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Kyser’s President and CEO Meredith Hamlin

by Denyce Neilson • in
  • August 2018
  • Current Issue
  • Upfront Q&A
• Created: August 6, 2018

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Kyser Musical Products was founded in 1974 by Milton Kyser, who gained recognition for designing quality capos, while always searching for ways to improve upon the basic design. Over the years, the business grew and their product line expanded to other accessories for string instruments. As Milton began looking towards retirement, he contemplated who would run his family business. In 2012, he decided that his great niece, Meredith, would be the one. As the continued success of the brand suggests, it seems to have been a good choice.

We recently spoke to Meredith about her great uncle, her own evolution at the company, and what it’s like to now be at the helm of a family-owned business and one of the better- known names in MI.

Can you give our readers an idea of Kyser’s history?

My great uncle, Milton Kyser, wanted to build a better capo. He purchased a friend’s patent and then got to work on creating the Kyser capo. He drew up some blueprints for machinery since he had a self-taught background in engineering, and flew to Germany to have them build his machines. He began manufacturing the first capos in his garage with his brother and wife at the time.

Then, he and his daughter, Lisa, would take the capos to clubs and bars all over Dallas. He handed them out and then told the musicians, “If you like it, please call me, and I’ll make you some more.” He was truly a self-made man, and he was one of the hardest-working people I have ever known.

What has been your role? How did you get involved with the business?

My role at first was simply managing the company while Milton continued to create new products. He preferred the creative side of things and left the business side to other people. He had some management issues that needed tending to, and so he called me to get them straightened out. I had no business background, but we always had a great relationship, and so he called me to see if I was interested in a job. My career background is very diverse. I taught high school Spanish and debate, and then I worked in the Texas petroleum industry. After about three months of my having been with the company, Milton and I had developed a great working relationship. He already knew me from the family side of things and now he was seeing that, thanks to my parents’ example, I had developed a great work ethic over the years. This was crucial. I was very determined to learn everything about the business.

Kyser is a family business. How do you think a family-owned and operated company differs from a corporate-run organization, if at all? There are dynamics in all families – how do those dynamics play out in the Kyser workspace?

The family-owned quality is not always the easiest. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of crap. It definitely makes for some interesting Thanksgiving dinners, especially if you just had to reprimand a family member. I have seen several family members come and go from here, and it hasn’t been easy. One of the toughest personnel decisions I had to make at the beginning of my tenure was letting go a family member who wasn’t doing their job. It was the absolute right decision, but not easy. The result was two-fold: said family member was no longer my biggest fan, but my coworkers appreciated knowing that I would not be playing favorites with employees. Right now, we have settled into a great rhythm, and it is a joy to exchange ideas and work emails with my brother or to see my mom taking her coffee break with her co-workers. I am loving it, but it took some major growing pains to get to this point.

Thanks to many factors – too many to name here – female-owned businesses have been on the rise. What is it like for you, personally? Do you think that the MI industry’s cross section is a narrow one, mostly populated with men? Or is that something that you don’t even think about and just get on with the business at hand so to speak?

I try not to think about it, but the more that I travel and attend trade shows, the more I realize that women are still a minority in the MI industry. That is not always a bad thing, but it is a fact. I have chosen to surround myself with men who are fans and advocates of women in the industry. Funny story – when I first began working for Milton, I started going through personnel files and noticed that he never gave women raises. This was one of the first things that I addressed when he gave me the job title of CEO.

When you took the lead at Kyser, did you aim to modernize the business while honoring a legacy, or did you want a completely new, fresh start?

I have always been a fan of history, especially a fan of the Greatest Generation. They suffered through an economic depression, several wars, and still valued their families. They served in the military and started up companies. Well, it’s just not done anymore.

Yes, there are still those who serve honorably and those who start up businesses, but rarely are they doing it all. Having said all of that, Milton left us a legacy with which we are proud to identify.

Building on the foundation that has already been established instead of desiring a fresh start is how I would describe the avenue that I chose to take.

While I have modernized and changed a lot around here, we still have the same values and goals as when Milton was still living and making the decisions. For example, we honor veterans by partnering with a wonderful foundation called Guitars for Vets. Milton served proudly in the Army and the Air Force during Korea, and so it is a privilege to honor him by supporting this cause. I always want to remember the past, but I also know that this is a completely different world, and I always want to grow with the times and stay relevant and fresh, which is why we recently hired a brand manager from within the company.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my coworkers. They work hard every day to make the company run smoothly and they make me look good.

What are the best sellers right now for Kyser, and are there any specific indicators as to why?

Our standard black, acoustic capo has been our strong and steady for decades now. We recently added a beautiful color, our Rosewood, and it quickly jumped to be our number-two seller. But those are just colors. We have been anxious and excited about our new capo, the Low-Tension capo, or “Low T” as some of us like to joke. This capo addresses our number one complaint – our sixstring capo is too strong and knocks a performer’s strings out of tune. The Low T is a reduction in tension by 25 percent, and we have been getting all positive feedback from those who have purchased it or tried it. Also, we made it with a matte black finish, and it looks sleek.

Some Kyser capos are very colorful. Where did the colorful design idea originate?

Milton began offering different colors when he realized that his capos were becoming popular. Our capos are still hand-made right here in Texas.

What other products do you currently offer in addition to the capos?

Our catalogue contains multiple fretted instrument accessories. We were addressing a need with our international customers by selling additional products that would ship in one container overseas, but many of those products began selling well in the U.S., so we now offer a variety. We make capos for six-string, 12-string, electric, and classical guitars, as well as partial capos and capos for mandolins, ukuleles, and banjos.

On average, who are the “typical” Kyser customers?

The funny thing is our customer demographic spans from anyone who is picking up a guitar for the first time to artists like Gary Clark, Jr., so our net has to be wide and versatile.

Do you have new products or developments that you’d like to share?

Well, as mentioned, we just released our Low-Tension capo and we have a phone holder that attaches to your capo that is going to be introduced to the market in the fall. We will continue to add to our product catalogue as long as the product fits our culture and our key demographic.

What does the 2019 forecast look like to you, both for the market, overall, and for Kyser?

The coming year looks to be better for us on both the international and domestic fronts. We have recently made a change in our international sales department and have hired a new COO to give me some more time at home with my two daughters.

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