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Adaptation and a solid expertise of your field have always been the keys to the longevity of a career or independent store, and after 50 years in the business of selling pianos, Joe DeFio is a walking encyclopedia.

“I’ve seen it all. Pretty much every job in the industry that could be done, I’ve done. The only thing I don’t do is teach or tune,” he says.

After leaving the army, DeFio cleverly got a job at an employment agency to scout out all the jobs in the area. When he spotted an opening for a piano salesman, he jumped on it. At 21, he started to learn the piano and organ business, and today at 71, he’s still hooked.

Originally from Syracuse, New York, DeFio moved to Kansas City to work with a chain of P&O stores owned by Jenkins Music, later working for the Hammond Organ Company and other manufacturers.

Now executive vice president for Vienna International, DeFio answers his phone seven days a week and uses his expertise to help navigate the company. Since he started working with Vienna International, his work with the company has been instrumental in elevating Hailun from almost unknown in the United States to an in-demand, award-winning brand. In 2012, for instance, MMR readers selected Hailun Pianos for the “Piano Line of the Year” Dealers’ Choice Award, and the brand has been adding up awards ever since.

Most recently, DeFio’s mission has been to push to get acoustic pianos back into MI stores; namely, Hailun and Petrof, both lines that Vienna International sells. His mission is to address all the changes that the market has undergone recently, and make selling acoustic pianos work for those dealers.

“Over the past six or seven years, things have changed drastically,” he explains.

With a rise in digital pianos and a fall in acoustic pianos on the market, tackling the piano industry hasn’t exactly been a simple ordeal.

If anything, DeFio says that he has been pushing for a full-on reversal of how piano stores have been developed in both minor and major market areas.

Over five decades dealing with all aspects of the keyboard business, he’s witnessed first-hand the dramatic changes in the music industry, such as the demise of the once popular accordion business, the collapse of the home organ and the spinet piano, and the crash in used piano prices.

“Originally, most piano departments were in full-line stores selling musical instruments, stereos, etc,” Defio says. “They were doing so well with the piano divisions that some of those locations turned into all-piano stores. The way things are going, however, I see a reversal of that. Now at Vienna we are going to concentrate on new small startups (many are piano techs), and MI stores to have small acoustic piano departments, helped in every step by our expertise in marketing the instruments to consumers, using our business model to sell pianos for our dealers not to them.”

Years ago DeFio saw big changes coming, and started to map out what the future would hold for the market and planning out what Vienna International should do to be successful in that highly competitive and shrinking market.

“Many cities, even ones that have very large populations, are down to one or two piano stores. They’re the only outlets for new pianos in these cities. The choices for consumers are very limited and dictated by a few very large manufacturers . More outlets in more areas will provide choices for people and, in addition, MI dealers and tech dealers will add to their revenue stream, a win-win situation!” DeFio explains.

The industry has also changed as a result of online shopping, with sites like Amazon being a new go-to for people who need instruments – thus taking away business from local stores. While pianos don’t seem like an instrument that customers would buy on a whim (“buying a piano can be very iffy if you don’t play it” DeFio notes), but there are still people out there who are making those major purchases online because they can’t find new pianos anywhere near where they live.

The current situation makes it even more vital for pianos to get back into musical instrument stores – and Vienna International has the advantage of size on their side. DeFio describes Vienna International as an efficient, hands-on company in which everyone performs many roles. Because they are a relatively small company without a large, cumbersome corporate hierarchy, they can initiate changes and carry out plans much faster than most other distributors can.

“Anybody can try to do what we’re doing now, but we’ve got great products and a five-year head-start on the concept, we address the new norm with our ears to the ground and we are already proficient in dealing with smaller outlets,” DeFio says.

Paired with a heavy social media presence, DeFio is dedicated to making pianos accessible to the end user in more places across North America and the world. This has already started as Vienna International has just been awarded the Hailun distribution rights for Europe and Africa (a formal announcement will be forthcoming).

“It’s going to get harder before it gets easier,” he says. But if anyone can handle the ebb and flow of the market, it’s this piano guru.



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