With a degree in music and a certification in Musical Instrument Repair, I founded A & D Music in 1978. It began as a school rental and repair shop. The name is a combination of my last name, Apodaca, and my daughter’s maiden name, Davis. We built dealer agreements with the largest Band & Orchestra manufacturers for sales of instruments and accessories, offering a strong on-site repair shop and, eventually, had seven “concessions” of other stores that rented out our 750 school B&O instruments. My education is in fretted, brass, orchestra and woodwind instruments. My daughter’s is in orchestra and conducting.
We offered the best in customer service and went international almost immediately. We spoke English and Spanish, but started learning greetings and a few words in Japanese, Chinese, French and Italian to serve all of our customers. We acquired a government contract for the Marine Corps Band. We offered short-term rentals for visiting musicians and local theater companies. We created community fundraisers to keep the school music programs stable.
NAMM University classes taught me customer service, sales, management, Web site maximization, use of the media and the Internet. We have reaped the benefits of networking with so many others across the world, because of the NAMM show and the NAMM organization. We read the Global Report and trade magazines. We are educated in music and have continued in that education.
Business was great! But, by 2000, I saw the writing on the wall of Internet sales, big-box stores and low-cost imports in the future. I had retirement in a 401k, but most of my investment was in our rental fleet. My original “retirement plan” was to run an ad in our local paper saying “$500 violin for sale, $200” and so on. I anticipated a major shift was going to happen in the industry, and my original plan might not work when I was ready to retire.
I decided to test the waters. I sold off 10 percent of my inventory that rental season using my “$200 plan.” And my plan worked! At the end of rental season, I would have been stuck with the same percentage of instruments on my shelves. Other retailers in my area were starting to complain about low count on their rentals. I did the same for the next four years. By that point, five other stores had gone out of business.
Heavy Competition? Make It Work
Guitar Center moved across the freeway. The large discount stores were selling inexpensive musical instruments, and we could not compete with keyboard rentals. The Internet was now offering school violins for sale for $199, whereas mine were $499 to $799. I partnered with the local GC for B&O referrals, which helped. Rentals still declined, so I let go of two of my concessions. I continued our “Controlled Liquidation” and watched three other stores close. I logged 105 hours in one week, trying to keep the ball rolling. My grown daughter said, “That’s enough! You’ll have to find another way to make a living. If not, you’ll be dead.”
A New Path
In 2006, my Manager, who was moving, came to me and said, “You could become a Certified Musical Instrument Appraiser with your background and experience.” After reviewing her research, I found I could forge a partnership with The University of California, Irvine and, in two years, receive the certification from the university and the American Society of Appraisers. In five years, I could be a Senior Designated Appraiser and get paid legal fees. There were intensified weekend classes for working people. The “$200 plan” instruments had dwindled down, and so were our rentals. I hired a new Manager, Ryan Fawley, who was educated in music and percussion. He decided to do a 10-month rent-to-own program for $25 per month. Some 60 percent of our customers went for it. We had two concessions left. It was enough income to pay our monthly overhead, while I got re-educated and launched our new path. We helped start a Mariachi Program in our community and recruited 90 new customers. We set up restoration demonstrations for vintage guitar clients. I was offered writing assignments with The Music & Sound Retailer. We listed ADM with the movie and television industry for props and technical consultants. After my appraisal education, I contacted auction houses, insurance companies, museums, trustee groups and other organizations.
What is the future of A & D Music? ADM has been in business 33 years. Over this past five years, we have become the “go-to store” for unique knowledge and high-end instruments. We are appraising, authenticating and restoring important historical instruments. We now have museums consult with us for authentication and appraisals. We broker high-end instruments. We have appraised historical instruments. We have appraised $1 million in instruments and are helping to protect musicians and their instruments from being ripped off by thieves or insurance adjusters. We have helped to establish the value of vintage instruments. ADM has contracted with top celebrity musicians and is now working with an estate that has instruments in the Library of Congress. I have lectured the top Ph.D. music educators and museum curators in the world. And I write for the most circulated music trade magazine. The torch was passed on to my hands to be entrusted with an inventory of vintage Gretsch, Gibson and Fender parts from an industry individual who was ready to retire.
The future is bright. By educating ourselves, we continued to evolve.
Editor’s Note: Each month, The Music & Sound Retailer will “Shine A Light” on a different music products retail store. How is your store different? What makes it successful? What should people know about it? We want to know! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to nominate an MI retail store for future coverage. Yes, you can nominate your own store!