My Musical Equipment Closet

An opinionated collecton of short reviews of saxophones and woodwinds and the accessories which they require.

My Photo
Location: Santa Cruz, California, United States

"Other cultures are not failed attempts at being us. They are all unique manifestations of the human imagination and the human heart." Wade Davis

Friday, August 10, 2007

Distribution Issues and a Possible Solution

If you're like me, you've spent the last couple decades dealing with Dennis Bamber of the Woodwind (and, eventually, Woodwind and Brasswind), the powerhouse music retailer in South Bend, Indiana. Let's make it clear that I like Dennis--unlike some of the people I know in the business--and he is not any longer at the company he founded, because the Woodwind went bankrupt back at the end of October, leaving a lot of companies holding worthless invoices. Guitar Center took over the remains of WW/BW and continues operations, although how much longer is in question because of an ownership change at GC.

I first ran into Dennis in 1984. I was on the road with a big band show (Helen Forest, the Modernaires, Johnny Desmond, and Horace Heidt, Jr.). We had a day off in Chicago, stayed at the Palmer House, so I hopped in the Interurban with my clarinet, which was giving me problems. I was playing the bari chair and, thanks in large part to a San Antonio native named Ernie Caceras, who had played the Glenn Miller book 40 years before me, I had to play a lot of lead on clarinet. The more I played the parts the more I wanted a clarinet with a larger bore, something I could put more air through. I had called ahead and explained the situation, and Dennis said to come on down to South Bend. (I remember that when I got on the bus for that road trip, I had a copy of Byte magazine under my arm announcing the new Macintosh computer.)

So I took the train to South Bend, and what I found at the end of the line was a red barbershop with a music store behind it. What I found inside the music store was Dennis Bamber and chaos. I showed him my clarinet--a Selmer Series 9--and he led me into a jam-packed storeroom with cases to the ceiling. Dennis seemed to know where everything was and suggested a large bore Yamaha that I liked a lot. He took my old clarinet in trade, which had all the trademarks and the serial numbers filed off because the guy I bought it from had also picked up a Mark 6 alto in Europe along the with Series 9 and that's what the Customs Service made you do back then.

Afterwards, I visited a friend from the old days in Santa Cruz who was in grad school at Norte Dame and his family and headed back to Chicago.

When I got back home to California I sent Dennis a letter thanking him, and suggesting that he might consider putting his inventory on a small computer. Little did I know . . .

From then on I spent 2 decades ordering through Dennis' 800 number and, eventually, his website. Reeds mostly, but sometimes something more substantial.

When I was on the road with that big band show my son, Brendan, was just learning to walk. Twenty-two years later he was working at the headquarters of Pier One Imports in Ft. Worth as I finished my contract with Princess Cruises in the Baltic. I was very interested in the new Macintosh that Steve Jobs introduced with great flourish back in 1984, and now I'm writing this on a Macintosh unimaginable back then, one that cost $650 less than that first generation Mac.

In the intervening years a company called Mars tried to impose the big box model of retailing to the music business. I worked there a bit. But they couldn't make the same techniques that sell stoves work on musical instruments. It's a relationship-based business, and every instrument is different enough (again as opposed to stoves) to make a difference to the end user.

Meanwhile, Dennis kept on rolling along.

And the stores we call the Mom and Pops were crushed in the process of these elephants battling over the limited amount of business.

Mars went Chapter 11 in the fall of 2002. And when I walked off the gangway in Copenhagen in the fall of 2006, the Woodwind and Brasswind. There's no telling how many Mom and Pops were brought down by Woodwind's rather aggressive pricing over the years.

This much I'm sure of: There's a vacuum in the music business. Now that the remains of the Woodwind are going to be spun off, presumably, by Guitar Center, as they were bought by a private equity company. That vacuum will grow.

Here's a possible solution to the declining number of music stores overall.

We're thinking of empowering some savvy private teachers with dealerships so they can sell Vespro Saxophones and some of our very nice flutes, clarinets and oboes.

I'll be making a website explaining the whole program this week. Look for a link in my next posting.


Post a Comment

<< Home