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Chapman Guitars is the story of the evolving face of the music industry.

In only 2009 Rob Chapman created his first collaboratively designed guitar based on online polls of his YouTube audience.The design, features, and specs of new models are all up for debate in this innovative and interactive conceptual process and the majority wins. Now with over 30 retailers in over 20 countries getting in on the customer pleasing action, Chapman Guitars is evolving more rapidly than the Tuatara (“living dinosaur” and fastest evolving creature on the planet.) 

Operating under a unique business model this pioneering guitar design company is listening to it’s customers and responding to their feedback with flexibility and willingness. MMR recently sat down with Matt Hornby, the company’s Managing Director, to find out how it all began, where they are at now, and where they are going in the future.

Please tell the story of the origins of Chapman Guitars, how did it all begin?
Matt: It was started by Rob Chapman, who is well-known on YouTube (www.youtube.com/RobChappers) for his entertaining and informative guitar videos. Initially, Rob was offered a signature guitar however it was in his nature to ask people what they 

wanted to buy, rather than what he wanted, so he took to YouTube and asked his 30,000 subscribers (at that time) what they wanted.

Shortly after, he teamed up with Lee Anderton, owner of Anderton's Music Store in Guildford in the U.K., and together they brought out the first two customer created guitars, the ML-1 and the ML-2, both as limited runs.

That’s a brilliant idea and what happened after those first two models came out?
Matt: The first few models sold out! Up until about 2014, we only had about three or four models in the range, some signature guitars and some limited runs. 2014 was when we took Chapman Guitars to the Winter NAMM Show in California and that's when we really started seeing a more international beginning to the business. Up until 2014, we were selling guitars only via Andertons in the U.K. (www.andertons.co.uk) and a store in Norway called Evenstad Musikk (www.evenstadmusikk.no), both of whom we still are with today. We did the show in Anaheim in January 2014 to see where it would take us, and we came away with another approx. 10 retailers, which was a great start. Since then, the company has been growing and growing and we now have around 40-something individual stores, by 30 retailers in 20 countries around the world.

ML1RS (RobScallon6String)I love the unique backstory of both companies; Andertons and Chapman Guitars coming up in the MI world from social media. Can you talk a little more about Andertons?
Matt:  Andertons is a family-owned business that started around 1964 who hired Rob back in 2007 to make product review videos for his YouTube channel to promote them. As I said, Rob had a much smaller following at the time (now over 500,000 on YouTube), however with Andertons, they were one of the first people online doing this kind of thing. Via YouTube, Andertons is now a recognised MI retailer all around the world; a huge achievement for a single store in a small town in South East England!

Who are the other key players in the company? How many employees are working for Chapman Guitars?
Matt: Well, in the true sense of a company that’s grown via technology, we are a very small team. We currently employ some freelance staff; a designer and a web developer, and we have someone working on social media for us. We also employ an excellent guitar demonstrator, Rabea, who also does some video content with us. Rob primarily makes YouTube videos and also plays in a band and Lee runs Anderton's day-to-day.

Is there a facility located anywhere that is representative of Chapman Guitars exclusively?
Matt:  There is no Chapman Guitars headquarters at the moment. As part of our business model we have a very low overhead, which helps keep our guitar so affordable. In addition to this, we don't work with distributors - the guitars are made to order and are shipped directly from our factory in Korea to our retail partners all around the world. That makes the retaileritself a very important relationship for us. We offer our retailers a generous retail margin, as an extra incentive to make sure our customers experience the best customer service and assistance that we can get from our retailers.

CAP10When I was researching your company I noticed that your website very prominently displays your customer voting process. How does the voting process work?
Matt: We decide on the initial concept of a guitar – so perhaps we decide we will make a new bass. We might come up with three shape variations and people choose their favorite. We continue that voting process throughout the whole specification of the guitar; headstock shape, finshes, hardware, hardware finishes, what type of bridge and all sorts of options. Basically, as much customization as we can possibly offer. We put that down on paper and design the guitar, create a prototype, test it, and then that is sold to our retailers around the world, and bought by the people who designed it.

Can you talk about your testing process? Is it Rob that does quality control on all of the guitars?
Matt: Yes, Rob does, and to be fair, we all have our chance to critique or feedback on a guitar design before it’s launched.

And just out of curiosity have you ever created a flop?
Matt: Not yet! In the voting stages we have to be fairly smart about the options that we offer.

Do you have any observations to share on the general electric guitar market?
Matt: I think we're in the middle of a change. The Internet and social media has definitely given the consumer access to much more knowledge than before, therefore now I think we have a more informed consumer. They also have a lot more choice. The Internet has definitely opened some newer and more innovative routes in the market. I like to think of it as a "global cottage industry."

Can you expound on the concept “global cottage industry?”
Matt: Yes – maybe ‘cottage industry’ is a British term? The idea being you can now be pretty successful with a niche product design, whereas before the Internet, you might not have been able to sell enough of your product in your own town or village, so it's it wouldn’t have been a viable business. However, that niche design spread around the world with the access that the Internet brings, all of a sudden becomes a lot more of a proposition. I think there are lots of little MI companies doing some really, really cool stuff. In our case, without YouTube and social media, we probably wouldn't exist.

Like pioneers, you seem to be figuring things out as you go.
Matt: We have to be malleable and flexible. Given the our presence on social media, the voting, plus the direct-to-retail model, we have a direct relationship with all the people involved in the process, so we also get direct and honest feedback on what we're doing. People online are very honest, but in return, we’re also pretty transparent. I also think it’s a very, very cool thing to be able to ask a world what it wants to see and bring it to market. I think people really get into it.

Do you have any new products that you want to talk about or promote right now?
Matt: We have just brought out a pair of new signature guitars, with a very well-known YouTube-based musician named Rob Scallon (www.youtube.com/robscallon), who is based in Chicago. He has almost 800,000 subscribers who watch his very imaginative and ingenious guitar-based videos. We hooked up with him last year to design an eight string guitar. An eight-string is not something we'd done before, plus Rob plays in a very unique way, which is one of the reasons that attracted us to him in the first place. We brought out both an eight-string and then a six-string based on the same design, the ML1-8 RS and the ML-1 RS, which have just hit stores over the last few months.

ML3Ash

Chapman Guitars is designing in collaboration with all of its customers, do you have plans for any future specific collaborations?
We not only open voting to the public to design guitars, but we've also designed guitars with artists as I’ve mentioned and that's something we will look forward to doing more of in the future. We’ve also done regional collaborations – we released the ML-1 Norseman, which was a collaboration with the retailer I mentioned before in Norway and their local Norwegian fans, based on Norwegian mythology. Another of our retailers, Riff City Guitar (www.riffcityguitar.com) in the USA, designed a guitar with their fans – the ML-1 CAP10 America – which is the American version of a previous British-designed model called the ML-1 CAP10 (Cap-tain Lee Anderton’s signature model). It’s yet another way of designing guitars collaboratively and we’re always open to new ideas!

How are you doing in the American market compared to globally?
Matt: We’re doing well in the USA, however we’re always looking for more great retailers to partner with. We realised very early on that with guitars, people like to try before they buy, so opening up that option in reasonably close proximity is something we’d like to do.

Within the last 2 years, we have also taken Chapman Guitars on two tours of the USA, both the East and West coasts, to give people the opportunity to try the guitars who hadn’t the opportunity thus far. It was really suceessful, with around 200 people showing up to check the guitars out each night. We were blown away!


It seems like your success is really all about relationship and connections. On that note, do you have anything at all that you would like to add that I did not ask you?
Matt: Well, on a personal note, it's really enjoyable and really fun to be part of something like this. Each of us in the team plays guitar and we all love guitar, so there's nothing cooler than being able to design guitars with people all over the world who share that passion, bring them to life and then see people getting their hands on the final product. It's a really satisfying process – and personally, that's what keeps me going every day. It's a wonderful thing to be involved in.

www.chapmanguitars.co.uk



 



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