For brick-and-mortar musical instrument retailers looking to compete in today’s fierce marketplace—wrestling with challenges ranging from economic headwinds to ever-present Internet competition to the ubiquity of gadgets that might distract people from pursuits that require practice and patience, like music making—it’s refreshing to hear manufacturers and distributors speak unambiguously about the importance of maximum margins, high-quality product stock, and selling service and expertise. Joe Arias, President, Max Margin Distribution, Inc.—Crafter Guitars, evangelizes all of the above in this wide-ranging, thought-provoking interview.
Crafter’s a prime example of a company that wears on its sleeve its dedication to independent, brick-and-mortar MI dealers.
The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s start by discussing your own background. Touch on the highlights of your personal story as it pertains to the music products market. Tell us about the career path you’ve traveled, bringing us right up to the present day.
Joe Arias: My first job in the music business was in 1970, at Yeager’s Music in Baltimore. Back in the day, Yeager’s was the hot store in town, where all the big local heroes shopped. So, of course, that’s where I wanted to work. After a few years at Yeager’s, I did a brief stint at Jordan Kitts Piano, which in turn took me to Alabama to manage a piano and organ store. After a few years of managing someone else’s shop, I decided to strike out on my own and opened Mid-South Music in 1978. Ten years later, I approached one of my vendors, Yamaha, to come on board as a full-time sales representative for the company.
So, I sold the store to one of my employees and, in 1987, I took a District Manager job with Yamaha and relocated to Richmond VA. I worked for several different divisions at Yamaha over the years, selling keyboards, guitars, and band and orchestra instruments. In 1998, I left Yamaha and took a gig as the VP of Sales and Marketing with Hohner-HSS. While there, I was directly involved in the U.S. marketing and sales of all the products that HSS distributed at the time.
In 2003, I parted ways with Hohner-HSS. That year, Crafter Korea offered me the GM position at Crafter USA, with the responsibility to set up their U.S. distribution of Crafter guitars. In 2012, we established Max Margin Distribution to widen our product offerings to the independent dealer base.
The Retailer: Describe your day-to-day duties and responsibilities as President of Max Margin Distribution—Crafter Guitars. What’s your favorite part of coming to work each day?
Arias: We are a small but growing company, so my day-to-day duties can vary greatly. Sales, marketing, purchasing, working out details for new products and dealer relations are a few of the things I find myself doing. All the while, I’m keeping an eye on the bottom line and trying to grow both our dealer and our end-customer base. What I most enjoy is working with my son, Joey, who handles artist relations, Web-related marketing efforts, overseeing the QC process, and other duties and responsibilities as they arise. I try to spend as much time as I can reaching out to our dealers and sales reps, so I can get a sense of what they are seeing in the marketplace and of what opportunities exist.
The Retailer: Let’s talk about Crafter Guitars in broad strokes. Give us a 10,000-foot overview of the company, discussing its history and some of the key characteristics and qualities that the company embodies. Share details about its growth and development over time, addressing both its domestic and international presence.
Arias: Crafter’s history starts in 1972 when HyunKwon Park founded his business in the basement of his home in Seoul. Within a compact, 20-square-meter space, HyunKwon built classical guitars for the Korean domestic market with four other craftsmen. By 1978, they had outgrown their basement space and moved to bigger premises, just outside Seoul, in order to fulfill their growing customer orders.
At that time, the guitars were branded “Sungeum,” which means, “accomplishing the sound.” This is still a well-known brand in the Korean market today, but HyunKwon’s ambition was to sell to guitar players across the world. So, he started to build acoustic and electro-acoustic guitars to appeal to international markets.