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As home to world-renowned institutions of higher learning (M.I.T., Harvard, and Tufts, among many others), a number of storied music schools (Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory), and ground-zero for a vibrant music scene stretching back literally centuries (Boston Symphony Orchestra, Aerosmith, James Taylor, New Edition, Dropkick Murphys, et cetera), it’s not particularly surprising that some of the biggest names in MI supply and retail set up camp in Greater Boston. 

While Boston proper is geographically – and, consequently, population-wise – relatively small when compared to other major American cities (673,184 year-round residents – 22nd largest in the nation according to the 2016 U.S. Census), the metropolitan area is another subject, altogether. With just under five million folks calling the region home, Greater Boston is amongst the top-10 most populous in the U.S. – and it is this slice of Massachusetts that MMR is turning our focus to in this year’s Market Profile. 

While area businesses on both sides of the MI retail spectrum benefit greatly from a rich pool of musical, engineering, and technologically adept talent in the city, Boston also presents its share of challenges – not least amongst them some of the highest living expenses anywhere in the nation (the area consistently ranks within the top-six “cost of living index” in North America and annually lands within the top-three or top-four highest rents for any city in the U.S.) 

Read on to learn about a handful of the significant dealers and suppliers which call Greater Boston home. 

 

Avedis Zildjian Company 

22 Longwater Drive 

Norwell, Massachusetts 

Dan Wiseman 

The Avedis Zildjian Company opened in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1929. The company relocated to Norwell, Massachusetts in 1973. 

Boston is a great city to operate a business, especially one in the music industry. We are able to recruit great talent from many of the top universities and schools in the area, especially Berklee College of Music. Boston has a history of great music being played at great music venues for all genres of music – from intimate rock clubs to the Boston Symphony Hall. Boston is also surrounded by other great cities with a great music scene that are a short trip away: Providence, Portland, Burlington, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 

The Boston area is one of the most beautiful parts of the country, with four distinct seasons and being in close proximity to the ocean and mountains. However, Boston is an expensive area to live as one of the top-five most expensive cities in the USA. Also, the Boston area can face some challenging winters, averaging 44” inches of snow per year and an average low temperature of 22 degrees in January. 

2017 is our 89th year manufacturing in Massachusetts and we look forward to celebrating our 100th year in Boston and the USA in 2029 (this celebration will follow our 400th anniversary in 2023). We are proud to be the only major cymbal company manufacturing in the USA and especially in the Boston area. Our cymbal factory continues to be a must-see/must-visit destination for any drummer or music fan. We take pride in the experience of coming to Norwell and showing our guests how the world’s greatest cymbals are crafted each day. 

Verne Q. Powell Flutes 

1 Clock Tower Place 

Maynard, Massachusetts 

Mark Spuria 

The Powell Flutes workshop has been in Boston since its founding in 1927. The original shop was located at 295 Huntington Ave, directly across the street from the New England Conservatory of Music and a few doors down from Symphony Hall. 2017 marks the 90th Anniversary of Powell Flutes and we look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries in Boston. 

Boston has been the home to many of the greatest flute makers of the last 100 years, which has led to a community of highly skilled flute makers in a relatively small area. The production of a handmade flute requires artisans to be trained over a period of years, thus access to trained professionals is an integral part of a growing business. As a hub of higher education institutions, Boston offers a pool of world-class flute professors and students. The local flute community encompasses flutists ranging from students to professionals, amateur and professional performing  organizations, and the top flute makers in the world. Due to these varied facets of the community; many consider Boston to be the center of the flute world. 

In addition, southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island have a high concentration of jewelers, jewelry supply manufacturers, and precious metal suppliers. This proximity to our workshop allows our staff to have very close working relationships with our vendors as well as shortened delivery times. 

The cost of doing business in Boston is high and has driven businesses to move out of the city limits. The Powell workshop is located in Maynard, Massachusetts which is small New England town with deep roots in artisan traditions.

Support and appreciation for the arts will continue to grow and foster new musicians throughout the region. Powell Flutes will continue to support the flute community through partnerships with schools, dealers and artists. 

Mike’s Monster Guitar

896 Massachusetts Avenue

Cambridge, Massachusetts

“Skinny Mike” Feudale

We’ve been in business here for four years. The advantages of greater Boston market include, of course, a massive student population and as number of music schools, as well as the number of musicians that make up the rock scene. Some present-day challenges include the rise of digital sales and finding ways to compete with the mega-stores.

What are my expectations for the area in coming years? That’s a tough one, with soaring rents and the number of small business and club closings that we’ve seen over the past few years, I’m not sure that bodes well for small, independent music retailers. We’ll keep doing what we do, offering a unique store experience and quality service.

M. Steinert & Sons

1 Columbus Avenue

Boston, Massachusetts

Paul Murphy 

M. Steinert & Sons was founded in 1860 in Athens, Georgia. At the outset of the Civil War, Morris Steinert moved his business and family to New haven Connecticut. Our first store in Massachusetts opened in Worcester in 1872. The Boston store was opened in 1883 and became the headquarters of the company under the leadership of Alexander Steinert, Morris’s son. 

I wish I knew who our “typical” customer is. If we could target that person, it would save a lot in advertising. Generally, our customer is an adult who plays for his or her personal gratification or wants to learn how to play the piano. So, while we see parents buying for a beginning or intermediate child, we see many of those who buy for themselves. More recently, with the advent of the player piano and specifically Steinway’s Spirio, we’ve seen a growing group of customers who do not play but who appreciate piano music. Many in this group never considered buying a piano until they heard and saw one playing itself. Institutions also represent a large segment of our business.

The challenge of a brick & mortar store is obviously the competition with whatever is on the internet. If someone is shopping for a brand such as a Steinway, they can always find a used one for less than a new one in our store. Often and unfortunately, this customer ends up with a PSO (piano shaped object). What they need is an education on the instrument they seek and what we need is to be able to give it to them. We can only do this if we can get them to visit one of our stores. So, the challenge is to get them in and show them the value in what we sell. The mantra in politics these days is “fake news.” I think our customers see this on the internet and recognize it every day. It applies to pianos as well as politics. 

Genelec, Inc.

7 Tech Circle

Natick, Massachusetts

Will Eggleston

Genelec, Inc., the North American subsidiary of Genelec Oy, was created January 1, 1996, as a two-person distribution center in Natick, Massachusetts, with Lisa Kaufmann, managing director, and Will Eggleston, marketing director. Today, the subsidiary has grown significantly with expanded staff and offices in Florida and California, plus a large warehouse facility including a testing chamber for service in Natick to house the growing demand for Genelec product in the Americas. Genelec Inc. supplies the U.S. with both marketing and sales support, as well as warranty and non-warranty repairs. 

First, Boston is a port of entry for containers arriving from Europe, where our products are built. Second, the time difference is still within a workday (seven hours) from Genelec Oy in Finland, where manufacturing, global marketing, and engineering are based. Boston is great place to work and live, with a rich music community and a robust tradition of audio innovation and industry – think Bose and Berklee, where many of our employees hail from.

There are basically few challenges except maybe for the occasional snowstorm. Rents and cost of ownership are about what one would expect in a large city, but compared to other cities in the Northeast, Boston is relatively easy to operate in. From a personnel standpoint, there also happens to be a tremendous pool of talent here, drawing from the highly regarded colleges, universities and research institutions in the area. We have been here for more than 21 years and would never think about going anywhere else.

From my perspective, all indications are that Boston will continue to grow, and as such, Genelec Inc. has made a major investment in our facility and our people to ensure ongoing growth in the coming years. 

Grover Pro Percussion, Inc.

22 Prospect Street

Woburn, Massachusetts

Neil Grover

We’ve been based in the Boston area since I founded the company in 1980, which makes it 37 years!

Boston is one of the country’s oldest and richest cultural hubs. Boston has three music conservatories, a large number of world-renowned universities with strong music departments, and one of the world’s preeminent symphony orchestras. On top of that, Boston is home to the Boston Pops, “America’s Orchestra” and a musical ensemble that I have had the privilege of performing with for four decades. As a result, I have been presented with the opportunity to develop and test all of our percussion products with both the Boston Symphony and the Pops in Symphony Hall, which, acoustically speaking, is among the world’s finest concert venues. Can’t find a better sound lab than that!

Along with such a vibrant musical landscape comes a diverse musical talent pool. We have really been fortunate to have had so many talented musicians walk through our doors, some have interned here and a few became permanent members of our team. I’m proud to add that all of our interns have gone on to successful careers within the industry.

According to Kiplinger, Boston has the 8th highest cost of living of all cities in the U.S. I admit that manufacturing in a “high rent” environment challenges our ability to moderate production costs. We achieve this by utilizing a network of specialized component suppliers who are local and have the capacity to supply key parts that not only meet our stringent quality standard, but, that are produced efficiently and in a cost-effective manner. The bottom line is that we are in the business of manufacturing professional level, world-class instruments and even though our products cost more than imported products, our value proposition remains very strong.

I do want to add that Boston has the reputation of having the worst drivers in the world, and it is well deserved!

I am cautiously optimistic about the future. We are experiencing a growth in export sales which I expect to continue. Specifically, our sales in China are growing as our brand is revered by percussionists there. I have learned that the serious musicians in China want American made high quality products. To quote our President, “Who knew?” I can’t tell you how much I love exporting product into China! Made in the USA is in our DNA and we’re darn proud of it!

MOTU

1280 Massachusetts Avenue

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Jim Cooper

MOTU was founded in 1980 as an MIT startup based in Belmont, Massachusetts, the next town over from Cambridge. The company soon moved to the Kendall Square area in East Cambridge, just a stone’s throw from M.I.T., itself. Then, in 1992 we moved to Harvard Square, literally in the heart of Harvard University, on the western side of Cambridge. We’ve been here ever since, and we still have that “tech startup” feel in our office to this day.

Our primary strength is our talented software and hardware engineers, most of whom are also accomplished musicians. Being in Harvard Square allows us to attract and retain hot talent out of MIT and other leading technology institutions. Boston has always been strong in both high-tech and music, with schools like MIT, WPI, Tufts, Berklee and world-class conservatories. Boston and Cambridge have an absolutely thriving music scene, and we feed off of that on many levels. 

Our corporate offices are located in Harvard Square, but MOTU also has manufacturing, warehousing and shipping/receiving facilities around the greater Boston area, so we avoid the logistical headaches usually associated with core urban locations.

I’m optimistic about the future here. As the economy improves, the greater Boston area seems to be enjoying the leading edge of that surge. Things are hoppin’, thanks to thriving high-tech, a solid local economy and a healthy and pervasive college and university presence. As a tech industry hub, Boston – and Cambridge in particular – has seen a real surge in tech startups, biotech and other fields, especially in the last ten years. When you walk around Cambridge, you really feel it.

Mooradian Cover Company

65 Sprague Street

Hyde Park, Boston, Massachusetts

Peter Hoffman

For over 35 years, from its early days in a three-car garage in Cambridge to our current home in a re-purposed locomotive factory in Hyde Park, the Mooradian Cover Company has been producing high quality, handcrafted-in-the USA, lightweight-yet protective padded carrying covers and gig bags for stringed instruments. 

Within reach of Boston’s vibrant live music scene, our location offers us the advantage of first-hand contact with musicians seeking quality protection for their instruments. In addition, Boston’s academic community is composed of some of the world’s finest music schools and conservatories, allowing direct interaction with faculty and the student population. We are well positioned to respond to a range of needs, whether taking a custom order from a Berklee professor or fielding questions from those just starting out on their musical journey. 

Although operating in the Greater Boston area has its advantages, both the higher-than-average cost of living and cost of doing business forces us to search for unique strategies to be even more efficient and competitive in the crowded MI marketplace. Having a product line that requires a team of highly skilled sewing machine operators in a region that has experienced a reduction of those with this skill set provides the greatest challenge. We have been able to build a small, highly productive team by blending full-time and part-time employment with shift flexibility. Our close proximity to downtown Boston with nearby public transportation provides easy access to staff and customers while affording us lower rent and operating costs that are more-user friendly to small businesses. 

Given the rich and vibrant musical community here in the Greater Boston area, we intend to maintain our just-out-of-town location so that we can continue to serve those near and far who need our unique brand of high quality protection for their instruments. 

Mr. Music

128 Harvard Avenue

Allston, Boston, Massachusetts

Tom Barone

I opened the store in 1973 when I was just 20 years old. We started initially as a record store, but slowly transitioned to selling guitars, amplifiers, and other musical gear as the Boston rock scene grew in the mid-seventies. 

We are very centrally located near many local universities (Berklee, BU, BC, etc.) and local music venues (Great Scott, Brighton Music Hall, Paradise Rock Club, et cetera). Because of this we are an easy one-stop shop for any gear someone in the area may need. We often give out t-shirts to customers, roadies and touring musicians. We have seen our logo pop up everywhere from South Africa to Taiwan. There is no typical Mr. Music customer. We see everyone from high school and college students buying their first guitar, to touring bands in need of cables and strings before a show. We are now even seeing the children of loyal customers from the seventies and eighties coming in to buy their instruments from us.

Our biggest challenge is competing with online retailers who have a low operating cost and provide free shipping on even small items. However, we have found there is still no substitute for a brick and mortar store. When a customer plays an awesome guitar or hears a cool new pedal, great products sell themselves.

Virtuosity Musical Instruments

235 Huntington Avenue

Boston, Massachusetts

Steve Johnson

I started working toward opening Virtuosity in early 2015. The need for a local brick & mortar shop dedicated to woodwinds and brass was clear. Boston is home to a diverse range of students and high-level amateurs in addition to its working professional musicians. The possibility for me to be the person to help service these wonderful musicians was very exciting and motivating.

Virtuosity opened its doors in November 6, 2015 (Adolphe Sax’s Birthday!)

We were lucky to find a location which simply can’t be beat for walk-in traffic. We’re just steps from Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory and Boston Symphony Hall. There’s always something happening; when the colleges are not in session, there are shows coming through town, summer programs or tourists visiting.

A large portion of our students is made up of college/conservatory students. We also work with many professional and semi-professional players who work in and around Boston. Students range in age from 18-28 and do make up the bulk of our traffic, but we certainly see musicians of all ages, income and ability levels.

Being located in a metropolitan area, real estate costs are certainly a challenge that we have chosen to fight. Otherwise, because our main customer base receives and shares information so rapidly, we are constantly learning and working to keep pace with them. We have a great team here who help keep our digital presence current and I’m seeing motivating progress in how we are able to increasingly interact with those current and potential customers, both in-person and in ‘the cloud’. 

Guitar Stop

1760 Massachusetts Avenue

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Jeanne Oster 

I have been the proprietor of Guitar Stop for 30 years. Guitar Stop® is a full service neighborhood music store: selling guitars, accessories, and offering lessons and repairs. For three generations, my family has owned and operated a retail musical instrument store in Cambridge. 

Guitar Stop was originally started in 1962 by my father, Edward Oster. The original name for the store was Central Sales Company as his store sold a variety of items and was located in Central Square, Cambridge. My father’s store was a second-hand shop where you could find almost anything. He had a large selection of used items: guitars, stereos, cameras, jewelry, and televisions.

My dad loved having me, along with my two older brothers and two younger sisters, working with him at the store. He started bringing us to work with him when we were very small- not even tall enough to see over the counters. By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to continue the tradition of running the store. 

When I graduated college, I returned to Cambridge to work full time with my dad. Around this time, my father got sick with cancer and I started taking on more responsibilities at his store. Sadly, he lost his battle in September of 1986. I purchased the store from his estate with the intention of continuing the family business, but the landlord of my father’s store had other plans. Six months after my dad passed, I received an eviction notice giving me only sixty days to vacate the building he had been in for the last 25 years!

After a lot of hectic scouting and planning, I found a location in Porter Square and started moving the business to its new home. From that time through today there have been 

many changes along the way. I refocused the store to concentrate on musical instruments, and changed the name of the store from Central Sales to Guitar Stop to better reflect our inventory. I started a strong lesson program with professional musicians offering individualized lessons seven days a week. I shifted from selling used gear to new and we offer more in the way of repairs and set-ups than we used to. We also have a robust website and web presence along with our retail location. 

The most important aspects of the business have remained; we are first and foremost a family run neighborhood music store. We have helped people pick out their first instrument and have been able to support and help them with accessories, repairs, lessons, and advice. We have students who have begun their musical training here, and have gone on to Berklee and professional music careers.

Cambridge has been a great location for us. It’s a very diverse city that appreciates music and feels strongly about supporting small, independent family businesses. There is so much music happening at the local clubs, and in the local colleges. It’s also a very international city. Through out the year we have customers that are visiting Boston from other countries as tourists or students that have found our website and are excited to purchase a guitar from us to bring home. 

My store is a Cambridge neighborhood business; we are part of the community here. I love getting to know the families in our neighborhood. I have some students and customers that I originally met when they were quite small, and now they are graduating college, or introducing me to their children. It is a nice feeling to know that my store has been part of their lives in such a positive way. 

We really don’t have a typical customer. On a typical day, we see musicians that have been playing in local clubs or as weekend warriors for decades, young parents that want to learn to play lullabies on guitar or ukulele for their newborn, college students starting a band, and elementary school children coming in for guitar or piano lessons. Sometimes music stores expect customers and staff to have a certain rock star vibe. I have had customers talk about the trouble they’ve had at other stores having the staff take them seriously as a musician, or a customer because they didn’t have the right “look” to them. I think my store has a very welcoming feel to it. Here, every customer receives help and information about the guitars, amps and accessories that we sell. 

One of the biggest challenges I feel any business owner has to deal with is being aware of and responding to changes in customers’ needs and attitudes. A lot has changed since my Dad started the business in the ‘60s. The internet has been huge. Our customers use it as a research tool to check features and prices and availability of items before they even walk in the door. I developed my own website back in 1996. The website was actually the reason for changing the name of the store to Guitar Stop. I wanted a name that could be searched for easily, and reflected what we sold. 

Competing with the big box stores hasn’t been as challenging as it sounds. Our prices are usually lower than big stores, and all our guitars come with the carrying case, and picks, included in the price. We stand behind everything we sell. Everyone who works here can do minor repairs, set-ups and adjustments on the spot if they are needed. I believe in fully representing the brands that I sell, which includes: Cordoba, Fender, Guild, Gretsch, and Washburn. The selection we offer of these brands is more complete than what may be found at the big box stores. 

One of the biggest obstacles a family business faces is not having family to maintain it. I am lucky that my sister Annette, her son Alex, and my brother Al have remained with the business. Annette is the retail manager & lesson program coordinator, Alex teaches private music lessons, along with retail sales and service, and Al is the service manager. 

Our lesson program is also a very important part of our business. The store offers individual lessons 7 days a week for $25.00 a half hour or $50 for a full hour lesson. The teachers are top musicians, who gear their teaching style to the student’s individual needs and goals. Catherine Capozzi was featured in Guitar World magazine as one of the “Female Guitarists You Should Know.” She recently collaborated with Christina Goh (France) on a project, “Hors Format- Oversize” released on Plaza Mayor LTD out of London. Travis Pullman plays with Somerville Symphony Orkestar, and has been a fixture on the Cambridge/Somerville music scene. Eric Guadette specialized in classical guitar performance at the Boston Conservatory, and performs with the duo He + He. Alex Oster, my nephew, studied music in New York, is a great player, and a patient & encouraging teacher. 

We have students beginning as young as 5 years old, all the way up to seniors in their 80s. Along with guitar lessons we also teach banjo, mandolin, ukulele and beginner piano. The store has recently added bi-annual recitals to our lesson program. The recitals are a great opportunity for students to set goals to work towards, and it allows parents and friends to see the students perform. Recently, we’ve had some older students who have started or returned to music very late in their life as therapy. It is very gratifying to be able to help people who have other life struggles find enjoyment with music. 

My father touched a lot of lives with his store. A great many Boston musicians remember him, as someone that helped them find a way to get an instrument and create music despite financial or other problems they were facing. My store is continuing in that tradition, helping people enjoy and create music.

Fishman Transducers, Inc.

3 Riverside Drive

Andover, Massachusetts

Jason Cambra

We started out based out of Larry’s [Fishman] house in Medford in 1981. In April of 2016 we moved up the road to our newest, current facility here in Andover, which is around 58,000 square feet.

One of the key advantages to being in this area for us is access to a vast amount of really skilled labor. A lot of kids come out of colleges in this area with mechanical engineering degrees and so on, and are highly qualified, ready to contribute immediately. The only thing that I would maybe consider to be a challenge is that there aren’t quite as many other MI industry companies in this area, compared to maybe the West Coast or the Southwest. So that means a little bit more of travel requirements than if more places were local, plus shipping costs across country. If we were in the middle of the country, shipping would be a different situation, but I think we all love being here in Massachusetts.

There’s a lot of development and infrastructure improvements going on in this area, so I’m optimistic for the future – I think we’ll see lots of positive changes in the coming years.

 



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