christopherson and he liked country music. I just say let kids play what they want to play; they are learning about music. Sooner or later, one day, they will play something you like too. That happens almost 100 percent of the time."