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#647243 - 01/06/08 04:38 PM Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
There seems to be quite an interest in this topic. It was suggested I start a brand new thread with it so here I am.

I will be most delighted to suggest and point out ideas in how we can and should operate our businesses' as time permits me. I don't always have the greatest memory so if I happen to repeat myself, and I'll try really hard not to do that, please point it out, or not, and then just laugh right along with me because you probably do it too, okay? :p

I read an article once that said work smarter, not harder. If you are worth more than your competitor, then, why are you charging the same rates as them?

One thing I have found over the years is that while the majority of piano technicians may have a great deal of "piano knowledge," the vast majority of them have no idea how to run it as a business.... Let alone a successful business... Let alone make any money at it. Therefore, many of them are having a difficult time making ends meet and crying constantly about it. That could very well be where the client gets the idea that we cannot make a living at this.

This is extremely important. You MUST understand and accept that this IS a business. I will likely repeat this many times in various places throughout this thread.

It is NOT a company to toy around with. You must have goals. You must set targets. You must meet these goals and targets and then set new ones. You must write them down and read them often.

Before I go any further, I would like to add this... If you are genuinely interested in learning and are willing to contribute honestly and earnestly to this thread then please, by all means do so. On the other hand, if your sole purpose is to be nothing but a pain in the butt here, or to poke fun of stuff said, then please go elsewhere for that.

Michigan is currently in a one state recession and has been for several years now as many of you know. Yet, this past year for me, has been my best year ever.

From here, I will continue on by copying and pasting what I originally said in another thread for those of you that may have missed it. Then, we'll take it from there.

I love to read things that are about how to own, operate and run a business. I found a web site that I happened upon not to long ago that took me a very long time to find. It will help you to figure out your real driving expenses.. Yes, your car really does not run on "air." You will have to fill your own figures in there. It will then calculate the rest for you.

http://www.commutesolutions.org/calc.htm

On my next post, I mentioned this:

One very important over looked item, or, maybe I should say, an item that many tuners do not care to discuss, address or admit, is that THIS IS A BUSINESS and it should be treated as such, and RUN AS SUCH. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I hear, "but, I can't charge my customer this price." I answer, not true. I have the same clientele and charge them accordingly with no complaints. They are first, my customers, second, my friends but, they always remain, a client first.

Be honest ALWAYS. I see no room for lies and have no respect for liars. I take a lot of business away from liars and cheats because their customers don't want them either.

I read a note on a customers phone once that said this: "If you always tell the truth, then, you have to remember nothing." And, I'm pretty good at remembering nothing!

Make your appointments and no matter what, do your very best to be on time.

SHOW UP. Don't cancel appointments because "I just don't feel like going to work today." Or, "I want to go fishing." It's a business, work it.

Don't take work away from fellow technicians that do good work. Become friends with them instead. That way, you can help each other, learn from each other, work with each other and recommend one another.

When a cliete calls for a tuning, that is what I schedule with 30 minutes leeway of "just in case." If I need more time to finish something, or if it turns out to be a bigger job than expected, I leave them an estimate, go to my next appointment (arriving on time) and return on a different day with the alloted time required now that I know how much time I will need to complete the work.

Get a GPS unit. I own a Garmin. It's a wonderful tool to show you and talk to you on how to get from point A to point B.

When I go to remove an action, or to do any other type of servicing on a piano other than tuning, I always, charge a service call first. That gets me to the door. Once at the door, my hour rate begins. That is only fair. Every other business, a plumber, electrician, refriderator man, you name, they all have a service call to cover their driving to your home first. So, should we.

I think one important over looked item is that THIS IS A BUSINESS. I have read many posts that say "I really don't care what I make or, if I make any money tuning pianos, it's my love for it that matters." To that, I say, Bull. That's a cop out for a fear that person will not be able to make a living it at. They failed before they even tried.

If I give an estimate for say, carding, regulation, leveling keys etc. In that estimate, I figure an additional amount of time for removal and installation of the action. That includes, another service call to return it. After all, what does carding, regulation etc., of the action have to do with spending 30 minutes removing all of the keys on a spinet in the home along with the stickers and then doing the same thing when I return the thing again? Again, who's paying for my time to drive there? For my time to remove and install the action? Not me.

I did class recently at one of our tech meetings where I stated, there is no reason whatsoever that any one of you technicians cannot make at least a 6 figure income. I think it went in one ear and out the other. Why? Because most of them are not doing it and do not believe that they can. What you think, you will become. What you believe, you will think.

Part of the problem with techs, is that many of them do not have the disipline that it takes to get their fannies out of bed in the morning and go to work. I figure, I need to tune X amount of pianos per day to make X amount of money. If I can do that, in half or 3/4 of a day, great, I take the rest of the day off. Why tune 7 when I already did 5 or 6? Cause, I'm getting older and I don't wanna.

Ok, that's it for this post... Your thoughts and ideas?
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#647244 - 01/06/08 05:19 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
Ok, I feel like saying more so, I will.

My dad raised me with this saying. "If you cannot do it correctly, then don't do it at all. But, if you can and are willing to learn how to do it correctly, then, make sure you do it better than anyone else. At the same time, know your limitations and know when to turn something down." Then, he added, " and charge accordingly."

Magic pointed out to me that we are also salemen and women. We are. We are tax payers, salespersons, installers, buyers, tuners, technicians, regulators, fixer uppers and every other aspect of "a business." Many of us are a one man show. I am not.

I sub contract a lot of business out to a person that does a lot of rebuilding for me and is much better at it than I am therefore, I will let him do what he does best while I go out doing what it is that I do best.

We need to know our limitations and we need to realize, that we cannot do it all. Nor, should we try to do it all.

It is okay to sub-contract tunings out to others. It is okay to sub-contract rebuilding jobs or, reconditioning jobs and other things out. Of course, you should always make money on this as this is after all, your customer. Don't think for one second that the builder that gave you an estimate on the installation of the new windows in your home isn't going to make a profit on the people doing the installation. If you think otherwise, you are doing nothing but fooling yourself.

Again, this is a business, run it as such.

Our clientele does not understand that we do indeed have overhead. As stated above, our vehicles do not run on air. Most of us pay our own health insurance, life insurance, or, death insurance, depending on how you choose to look at that one. We buy products, tools, have stationary, stamps, envelopes, do a lot of billing; roughly 80% of my money comes in the mail. We have computers that wear out, printers that require paper and ink. We have ETD's, business lines, faxes, offices, office chairs, filing cabinets etc....

It is no different than any other business. It is only on a different scale.

It was said to me once by a tax accountant some time ago that in order for a self employeed person to make $50,000 a year, we need to make $100,000 because just about half of that will be used up in taxes, health insurance, pension plans, gas and many other expenses. Now, that figure may not be exact, but, you get the meaning behind it.

Far to many technicians do not keep track of the last time they had a price increase. Very few, actually keep any records at all of what they might charge for a regulation job, carding hammers, replacing a broken jack spring on an upright or spinet, or a broken elbow.

I'm surprised at how often people around here ask me what I would charge for something like that. My simple answer is this. I figure that when I am in a customers home, I will spend on average one hour tuning their piano. Very few clients take into consideration BTW that you had to drive at least 15 minutes to get to their place in the first place. After the hour is up, whether or not I am finished with the tuning, I go immediately into my hourly rate plus parts.

I am honest, I am very rarely late. If I will run late, I always call in advance of the actual time of arrival explaining the problem. A train, an accident, or additional repair. I try and always do my best work at all times, I always take time to talk with the customer when I am finished and often times before. That's half the fun of it for me and NO, I do not charge for the time I spend yapping with them.
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#647245 - 01/06/08 10:08 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Dave Stahl Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/07
Posts: 1645
Jerry,

Thanks for you time-generous posts!

I think we all have slightly different business models, but a few things remain constant:

1). Customer relations is the most important aspect in creating a sound business

2). Know your skills, and know your limits

3). Charge appropriately for the work you do--and for what you know

4). Be kind in your dealings with customers and other people in the business. What goes around comes around

I tend to be a one-man show. If I don't have the skills required to do a certain job, I'll either farm it out no charge to a friend (who will probably reciprocate someday) or see it as a learning opportunity, take it on at a slightly discounted fee.

Customers need to--and for the most part do--understand that our rates are tied to inflation. IF we charge the same year in and year out, we are really decreasing our own wages. I will keep 6 month customers at the old rate until the rates increase again.

1 1/2 hour blocks of time are what I sell. This gives time to adjust pedals, tighten plate bolts, touch up regulation and voicing, etc., etc. I charge for pitch raises regardless of time because of physical labor involved.

We sell our skills, our time, but mostly ourselves. People want someone in their home with whom they feel comfortable. You can be the world's best tech, but if you're ill-at-ease in an unfamiliar environment, you will struggle with in-home service. This is one reason some people prefer shop or institutional work over in-home service.

Thanks for reading.
_________________________
Promote Harmony in the Universe...Tune your piano!

Dave Stahl, RPT
Piano Technician's Guild
San Jose, CA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAniw3m7L2I
http://dstahlpiano.net

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#647246 - 01/06/08 10:40 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
Hello Dave,

Thanks for taking the time to reply. I found your reply informative as well.

Customers are often taken for granted. When I just going into high school, my mom got sick with cancer. She died about 3 years later. Dad wasn't working a lot, the business was falling apart, he was understandably with his wife, I was still in high school. Consequently, When I got out, I had to hit the streets. I went to dealerships out of town, in town, everywhere, offering them this deal. If I could place an ad, in their local newspaper recommending people go to see them for a piano, could I also request they ask for me as a tuner and say something positive about myself and then would they take the name and number of all tunings for me? I paid for the ads and drumed up an aweful lot of business that way.

My first goal was to tune 2 a day. Then, I wanted to be booked 1 week ahead. Then, 2 weeks, then, I started doing 3 a day, setting the goal at a week ahead again, then 2 etc., until I was eventually, I was so busy, I didn't know what to do. It worked very well.

Many techs see no value in advertising and in fact, many times brag that they do not because they have enough work. I think what they are really saying, is that they have all the work they WANT to do which probably isn't all that much. They really want openings left for "play time."

We also have to diversify. In hard times, who is going to stick by us the most? Those with money? Or those without?

Churches. Colleges. Wealthy home owners. Those are what I've targeted over many years. It takes years to diversify to the point where you can begin to eliminte that other crap that's out there. But, it's worth doing so. Getting a great working relationship with dealers is certainly a great start.

We have to be proactive in our business life. We have to push ourselves to the ultimate ends at all times.

And it is very important that we all need to pre-schedule so that tomorrows schedule is already set in stone before tomorrow arrives. Unless people set goals for themselves, they will tend to have more openings that filled time slots.

If you can’t make yourself be motivated, then try hiring someone to make calls for you. That will force you to go to work tomorrow. You’ll automatically make more money.

I have a person come in several times a week to make calls for me. I schedule my college first. I do this one myself. There are far to many events and tunings going on here for my secretary to be able to comprehend and remember so, I prefer doing that instead of trying to explain it.

Next, we schedule our churches, then the schools. Homes are last. Everyone has already been contacted way before, with what particular month/s they might prefer, what dates, what times, what events are coming up, etc., so then all that is left is to make contact and schedule.

With my college, I have them pre-scheduled out for each semester for each concert event and all of the tunings throughout the entire semester from day one.

Having someone come in to schedule works wonders. I HATE doing it, so it wouldn't get done and I know it. However, each call that comes in during the day, I make a habit of returning them ALL myself, with a 24 hour period no matter how long I have to spend in my office at night...

In between times, I come here and play too!!!! :3hearts:
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#647247 - 01/07/08 09:09 AM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Ron Alexander Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/17/03
Posts: 1292
Loc: North Carolina
Thanks for starting this thread Jerry, I have a late appointment this morning and will be out until early evening, but I hope to give all posts a good read and maybe contribute something of use tonite. Thanks again.
_________________________
-----------------
Ron Alexander
Piano Tuner-Technician

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#647248 - 01/07/08 11:46 AM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
John Delmore Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/12/05
Posts: 373
Loc: Shreveport, LA
Manna from Heaven!! I'm planning to launch my own service this year, and this thread could not have come at a better time!! How about some comments on the upside/downside to incorporation? Nuts and bolts advertising advice?
_________________________
John Delmore
PTG Associate Member
"You don't have a Soul. You ARE a soul. You have a body."...C.S. Lewis
Bienvenue!: http://louisianaskyline.net/forums/index.php?

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#647249 - 01/07/08 04:40 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Anne Francis Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 548
Loc: Toronto, ON
Great thread, Jerry. I'll be following it with interest. This is a new career for me (I'm 46) and I'm always astonished to hear things like, "The last guy I called couldn't find a parking spot, so he went home," etc., and I think, gee, I'm about the least experienced person around, but a lot of more experienced techs just aren't good at customer relations, so I have that going for me. It seems so basic, but it really pays off. (Of course, I hope to develop my technical skills too.)
_________________________
Anne Francis
PTG Associate Member

Check out my blog! www.annefrancis.ca/blog

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#647250 - 01/07/08 09:09 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
Thank you all very much! I hope many of us can contribute here and I hope that we can all walk away with many new ideas or even old ones revisited. I hope to hear from a lot of you out there that have ideas. I'm just a guy out here trying my best. So, don't be afraid to pipe in.

I also hope that you spend the time to read through everything so you don't miss something that might be meaningfull or helpful to you.

It is good for all of us to keep our minds open to everything. The older we get, the more set in our ways we tend to become. Although, I think I'm safe yet as my 17 year old son keeps telling me that I act like a 13 year old half the time. \:D

Many things irk me in this business. For example, many technicians set themselves up for a complaint and failure before they even walk up to the customers door. I don't care HOW ROTTEN OF A MOOD YOU OR I HAPPEN TO BE IN when we arrive for our appointment. Your customers do NOT want to know it, and they do NOT want to see it and they do NOT want to hear it!!!!

Now, on the other hand, they just may want to vent a little bit with you on something so, be ready to lend an ear but, keep a vigil watch on your time so you don't run late for your next appt.

Generally, I'll talk briefly with them as I enter, asking a few questions and then, get to work. When I'm finished, then, I'll bring up a few topics and flap my gums with them.

Don't know what to talk about? Look at the walls. What do you see? Pictures? Places they've visited? Grand Kids? Dogs? Lots of things to talk about now. They love to talk about themselves, so look around and start up a conversation.

This is how I make myself happy if I am in a rotten mood. It works every time. Let's say, I just had an argument with my beloved wife and I'm still fuming as I pull up to my next job. I always say to myself "okay Jer, put on your happy face now." Then, I make myself do it, walk up to their door and when they open it up, I'm smiling. They almost always smile back too. If you smile, (it really doesn't hurt) and if think and talk happy thoughts, you will be amazed at how suddenly you are happy again.

Another pet peeve... I have a very close friend, no names will be mentioned, that simply does not, or maybe, just doesn't care, but, he will not run his piano business as it should be run. He doesn't stay organized. He doesn't charge what he should charge for his time. He doesn't show up on time. He cancels a lot of appointments. He does many things for nothing. AND HE HAS NO WORK. Duh???

In particular, he seems to enjoy doing many piddly items for free with the ongoing excuse of: "well, it only took me a minute." But, when I pin him down to an exact time, he actually spent more like 5 or 10 minutes on it. Piddle away 5 minutes x 100 different times and you just lost a ton of money my friend.

Then, he has the guts to complain that he makes less than $25,000 a year?

I have no qualms about adjusting a pedal here and there, tightening bench bolts for nothing if I'm ahead of schedule. But, I always keep in the front of my mind that this is my business. Not a toy factory. Only if I have the time and only if I am not going to lose money on another job or make myself late for my next appointment will I allow this added pleasure. Otherwise, I pretty much charge extra for almost everything even if it is only a few bucks.

You cannot name very many businesses' that will give away their time for nothing but, I can name many piano tuners that do. And, each one of them has what they claim to be a "valid excuse."

If, I tune a piano, and I'm done in 30 minutes, then yes, I will spend the next 30 minutes making adjustments for nothing as I usually figure one hour for one tuning. Otherwise, the clock begins ticking after 60 minutes.

Ok, Anne, new career. Some things are worth repeating... Be honest. Be prompt. Return calls immediately. When ever I travel out of town, I always charge more. We are not running a charity.

I have several different piano teachers in different areas where I set up a deal with them. For every tuning THEY SET up, so I have to do nothing, I will deduct $10 off from the price of THEIR tuning, up to the cost of a full tuning. For years, I had one lady that would schedule 7 in her church, 2 in another building, 2 in a school and about 6 homes. I usually did all of these in 2 days by myself and of course, I made great money and she got the deal of a lifetime.

Getting back to advertising. If any of you have checked out my web site, it is very simple and very inexpensive!!!! I pay $11.95 a month for it. Seems like I already said that so, am I already repeating?? I looked for it but, missed it...

It is storming here now, so I will have to post this quickly I'm afraid of losing it with a power outage so, I hope it is alright and that you enjoy it..
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#647251 - 01/07/08 09:11 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Paul R Hanson Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/07/08
Posts: 11
Loc: North Saint Paul, MN
A great thread indeed. I had to sign up with the forum so I could respond.

This is now my 6th year in the business and I have been quite blessed. I worked for a large music company in sales for a few years before going into tuning. I knew all the sales people, the techs, and still maintain that relationship. That's by far been my best source of new clients. Now I'm getting referral from customers, teachers, churches, etc.

Your point about being honest with the customer is very critical. We are being invited into people's homes and we must maintain integrity with them, with their property, and their family.

I'm currently looking into setting my sister up in St Louis to be calling my existing customers here in MN. Just keeping me booked consistently will easily put me into the high 5 figures. 6 will take a little longer.

Blessings to you all.
_________________________
Paul R Hanson
Hanson Piano
PTG Associate Member

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#647252 - 01/07/08 09:33 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Ron Alexander Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/17/03
Posts: 1292
Loc: North Carolina
Been looking forward to getting in and looking at this thread all afternoon. It's been one of those days, and I'm really too tired to make much sense this evening.

The part I love most about being in business for myself is the marketing, specifically, coming up with new ways to market and advertise. Over the past several years, I have tried several things, but have found the following works best in my area. 1. Simple yellow pages advertising. No big expensive ads. Just the simple listing, but spread over the 8 or 10 county area I cover. 2. Signs on my vehicle. The megnetic ones, takes it's toll on the paint job over time, but I feel it's worth it. Seems like everytime I go to a major shopping center, I hand out at least one business card. The post office seems to be a good place too. But the absolute best form of advertising I have found to be is, satisfied customers and the referrals they give me.

I would like to reinterate one thing Jerry hit upon, and that is the subject of our competition, i.e. fellow piano techs. I make it a practice never to criticize any competitors in the business. Even though I may think they are second rate tuners, I dont criticize their skills to cusomers or potential customers. It is hard to always be positive sometimes. And now and then I will tell a customer how I feel (if I know a person's skills without having to rely on hear-say). Nothing is more unprofessional to me than criticizing the competition or deliberately trying to gain the business of an organization or indivudual that currently is using a competent technician. If they call me, I always answer the phone, but I do not seek their business.

I know there is much more but, I had a flu bug last week, and the first day back at work has taken it's toll on me. Hope to contribute more later.

Regards,
_________________________
-----------------
Ron Alexander
Piano Tuner-Technician

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#647253 - 01/07/08 09:43 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Gene Nelson Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/10/04
Posts: 1473
Loc: Old Hangtown California
I do not agressively advertise myself. Just word of mouth.
It goes without mentioning so far but
I am amazed at how much business I get because the previous tech did not provide stable tuning.
All of the business efforts are wasted if we cannot produce a stable tuning.
Our reputations will be based 90% or more on our tunings regardless of how well we regulate or repair.
Especially true for performance - one string of a unison can be off slightly and the entire piano is out of tune and the account can be lost.
It is not good to have a reputation like this in the performance industry or anywhere else.
As far as I am concerned, taking more time to be certain the tuning is stable is a good business practice.
People skills are next. I don't know how many customers I have picked up that say the previous tech was so in a rush that they could not get a problem addressed.
What does it take to sell a regulation job? New hammer set, voicing, stringing, rebuild - etc. How does one budget time for this? Each client is different and time must be spent - probably on multiple visits.
_________________________
RPT
PTG Member

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#647254 - 01/07/08 09:45 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Ron Alexander Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/17/03
Posts: 1292
Loc: North Carolina
Darn, in re-reading my comments, I kind of sound like most in my area are second rate tuners. That is absolutely not the case. I have to say because of the now defunct community college piano tech program that was here until around 1991, my area has many many good techs, and a fairly active PTG Chapter. I do know of three or four people who took a short course (hehe) or no course at all, who claim to tune pianos, but I have found the piano owning public makes their skills known to each other. They dont need my criticism or any criticism on the part of the good piano techs, to know who and who not to use.
_________________________
-----------------
Ron Alexander
Piano Tuner-Technician

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#647255 - 01/07/08 10:04 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Bob Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/01/01
Posts: 3861
Jerry, thanks for the link to the website. I passed it on to my chapter members.
_________________________
www.PianoTunerOrlando.com






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#647256 - 01/07/08 10:12 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
Yeah Ron! Hope you feel better soon...

Welcome Paul! Thanks for your post.

Far to many techs bash other techs with no regard or concern whatsoever about integrity. Let alone their own integrity. We all do it occasionally. None of us can say with all honesty that we haven't bashed one lousy tech here or there but, I try my best not to.

I have more pet peeves too.... Wanna hear um? Okay! ;\) The thunder is receding... Ahh, was... Well, I'll take my chances. ;\)

Gene reminded me of a tech here who I confronted one time for his own good. He was losing so many of his customers to me because they all said, "he was spending more time talking on his cell phone than he was working on my piano." They no longer wanted him to service their pianos. So, I just said, "turn your phone off." And, I repeat that to you. While in the clients home, turn it off and don't allow IT to interupt YOU while you are carrying on a conversation with your customer. They are your most important assett. Most people will leave a message or at the very least, you do have caller ID.

As for call waiting? I HATE IT. I have it but, I never use it. I look at that like a child interupting a conversation. If I am talking with a customer, or even a friend for that matters, I believe that it is rude, to allow a phone call, another person, a child, or call waiting to interfere with that conversation.

Make the customer your priority and they will make you theirs.

Consider this: For 30 years, I had a live answering service. It paid for itself over and over because, my phone was always answered by a live person 24 hours a day. Now, with voice mail and most people used to using it, I finally did away with it but, I still have 3 phone lines coming into my home. One business line, another to return clients calls on and the other for the rest of the family to use.

I forgot about my pet peeve so, here it is...
When any technician willingly goes out of their way to take away one of my clients for no apparent reason other than to gain a client for themselves. That makes me mad. I don't do it to them. If I did a lousy job, or the customer just plain didn't like me okay then but, I know that I do NOT do lousy work.

Speaking of which.. My dad taught me this. Fellow technicians say, to pretend that whatever work you do, will be followed up by other good technicians. We changed that. This might sound a bit prejudiced but, we said, "we will do the work as if we are following up on ourselves because, we are the best!"

Work at it from that angle and be that person. Strive for that goal. You will find that others will then have a very difficult time being any better than you but, it will make them try!! And, that is a very good thing. We can all always improve our quality a little bit more.

Back tracking just a bit.. If I find that one of my clients has for years had a great technician but, forgotten their name or, maybe wanted to try someone new, I will give them the name and number of the previous technician telling them to call them back and then let the tech know as well. Why not? It comes back around to me later on again from the next guy. Usually...

Next: Have any of you bothered to actually count how many tunings NO GUESSING ALLOWED that you do each year?

Have you figured out how much of your income is from tuning? How much from minor repairs? How much is from major repairs? How much is from sub-contracting? How much is from sales?

No? Why not? It is a business... ;\)

Every extremely successful business out there knows exactly, where all of their income is generated from and they are all looking for more ways to increase it by advertising or otherwise.
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#647257 - 01/07/08 11:02 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
You're welcome Bob.
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#647258 - 01/08/08 12:30 AM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Paul R Hanson Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 01/07/08
Posts: 11
Loc: North Saint Paul, MN
Hey Jerry, I could be mistaken, but you seem to come across like you this this piano technician stuff should be treated like a "real" business. Huh, I'll have to ponder that one....

I strongly agree with not stealing customers. I have done quite a bit of warranty work, which puts me in homes of people who use other tuners. I always check to see if they have a tuner they've used in the past. If so, I tell them I'm not interested in getting in the way of that relationship. They've worked hard to build your business and trust and I won't interrupt that relationship. If however, they've had a bad experience, or haven't heard from the previous technician in a few years, they may feel free to contact me, if they choose. If there is no previous relationship, they'll be on my call back list.

Cell phones: I carry mine and leave it on. I will not answer it unless it's my wife. (During the tuning) She is the QUEEN. If I'm talking with the client however, the phone goes unanswered until I'm in the car. I have explained that to some customers and they seem to appreciate that kind of priority.
_________________________
Paul R Hanson
Hanson Piano
PTG Associate Member

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#647259 - 01/08/08 08:32 AM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
Hahaha, hey, I laugh quite easily Paul and you did make me laugh! Yeap, I have pretty strong feelings towards certain aspects of this business alright.

I was going to do a segment next on Filemaker Pro, data base clients etc. If I have time tonight, I think we have our PTG meeting but I didn't get a notice.(?) I'll post more in detail here later if I have time about how I use mine exactly. A friend helped me set it up to just what I need. It is perfect.

Cute story for you. Ladies, don't read this one ok??.. :-) My Doctor said to me once during a visit consultation/conversation, "When the wife's happy, life's happy." You should have heard me cracking up on that one. I think the people in the rooms on all sides probably thought he had a nut case on his hands except, he was laughing with me because we both lost it!
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#647260 - 01/08/08 10:10 AM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Dave Stahl Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/07
Posts: 1645
 Quote:
Originally posted by Jerry Groot RPT:


"turn your phone off." And, I repeat that to you. While in the clients home, turn it off and don't allow IT to interupt YOU while you are carrying on a conversation with your customer. They are your most important assett. Most people will leave a message or at the very least, you do have caller ID.

Make the customer your priority and they will make you theirs.[/b]
Jerry,

I couldn't agree more with your feelings about phones. Since I charge in 1 1/2 hour time blocks, it isn't fair to the customer to not give them and their instruments my undivided attention for that time period. And since I keep a fairly full schedule, adding time to the appointment as a result of a phone call or two will often cause me to run a little late.

I have been leaving mine on a little more often lately, though, because I'm in the midst of haggling for a house and need to field phone calls from banks, realtors, inspectors (what a PITA)....but in general, I leave it off, or better yet, in the car.

Just a rhetorical question: doesn't it seem that with each advance in electronic communication, people get further distanced from each other? Doesn't it seem common that the person at the other end of a phone call, or with whom one is on line is more important than those that one is actually physically with? What IS my wife doing right now.... \:D ?
_________________________
Promote Harmony in the Universe...Tune your piano!

Dave Stahl, RPT
Piano Technician's Guild
San Jose, CA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAniw3m7L2I
http://dstahlpiano.net

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#647261 - 01/08/08 11:12 AM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Dennis Kelvie Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/17/07
Posts: 156
Loc: Caldwell, Idaho
Jerry posted:
You cannot name very many businesses' that will give away their time for nothing but, I can name many piano tuners that do. And, each one of them has what they claim to be a "valid excuse."

If, I tune a piano, and I'm done in 30 minutes, then yes, I will spend the next 30 minutes making adjustments for nothing as I usually figure one hour for one tuning. Otherwise, the clock begins ticking after 60 minutes.
-----------------------------------------------
For me it depends on a few variables. I sometimes do a free appraisal for the faithful customer of 12 years (did that yesterday) who is moving out of state and selling her piano, or will adjust the pedals or other minor stuff for customers who have been using my services for a period of time, but like you, I do keep my eye on the clock for most. Then there is the lady who always smiles when I call her on the phone, always has nice things to say, and won't let me leave without the fresh-from-her-oven cookies she has made because she knew I was coming. . .she will get especially good treatment! \:\)

I too appreciate your starting this thread; I believe we all ought to review our business practices from time to time. I know I do.

Dennis Kelvie
32+ year full-time tuner
_________________________
Dennis C. Kelvie
Piano Tuner/Technician since 1976

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#647262 - 01/08/08 06:26 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
There is a PTG meeting tonight but, I sure don't feel much like going. \:\( I'd drather set right here and play. :p

For a data base. With today's technology, there really isn't much of an excuse for still using a card file system. A good friend of mine got me hooked on using Filemaker Pro. I must give him all of the credit for setting it up for me after I purchased Filemaker. All I can take credit for is telling him what I wanted to do with it and suggesting changes or improvements. He did the rest. And boy, did he ever make it cool and easy to use!!!!

It is set up to automatically print out those Dampp Chaser cards that the techs have to return after the installation. Insert the card, Hit the button that he set up, that says go to Dampp Chaser layout, find the client which is found in less than a fraction of a second and click print. It prints it out perfectly.

I even have it set up with a customer desireability numbered from 1-10.

I can look up my clients by anything I like. Serial number, piano, month, date, location, zip, phone, whatever I want. And, like I said, it's fast as a whip. Almost as fast as I hit enter, the clients information pops up.

I have it set up with everything. Name, address, phone/s, zip, email, contact person/s, make, model, serial number, last tuning date, next tuning date, who referred me, what work needs to be done and a separate place for additional comments and much more... Or whatever else you want to put in it..

One thing I LOVE about Filemaker is that you can type forever. When the little box looks like it is filled, it just expands. You can type in as much information as you want.

The program is only limited by the amount of hard drive space you have available on your computer.

I have it set up so that I can contact my clients by any month I want. For example. If church X wants their auditorium grand tuned 4 times a year, I click on those months. Sept, Dec., March, June and another box that just says call. It is set up to automatically pop up 60 days in advance of when they are to be notified for tuning. Directly behind a box out of the way of anything, it pops up in big bold red print DUE NOTIFY OF SERVICE.

It is really to in depth to explain but, I go into a separate area by clicking on call backs and reminder cards and then, find regular customers to call for tuning and then, I have 4 separate areas for 4 separate months of my choice for calling. I click on say, January, Feb, March and April. Whoever I marked for call back, will pop up with any information I have previously placed in there. Then, we call and schedule with Microsoft Outlook. Everything is done on the computer.

And, yes, everything is automatically backed up every single day to a separate drive "just in case."

My phone has a head set attached so my hands are free for typing.

I can print it, I can sort it, I can do anything with it. It is a fabulous program and a fantastic tool for keeping records. I have virtually never had (KNOCK ON WOOD) one problem with it in the 3 or 4 years that I've been using this program and believe me, I use it a lot!!

You can do whatever you want to do with this program. I recommend it highly.

Then, I had him set up with Filemaker, a billing program for me. Adding, subtracting, balancing, copying, duplicating records for repeat billing you name it, I can do it with this program and again, it keeps perfect records, never has made any mistakes other than user error.

I even had him place a little button for printing out my envelopes. \:\)

I also had him set up another program for keeping track of how much I take in each month. It adds it up all by itself. Truely lovely.... and totally unlimited data space. :p
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#647263 - 01/08/08 07:31 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Ron Alexander Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/17/03
Posts: 1292
Loc: North Carolina
I think I'm gonna check out the Filemaker Pro program. I have been using a database I created using Microsoft Access for about 5 years. Gosh I dread convering all those files over, if I like it. Hoperfully there's a conversion thingy in Filemaker. Though I created the database, I'm not the highest tech, tech in the tuning universe.
Think I will check and see if there's a trial version before I leap.

One thing that works very well for me is I call my customers to schedule return tunings. Some annually, some semi-annually, and a few about every three months. I dont do many mail outs at all. The secret is not to sound like a salesman; no high fever reminders that "you better tune that piano, it's three days overdue" type of stuff. I simply call to remind them it's been a year, or six months, or whatever. The vast majority will have asked me to call and remind them. I tell people upfront, I never put a high pitch sales job on you, it's a service I do, and I am pleasantly surprised at the number of new customers who say, "Oh yes, please call to remind me." A good rule of thumb is: Be loyal to your customers, and most of them will be loyal to you.
_________________________
-----------------
Ron Alexander
Piano Tuner-Technician

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#647264 - 01/08/08 08:03 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Mr G. Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/01/08
Posts: 35
Loc: Sydney
John Delmore was asking the ups and downs of incorporating and other details? This is my view on the subject.

More that ten years ago a leading piano dealer insisted that if they were to continue using my services I should seriously think of incorporating. And so I did at a cost of more that AU$1,000.00 and continued to pay annually about an AU$1,000.00 to maintain being incorporated and nearly AU$1,000.00 accountancy fees. I put up with it for years because it was very prestigious for me to say that I have their account and to have the right to include them as my referees. 5 years down the track they went out business and resurfaced under different name and the new management could care less what kind of business structure I had. Soon after that I wound up the company and from then on continue as a sole trader. Nowadays the costs are somewhat lesser but I still would not advise anyone to do it.

This cut on my costs even more with the accountant and that is my other advice to anyone who would venture working for themselves. Paper work is critical regardless of the fact that is the most hated part of the business. That is why a good accounting program is invaluable. I use and strongly recommend MYOB Accounting Plus v 17. http://www.myob-us.com/

Also on the advertising front – watch what you are praying for. Because if you over expose yourself in many media one will soon become glued to the telephone with endless request for help in DIY failures, unfinished projects, sellers of old and useless pianos and phone companies trying to get your telephony account. This can prove to be very unproductive.
_________________________
Consistency is the essence of good tradesmanship

The Piano Restoration Company
1/14 Burns Road,
Heathcote NSW 2233 Australia
M: 0417 255 420
www.thepianorestorationcompany.com.au

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#647265 - 01/08/08 08:13 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Ron Alexander Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/17/03
Posts: 1292
Loc: North Carolina
I think the same would be true about incorporation here in the States, Mr. G. About the only advantages I am aware of is the liability issue. Any liability issue would fall upon the corporation as far as I know. Also taxes would be paid only on the salary, the corporation pays to the owner. Not sure if there would be any real savings, due to corporate taxes.
I certainly would be interested in anything, anyone with real knowlege has to say about this issue. Not that I would even consider incorporating my one man operation.
_________________________
-----------------
Ron Alexander
Piano Tuner-Technician

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#647266 - 01/08/08 08:26 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Mr G. Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/01/08
Posts: 35
Loc: Sydney
rjalex , the personal liability issue locally was transferred from the corporation to the directors, in other words directors are personally responsible and cannot hide any more behind the incorporated entity. I have the gut feeling that USA is basically the same. Check local regulations carefully.

On the financial liability it is all covered by public liability insurance a small business MUST have. Dealing with expensive items makes sure of that. Having good neibours also helps – I am in a factory row of ten units and we all know each other for years and a very security and safety conscious.
_________________________
Consistency is the essence of good tradesmanship

The Piano Restoration Company
1/14 Burns Road,
Heathcote NSW 2233 Australia
M: 0417 255 420
www.thepianorestorationcompany.com.au

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#647267 - 01/08/08 08:29 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
I don't know anything about being a corporation.
That's why I didn't answer that one. I know of a major piano company here that is an "LLC." I think that is, Limited Libility Corporation? Whatever that means... I asked my tax accountant a few years back about it but, he said it really wasn't worth it and would be more paper work with one advantage of what Ron said, if sued, they couldn't come after your personal property. And, yaaa, naughty me, I skipped my PTG meeting. \:D
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#647268 - 01/08/08 08:49 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Mr G. Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/01/08
Posts: 35
Loc: Sydney
The Piano Restoration Company Pty Ltd was the name of my business while incorporated. In essence it meant that the “company” had to have a minimum of two directors, a hindrance which was eliminated and now only one director is needed, the “company” was paying my wage, and the “company”was liable for any mishaps.

All that changed some years ago here and now as The Piano Restoration Company “I” pay myself wages by drawing from the business account and paying personal instead of a “company” tax, and “I” am responsible for all actions of the business failure, exactly like a “company” director is anyway.

The cost for incorporating have fallen a bit and accountancy is somewhat cheaper with the flood of Chinese and Indian immigrants but being incorporated is still twice as expensive as being sole trader or a partnership. Public liability will cover the liability needs of the business.
_________________________
Consistency is the essence of good tradesmanship

The Piano Restoration Company
1/14 Burns Road,
Heathcote NSW 2233 Australia
M: 0417 255 420
www.thepianorestorationcompany.com.au

Top
#647269 - 01/08/08 09:02 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
Just a rhetorical question: doesn't it seem that with each advance in electronic communication, people get further distanced from each other? Doesn't it seem common that the person at the other end of a phone call, or with whom one is on line is more important than those that one is actually physically with? What IS my wife doing right now.... ?[/b]

Mine is shopping! Hehe, so I'm playing!

You are very right about that Dave. Many times, I check the caller ID and think oh, geez, thank GOD for voice mail (like just now! My wife's sister called, I don't like her...) and let r ring away. I guess we do tend to be more, what can I say, mechanical?

Re: My business phone line. I thought after I mentioned it earlier. It costs me $32 a month. I keep it because it has been a family business line for over 60 years. Doing away with it would be stupid. In Michigan, maybe it's the same elsewhere but, with a business phone, you are allowed a dinky free ad in the yellow pages which is all I want anyway.

I've found over the years that many customers would rather look at the smallest ads there rather than the larger ones. I'm not quite sure why other than the "mom and pop story" type theory.

Yes, I admit, I can be very forward when it comes to dealing with my business. I have been fortunate enough to have been sucessful so, I guess I'm doing something right and at times can be a little bit (LITTLE BIT?? I heard that!) pushy. Forgive me for that.

I figure this way, if it works, fantastic, use it. If it doesn't then don't and find something that does or something that works for best for you. We all have our special little niches.

Ok, what have we missed that one of you want to touch on? Or, does anyone have questions??
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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#647270 - 01/08/08 09:11 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Bob Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/01/01
Posts: 3861
Are store discounts worth it? When a tech gives a store a $40-$50 discount in return for a customer, it is the same to net income as spending $40-$50 in advertising and getting a customer. I can get a new customer for a lot less than $40-$50 in advertising. For me, store discounts are an expensive way to gain new customers. - How about those rental tunings at the "store discount"? What is the return on those for your discount? When I discount, I need to get something in return for the discount. How about those discounted store tunings 75 miles round trip? Stores might pay mileage, but the actual cost of a long commute like that is much more than mileage. Yet some store techs do all of the above, with a smile, never taking the time to add up the costs. And the store owners are smiling too!
_________________________
www.PianoTunerOrlando.com






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#647271 - 01/08/08 09:42 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Dennis Kelvie Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/17/07
Posts: 156
Loc: Caldwell, Idaho
Hey Jerry,

I got rid of my land-line last year. When I got the number many years ago I was told I had to maintain a business land-line to be able to advertize in the yellow pages. That changed. So too, the cell phone business. I now have the SAME ORIGINAL NUMBER that I had on the land-line, but it is on my cell phone. My wife has a different number and folks call her on it. Most of my personal calls are from folks who understand that this is a business and I have to keep it short but will get back to them.

My customers appreciate getting ME instead of an impersonal machine or voice mail. That plus the fact that I am second in the phone book and can answer questions immediately and can schedule by pulling over to the shoulder of the road. . .good for business. My customers seem to appreciate it.

Dennis Kelvie
32+ year full time piano tuner/technician
_________________________
Dennis C. Kelvie
Piano Tuner/Technician since 1976

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#647272 - 01/08/08 10:10 PM Re: Owning and operating a piano business.
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/07/07
Posts: 6828
Loc: Grand Rapids Michigan
Good points Bob. I hate store discounts too. Whoever started that in the first place? Here, it is common practice to give them what we call a "20 % dealer discount" for tunings and repairs. And, get this, they pay $15 an hour to do floor tunings. They mostly use their own technicians anyway.

I have an agreement with my dealers here. If one of my customers comes in and buys a piano, I get the tunings. After all, they were my customer to begin with so shouldn't I then retain them? But, I still give them a discount! Why? Are we dumb?
_________________________
Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan
www.grootpiano.com

We love to play BF2.

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