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Instrumental Music Center of Tucson, Arizona didn’t start strictly with a love of music, but rather a love for music in their community.

You could, in fact, track the entire store’s existence down to an interaction like owner Michael Faltin’s interaction with one kid and a banged-up violin. It all started when Faltin, a former band director, spotted a music student with a violin with bad strings.

“I said to the kid, ‘so, you own that thing?’ and the kid said ‘well, we’re renting it from the store.’” And so the seedling – or one of many seedlings - was planted in his mind.

“When you see bad things, sometimes you’re inspired to create something better,” he said. “We never wanted to own a business, we never wanted do what we ended up doing, but we just kind of ended up there.” Faltin and his wife Leslie started IMC in 1999, and most recently, have celebrated the opening of their newest store in. But their interest and business tactics differ from most.

“A lot of people open a business to make money, but we do it to service a community,” Faltin says.

Taking Matters into their Own Hands

In 1999, things felt bleak for Faltin as he worked as a band director and had to scrap together instruments for his students to use. In an era where Amazon wasn’t the go-to, he had to go to all the local stores - and we mean all of them.

“We started in 1999, my husband was a band director and had to go to all the different music stores in our town, and he had to go to three different music stores to get a full set of drum heads for a specific drum kit,” says “ringleader” and wife Leslie Faltin.

“None of the music stores in town has a full set in stock, and it kind of started this conversation of ‘goodness, couldn’t we do this better than some of the other people in town?’”

The answer quickly became an obvious “yes.”

Leslie adds an unlikely dimension to the music store - she holds a degree in chemistry and had previously sold radioactive isotopes and worked in the laser industry.

“I missed the grand opening of the music store, I was selling lasers to people in Japan that day,” she says, admitting the irony of the entire situation. The couple have nearly built their business from the ground up, with Faltin putting in all the lighting himself, and starting with only two employees in 1999.

“There are a lot of music stores out there that got the music store from their grandpa or uncle or whatever, we actually built it from scratch. We did it in a very scrappy way. We didn’t even have a certificate of authenticity when we first opened because we did all the work ourselves,” Faltin explains.

“We took this leap of faith but I had a pretty strong vision of what we needed to do and what was going to work.”

Once IMC opened its doors, it didn’t take long for word to get out that an ex-band director owned the new music store, which to fellow music people, indicated that it was probably going to be a good one. Meanwhile, when applying their first trip to NAMM with their fledgling company, doors still unopened and ribbon still intact, NAMM told them that if they didn’t officially own a store, they couldn’t come.

And so they Photoshopped the store sign onto the building, sent the photo in, and got access. (No, NAMM still doesn’t know).

“We kind of commando’d our way in to the first NAMM show,” the couple says jokingly.

In 2017, the location, of course, is very real, and much larger than the original with the expansion that they underwent six years ago, complete with a 37-person staff. In the plaza where IMC is, the adjacent stores went out of business, and in the landlord’s effort to keep the parking traffic down onsite, they made an agreement to take over the empty spaces, which allowed for more room for shipping, receiving, and repairs.

“I like working on things and fixing things, especially that first year, I spent a lot of time doing repair and figuring out how that stuff worked. So repairs is a big part of what we do,” Faltin adds.

Reworking Rentals

Circling back to the initial issue that sparked IMC, rentals account for 40 to 50 percent of IMC’s business to this day. Tucked into that portion of business is a ceaseless dedication to quality that really stands out this time of the school year, as bands prep to get back in the game.

“We rent Eastman, we rent Yamaha - it’s all, honest-to-god real name stuff. It’s kind of expensive, but we have instruments in our inventory, some of them for 15-20 years now,” Faltin explains.

The couple calls rentals their driving force of the business, which makes sense, considering that low-quality rentals are what proved to be lacking in the community pre-IMC.

“At this point, almost every store that I know that does instrument rentals is renting Chinese-made, no-name products, so you go out there to rent an instrument for your fifth-grader and you end up with this instrument that barely plays,” Faltin says.

Faltin notes that these instruments don’t last very long, but the company makes their money back quickly because they’re so cheap, but that’s not the kind of business that the Faltin family is interested in running.

“We’re the only store right now that I can think of in Arizona that constantly takes name brand instruments to a rental night, and so that kind of caring, that kind of attention to detail is something separates us from everybody else,” he says.

Intentional Growth

Since that expansion to their original location, IMC has grown again, this time planting a store in a different part of Tucson just this past summer. IMC has leased a storefront three doors down from the Speedway and Kolb location, which adds another 1400 square feet to the operation.

Because of this move, IMC’s string repair department has expanded to three times the original size. In addition, IMC now uses a new ultra-sonic cleaner brass repairs, which no other store in Tucson has.

The six repair benches in the new area were custom-built to the specifications and requirements of each repair person; the brass bench is very large to accommodate tubas and sousaphones, while the woodwind benches have been designed for optimal height and ease of access to parts.

IMC also now has an expanded shipping and receiving area to accommodate for their ever-increasing growth.

“In 1999, when we opened the store… UPS would drop off 1-2 boxes per day. Now, we are getting pallets of musical instruments and accessories almost daily. We have secured several State Contracts, making it easier for schools to place orders with IMC, increasing our business even more,” says Leslie. “In 2016, we were struggling to move that amount of inventory with such a small space. So, we decided to move and upgrade the receiving department to give staff a more efficient and comfortable work space. The timing is perfect, as our business is up about 20 percent this year.”

While the couple realizes that they could open other stores in different lucrative areas of Arizona, they choose not to maintain the balance of their store; business isn’t a numbers game for them.

“We’re making sure our growth doesn’t cripple us. You have to consciously choose to not grow fast and chase the American dream,” the Faltins agree. “There’s no point in having six stores and having to work constantly if you can’t enjoy it.”

While the store does two million dollars in business every year, money and making their children rich isn’t in the game plan.

“We’re controlling our growth. At this point our priority is still out family,” Faltin notes. “I find it very interesting that we are one of the few couples that can functionally run a music store. That balance of our lives …is more important to us that the overwhelming success of the music store.”

“They’re rushing their way to an early grave and having a horrible time,” the couple says. “Our focus, again, is doing the right thing and taking care of our customers.”

After all, that very intention of community service is exactly where this business started.



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