Taylor is opening up shop in the land of the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. Come Jan. 1, Taylor Guitars will sell its guitars directly to retailers in Europe. This marks the end of a three-year agreement between Taylor and Fender that allowed the latter to distribute the former’s products abroad. Taylor will open a prominent European headquarters near Amsterdam to support its efforts. Why make the changes? The Music & Sound Retailer interviewed Brian Swerdfeger, Taylor Guitars’ vice president of sales and marketing, to get much more information.
“In our industry, distribution has taken many forms,” he said. “Manufacturers like Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug start out small and then pick up a distributor or rep firm to help them sell domestically. The business grows and grows and you start selling to dealers directly.
“But foreign markets have always been tough,” added Swerdfeger. “In this modern era, information travels at the speed of light. People in other countries look at the U.S. and see the service and the community brand experience. They wonder why they don’t get that.”
Swerdfeger said that service and community are exactly what Taylor is about. Going direct in Europe allows people in those countries to live similar experiences.
“When you look at Taylor, you think of all of the road shows we do, the festivals where we appear and many other places where we hang out with customers, talk about guitars and let people play guitars. We’re known for our impeccable customer service. So what was the next logical step as Taylor continues to grow and becomes a market leader? The answer is to bring our brand experience to Europe in a firsthand way. Consumers can call us, in their own language, and get service and support. It’s a big step for Taylor, but it’s exciting. We’re fired up about it.”
The new Taylor European headquarters is located conveniently between Schiphol Airport and Amsterdam’s city center. The building is new and will house Taylor’s European sales and marketing, logistics, repair, customer service and warehousing. The lease has been signed, all of the “Ts” crossed and the European headquarters will be open when we ring in the new year. “We chose The Netherlands for our European headquarters because it truly is a crossroads in Europe,” Swerdfeger said. “So many people visit that area, whether as tourists or to get to many other places around the world, including the United States. We wanted the headquarters to be located in a hip, artful city. At the same time, that region is well known for logistics.”
Finding the right employees who know the Taylor product well and could provide top-notch service is a bigger challenge. “To me, the No. 1 priority and difficulty is the people,” said Swerdfeger. “I can’t look in a dictionary and give you the definition of a Taylor person, but I can certainly tell you when I’ve seen one and worked with one. Many members of the Taylor staff, including myself, David Hosler, VP of customer service and repair, and Diane Magagna, our director of international sales, have traveled throughout Europe extensively during the past several years. We’ve been developing relationships by having coffee and dinners, conducting road shows and more. We didn’t have a plan then to open our own European headquarters. It’s just who we are and what we do.”
Language is another obstacle when you open a foreign headquarters. But Swerdfeger quipped, “We’ve become really good at hand gestures and picking out the good things on a menu, no matter what the language is. It’s all about good friends, good food and great guitars. It goes in that order. Talking about guitars in Indianapolis is no different from talking about guitars in Ghent. Guitars are the same worldwide. People love the same music and the same tones. We love guitars and the people who play them. To be able to bring that level of support and passion is infectious.”
End of an Era
Taylor’s contract with Fender runs through Dec. 31. Swerdfeger had nothing but the highest praise for Taylor’s relationship with the Arizona-based company. “We had a great three-year relationship with them,” he said. “Fender has been selling direct to Europeans for many years. They have a great infrastructure there. At the time we chose Fender, we replaced 24 individual distributors with one. Each country had its own pricing, model selection and availability. With Fender, we could offer our customers a warehouse full of guitars and level pricing. We built service centers in four of Fender’s regional offices. We shared a lot of our expertise with Fender to help them service customers even better. They shared a lot of their distribution expertise to help us through our transition period. We met a lot of great people through Fender and I’m sure those relationships and friendships will last a lifetime.”
Swerdfeger added, “Everything Fender did was great. We value the friends we made there and the job they did. We want to make sure Fender is supported as much as possible through the end of the year. We want Fender to do as much business as they can.”
Back at Home
Taylor’s changes are for Europe only. There will be no changes in the United States, where Taylor already sells directly to its dealers. “We have an incredible relationship with all of our retail partners in the United States,” Swerdfeger said. “Thanks to them, we’re having a record year in revenue in profit. And they are, as well. They are making a great margin and sell-through has increased. We couldn’t be happier with our domestic retailers.”
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