You’ve probably heard by now that Vic Firth and Zildjian have merged. But what you perhaps haven’t heard is the reasoning behind the move and in what way, if any, the merger will affect you. We interviewed Vic Firth, CEO of the Maine-based eponymous drumstick company, and Massachusetts-based Zildjian CEO Craigie Zildjian during NAMM to get all the details. You can only read about it here! Of course, there’s no way to be sure any merger will work. However, if you see the fun, humor-filled interaction between the two, which we have tried to convey in this story, the two iconic companies are off to a great start. Please keep in mind some of the things are said with tongue in cheek.
Let’s first start with how the merger will affect you. Both Firth and Zildjian said you will see no changes at all. Both companies will run autonomously. But that leads us to the question about why a merger was necessary. “Honestly, I have no heir apparent at Vic Firth. I have two daughters,” Vic Firth said. “Both want to pursue other interests. So I wanted to put the company in the hands of people who are responsible and will carry on our legacy for as long as possible. I believe the union with Zildjian will perpetuate the Vic Firth brand. I know my work and my people will carry on with the highest of traditions.”
The merger announcement in December was the culmination of many years of discussions. No quick decisions were made. “I initiated it,” said Zildjian. “We would go to Legal Sea Foods. Vic always picked up the tab. I talked to him over and over again about our interest [in Vic Firth]. It’s a legacy brand. It fits so well with Zildjian. It always seemed so obvious to me. I just had to keep telling Vic we belonged together.”
“Do you want to hear my side of the story?” joked Firth. “She was looking for free lunches.”
“I got quite a few!” Zildjian answered.
Collaboration efforts between the two companies have been discussed for years, Firth said. “I proposed we make some models of sticks for Zildjian,” said Firth. “Craigie once made an offer to buy a piece of our company. I told her it wasn’t for sale. She always pushed me in a lighthearted manner. Initially, we didn’t have serious discussions. As time went on, Craigie would tell me that Zildjian was behind regarding its drumstick orders. She asked if we could make drumsticks for them. I said ‘I’d be delighted to.’ We kept that information discrete. In fact, in our factory, the sticks were known to be going to the ‘Percussion Company.’ Nobody knew where they were going. We had a segment of our plant that was curtained off by a humungous drape whenever anyone came to visit.”
“Vic’s factory is state of the art,” said Zildjian. “We were investing heavily in our cymbal business. We had a lot of conversations about Vic making our sticks because we believe Vic Firth’s quality is the best in the industry. That was step one. We wanted to offer a high-quality stick, but perhaps not tell anyone Vic was making them. So we became an OEM customer.”
“I have made light of a lot of things about the conversation,” Firth said. “But, in reality, this was a very serious conversation. Zildjian wanted drumstick quality that could match its cymbal quality. I proposed we could do it. But it still took quite a while before we began to make 5As and 5Bs. Little by little, when Zildjian discovered we were providing good wood and quality products, the trust grew and, finally, it came to the point where they asked if we could make the whole stick line.”
“We built trust. Vic was making top quality sticks for us,” Zildjian said. “The key was this trust we had for one another.”
“We’re both all about brands. We understand brand recognition, brand value, and the integrity that stands behind it,” said Firth.
December’s merger was not the first time Vic Firth and Zildjian merged. Vic Firth’s daughter, Kelly, had previously married Zildjian’s Vice President of Artist Relations and Event Marketing, John DeChristopher.
“I had palpitations over that,” quipped Firth. “My daughter married into the competition. It was a good wedding, but it cost me a fortune. In a sense, we were already a family.”
“In hindsight, that was something that really brought us together,” said Zildjian.
Firth told us he had been asked by many other companies in the past to acquire his business, but he rejected each offer. “I was always very flattered,” Firth said. “But I had no interest at the time in selling the business. The people who approached me were appropriate, but nobody was as appropriate as Zildjian.”
No Need for Artists to Depart
Zildjian wanted to stress that, like retailers, artists will not be affected by the merger. Several artists endorse both Vic Firth and Zildjian products. However, “you don’t need to be a Zildjian artist to be a Vic Firth artist and vice versa,” she said. “Both cultures have a deep respect for artists and artistic integrity. This merger will not have any effect on them.”
“Any concern of this merger affecting artists should be eradicated,” said Firth.
Staying in the USA
While many companies have switched manufacturing to overseas locales, don’t expect that from Zildjian or Vic Firth.
“We’re a service economy,” said Zildjian. “Much of manufacturing has gone overseas, but here we stand as two American manufacturers. We make our products in Massachusetts and Maine.”
There are several traits about Vic Firth that Zildjian truly appreciates. “Employees admire and respect Vic. He motivates workers to give him the quality he’s looking for. He is always thinking about how to do things better, and he’s willing to make the investment in his plant. We both have continuous-quality-improvement cultures. ”
“When we come out with a great, new product or have made new strides in the manufacturing process, I’m happy for about three months, maybe four,” Firth added. “But we have to continue to do things better.”
“He’s always striving for more. That’s why he’s No. 1,” concluded Zildjian.
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