Hanging Up My Shingle

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by Uber N00ba, May 5, 2016.

  1. Uber N00ba

    Uber N00ba Member

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    Hello Folks,

    My friend and I have decided we're just crazy enough to open up a shop in a commercial space. Our current plans include guitar/bass repair, hot rodding and new builds. for now we're just purging our own guitar collections and giving them the best possibly set-ups in order to sell them off and generate a purse to start acquiring second hand "projects" for the pipeline (to cut teeth on).

    I'm curious if anyone would be willing to parse advice or share lessons learned as they opened their own similar business. Tips, tricks or follies to avoid would be greatly appreciated!

    I'm excited, scared and clearly have a lot to learn :)
     
  2. Khromo

    Khromo Supporting Member

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    I think the key to a sustained and successful business is a happy customer base. No unhappy customers, no matter the cost. Retail is a tough gig, and that's what you are doing, whether you want to admit it or not! Unhappy customers will curse you with a bad reputation very quickly.

    With that in mind, understand that you shouldn't accept every job that walks in the door. Don't be afraid to send a healthy percentage of jobs up the road, where they can be someone else's headache.

    You need to carefully assess every new customer, and reject those with unrealistic expectations, unreasonably entitled attitudes, the negotiator syndrome, and the "money disease." The guy who thinks he knows more about your job than you do, the guy who presumes to set your price for you, or the whiney little twit with manners learned from the Internoogie won't do you or your business any good.

    Bear in mind that musicians tend to be poor. It is hard to make much money selling goods and/or services to people with no money. You need to be doing this for love, not money.

    On a more practical note:

    Plan on having some "Shop guitars" hanging around for guys to play. Trying to explain what a fret dressing does can take hours, and never get the point across. It is much easier to say "Pick up that one, the third one from the left. That is what we are talking about." You get a lot of really quick sales that way, sales to customers who know exactly what to expect. Everybody is happy, and you didn't waste an afternoon dancing about architecture.

    Plan on having a few typical amps hanging around, and make sure your neighbors can take a little noise before you sign a lease. You don't want a rep as a volume cop. Encourage customers to bring in their rigs and plug in a shop guitar. You get a lot of work that way, and you turn your shop guitars over remarkably fast.

    Have fun, be friendly, and leave no unhappy customers behind!
     
  3. David Collins

    David Collins Member

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    Do good work, and first do no harm. Set clear expectations, and live up to them reliably. Keep an keen eye on overhead, and limit liabilities (you can make all the money you want, but it won't do you an ounce of good if you leave yourself exposed to high liabilities).

    And as said above, don't feel as though you have to be everything to everyone. Some folks feel like they have to or should take in everything and fix everyone's problems, failing to recognize that every job comes with an opportunity cost, which has to be weighed against the return. Find one area in which you can do really well, instead of trying to do everything and ending up mediocre. Be a fork or a spoon, nobody wants a spork.

    And of course, find a place to stock up on bulk Ramen noodles for cheap. This is not a field one enters in to to get rich. It can take time to build up your reputation, but if you do good work, set and meet expectations, avoid liabilities, and be prepared to struggle for a while, and have a reasonable market to draw from, sometimes you can make a go of it.
     
  4. Chris Pile

    Chris Pile Member

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    You would be wise to have enough cash on hand to survive without selling so much as a set of strings for 3 years.
     
  5. B. Howard

    B. Howard Silver Supporting Member

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    At a minimum!!! Be prepared for Loooooong days and little pay for quite awhile. A commercial space demands to be paid whether you had any income or not.....and this is different than your actual start up capitol which you will also need to purchase store fixtures, inventory & Equipment, etc.....

    The guitar business is only half guitars at best some days .....the rest is business. I would advise coming up with a detailed business plan. You will need tax and business licenses and maybe some permits right away. A good accountant is a must, I would be broke without mine. Insurance is another must, you might be prepared to lose your personal gear and investment but you will be holding other peoples instruments and without good insurance any damages or losses must come out of your operating reserves.

    This is a very rewarding job in many ways but I make less than half what I did as a cabinet and furniture maker. The survival & success rate is low, at least if you plan to make it your only income rather than a part time gig.
     
    falderguitars and Uber N00ba like this.
  6. Torren61

    Torren61 Member

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    Don't get high on your own supply. Oh wait. That's a different business.
     
  7. Uber N00ba

    Uber N00ba Member

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    Your posts are helping me feel grounded in reality. Some (or all) of you may recall the period of ecstasy/self doubt that accompanies this phase of a stepping into a new field. (esp. one where so few survive!) No sporking, provide valuable service and have a plan. Having too many potential directions is easily the hardest part. Devising a plan and proceeding in a mindful way will certainly be the path.

    Thanks for the input, and keep any more life nuggets coming - we'll need it.

    You should expect to read more queries from this n00b in the future.
     
  8. Dana Olsen

    Dana Olsen Gold Supporting Member

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    Hey Uber NOOba - what's your location?

    Thanks, Dana O.
     
  9. Chris Pile

    Chris Pile Member

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    Also - if you have enough space.... Have teaching studios. Doesn't matter whether the teachers set the schedules, or you do - the important thing is this: You will have students coming in every week like clockwork, to buy strings, picks, guitars, amps, etc. Pay the teachers, or don't - steady TRAFFIC means sales and builds a customer base.
     
  10. JoePass

    JoePass Member

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  11. Uber N00ba

    Uber N00ba Member

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    I'm located in the great state of Maine! My tool acquisitions are happening slowly but surely and I've no expectation that I'll be quitting my job as a draftsperson/carpenter anytime soon - but perhaps transitioning into one day a week in the shop. My partner can work his job from the space e-commuting - so he creates the brunt of "product" at the moment.

    I REALLY VALUE all that has been shared on this thread. It's very easy to get a "dreamers head" about this kind of endeavor only to be thwarted by the harsh reality of slow gains. There aren't many well knows repair/luthier shops within 50 miles of us and we've a music store willing to display our work and refer clients, those are both encouraging facets of our situation. That being acknowledged - trying to gain proficiency in too many margins may lead to "sporking" (and no one wants that ;)).

    When it comes right down to it: I love guitars. You folks do as well. The more I involve guitars with my recreation and professional endeavors the happier I am. I think, in a way, I'm plenty wealthy for it.
     
  12. 202dy

    202dy Member

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    The ability to play and the ability to teach music are mutually exclusive. Everyone here gets that.

    The same is true in business. The ability to run a business and the ability to provide a product or service are mutually exclusive.

    This won't be popular. But it is the truth:

    • The ability to repair an instrument is secondary to the ability to run a business.
    • Repairing instruments is a by product of everything else you do.
    • Success is more dependent on business skill than it is on product or service.
    • If you become successful you will spend most of your time running the business.
    Before the flames begin:

    • Everybody on this board makes a better burger than the big three (McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's).
    • Their franchisees enjoy mid six figure incomes.
    • Most of the folks here don't.
    • Success in business is measured in dollars.
    If you already understand (or are willing to take classes and/or do continuing in-depth research into) marketing, accounting, advertising, selling, business law, real estate (location), insurance (product liability is important along with the other coverages), human resources, and customer service you will probably survive. With skill and luck, you may thrive.

    If you do not possess these skills and are unwilling to acquire them do not go into business for yourself.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2016
  13. 202dy

    202dy Member

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    Unpalatable? To those who have never run a business, probably. Blatant reality to those that have.

    Most businesses fail in the first five years. The two most frequent reasons cited are the lack of management skills of the owner and under-capitalization. Or in simpler terms, they don't know how to run a business or didn't have enough money to start one.

    Why sugarcoat it? Business failure is obviously financially ruinous. Eventually, with hard work and a good job people will get on their feet again. More importantly, failing in business can be psychologically devastating. That is an experience from which most folks never recover. It is better that those contemplating starting a business realize that when they fail there is much more than just money at stake.

    As far as wafer thin goes, eliminate waste at all costs. To do that, you have to know your costs. Without knowing your costs, you cannot set your price. Just adopting "the going rate" can lead to disaster.

    N.B. Never mess with quality. Even if that means losing money on an individual job. If you are not capable of doing the job, either pass it along to someone who can or practice on scrap guitars until you know how to perform the task at the top of the craft.

    Excellent point. That's how a lot of guys, myself included, got started. It would be advisable to have a formal, written agreement describing the arrangement between the repair shop and the retailer(s). Store staff have been known to snipe "quicky" set-up work when the owner is not around. That's the difference between hot dogs and steak at the end of the month.
     
  14. Papanate

    Papanate Gold Supporting Member

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    Well the first thing is opening a business isn't a trifling thing that
    you just decide to 'go crazy' and randomly open a guitar shop.
    You should map out on paper everything you want to do - how
    responsibilities are divided - how revenue is shared - and
    detail everything about the business to protect yourself.
    Include a dissolution of partnership agreement - that has
    terms and time limits - including buyouts etc..
    If you aren't already become a Limited Liability Corporation -
    Register your Name - and protect your assets with liability
    insurance right now!

    Second thing for me - how much reserve capitol do you have?
    Can you survive for a year with minimum income? If not
    you are taking a unmitaigated risk that will probably put
    you into bankruptcy (if you are lucky) or on the street (if
    you aren't).


    Third - I think you have been covered by the above posts.
    It's a wake up call to be sure.
     
  15. 202dy

    202dy Member

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    Thought as much. About wafers, that is.

    Assuming good hand skills and depth of knowledge in the craft, it comes down to costs. Once they are understood then you can set prices. If you're doing it right, you'll probably be the most expensive shop in the area. That's not bad news. It means longevity.

    There will always be guys who figure they can buy market share by undercutting. If they're good they will raise their prices. If they aren't they go out of business. There will always be somebody waiting to take their place when they do. But you will have the quality customer, the one who is willing to pay top dollar for top drawer work.

    The other part of the conundrum is finding your market. Local business will only take it so far. Casting a wider net, like using the internet, and specializing in one or two services can help. Maintaining constant contact with customers is also very important. Not just twice a year. But monthly, or weekly if you can swing the time.

    Do it smart and stay at it long enough and you can lay in a case of single malt when necessary.
     
  16. RicOkc

    RicOkc Member

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    One thing not mentioned......Have good insurance!
     
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  17. Guitarworks

    Guitarworks Member

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    Graduate from college with a business degree, for starters. As some have said, eliminate all waste and any expenses for things you can do yourself. Always consider your implicit costs as well as your explicit costs. Have a contingency plan for every type of failure or setback that may occur. As others have said, don't agree to do every job proposed to you. Some projects will be so whack that the customer either can't or won't pay you the amount you'll have to charge. Be nice to kids and give them a break. Be understanding but firm with everyone else.
     
  18. stormin1155

    stormin1155 Member

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    I hung out my shingle a little over two years ago, so I'll share a bit of my experience. My intent going into it wasn't to build it into a thriving business... I'm semi-retired, teach part-time at a local college, and decided to turn my hobby of 25+ years into a way to make some extra cash. I work out of my home shop, I already had most of my tools, and I started out marketing my services through Craigslist and Facebook, so my overhead expenses are very low.

    When I started I did some custom builds in addition to repair,setup, mod, restoring services, and soon found out I couldn't make any money on that, so I have pretty much stopped doing builds. I still get quite a bit of new business through Craigslist, but most now comes from repeat customers and referrals. I am fortunate that where I live (Des Moines, IA) there is a pretty active music community, and not a lot of good techs. I've been pleasantly surprised how easy it has been to get business. Still, I'm not as busy as I would like, and I have a lot of slow times. I would really have to change my business model and kick things up if I wanted to make a living doing just this.

    What others have said about doing top-notch work and keeping your customers happy is kind of the ante to get into the game. If you really want to grow the business you have to be good at business management and marketing.

    Khromo gave a list of some undesirable customer types, and I'm happy to say I haven't run across any customers like that. My customers have all been very decent folks that appreciate my work, are respectful, and pay their bills. In fact I've become friends with a number of them. Getting to know other guitarists is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. That, and I get to play all their cool guitars....
     
  19. Chris Scott

    Chris Scott Silver Supporting Member

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    Having been in the business of repairing and building stuff that only a small % of the population are familiar with my entire adult life, I can tell you that for every 10 people in the repair trade who follow the "successful business credo" (for lack of a better moniker) there's always gonna be a few individuals out there that are "doing it wrong" that the folks in the know are beating a path to their door. (which is often located at their house:D)

    Being a great business person isn't what makes people seek you out, (let alone be a loyal client) it's dedication to craft, day in and day out.

    Get known for this, THEN we can talk about actually making real $ in the guitar repair trade.:eek::rolleyes::D
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2016
  20. Chris Scott

    Chris Scott Silver Supporting Member

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    Don't quite follow the first part here.

    ...and what do you call somebody who works for themselves?


     

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