Making a Stand: Re-AXE Products is Changing the Way Players and MI Dealers Think About Guitar Stands

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • October 2018
  • Upfront Q&A
• Created: October 3, 2018

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Since late 2011 guitarists and retailers have been discovering – and embracing – the Axe-Handler, a compact and versatile stand that a guitar “leans” into, rather than being suspended as with a wall-mount hanger or tube-style stand.

MMR recently spoke with Jeff Cutler, Re-AXE Products manager, about the history of the company, the evolution of the Axe-Handler product line, and how interested MI dealers can begin a partnership with Re-AXE.

Jeff, let’s start with a little history: when and where did RE-Axe Products get started? Who were the principles at the very beginning?

The original idea for the Axe-Handler can be credited to two long-term friends who’d known one another since high school: David Trombetti and Jeff Cutler. They both learned how to play guitar in high school with David becoming quite a player early on and Jeff just trying to have some fun along the way. Their friendship led into decades of shared holidays where they would sit around and play guitar. Of course, in a room fun and family and friends leaning guitars against tables and chairs often does not work very well. Out of one Thanksgiving in 2007 the idea started for the Axe-Handler.

We got serious about it in 2009 and formed the business model in 2010. A year of prototyping and a steep learning curve later, the first Axe-Handler was sold in late 2011.

Cutting to the present day, can you briefly describe the current makeup of the company? How many employees are there, total? Where is the current HQ and how large it is?

The current RE-Axe Products has expanded to two versions of the Axe-Handlers. The original model – guitar-shaped one, which is referred to as the Strings In or S/I model and was introduced in 2011 – and the Strings Out Model S/O, which was introduced in 2012 and, frankly, has become the more popular one because of the dual purpose. We introduced the ARC (Adjustable Radius Control) Stand in 2014 and the final version of that in 2017. We rolled out the color models in 2017 and now the full custom decals and co-branding of product in 2018. We have several products in prototype stages for future releases.

We have the product division and the brand management division used for artists helping manage the legacy of their name and brand. We also have an artist relation area for creating custom Axe-Handler models and having endorsed artists using our products.

We have nine partners in the business, all adding some level of expertise in prototyping, marketing, manufacturing, project management, idea development, patent work, and website development.

Jeff Cutler has been the face and main contact point for the business since inception, although he just is considered one of the managers of the company.

The shop, which is referred to as “The Hive,” is located in Mesa, Arizona, where we have been since 2015. We have increased the facility in size and function and have the main offices down to about 2,500 square-feet. The production facility for the Axe-Handlers is a few miles away and is much larger since they make several products.

We ship some orders from our main offices and much of the pallet shipments are sent from the manufacturing facilities.

Alright, on to the fun stuff: For those who don’t know much about it, can you talk about what makes the axe-handler so unique and versatile?

There are different choices out there when it comes to both stand and guitar support stands, so I will boldly state that we are not unique by concept. We are unique due to our quality, our thought process in having the best materials for production, insourcing as much as possible from the United States, and knowing we are the best of breed in the category hands down. With these extremely high standards, we are in the highest area of MSRP for the category as well. Once anyone puts the product in their hand, feels the weight and sets it against a surface, they clearly and immediately understand the value of the product.

Mind you, we have been humbled by what we found to be the interest points of the Axe-Handler line over what we originally thought the points would be – great examples of listening to feedback from users and adapting our message toward it.

The Axe-Handler is a compliment to a regular stand. We see that both stand types have pros and cons to them and having both in your gear allows you to have flexibility. The Axe-Handler is designed to lean the guitar into. It does not suspend the guitar like a tubestyle stand or wall mount would. However, if you have ever had a smaller stage or instruction room to work in, having the tube stands cluttering the area can be a real pain. The Axe-Handler fits in the back of the amp, your guitar case, your back pocket.

The original version, the Strings In model, just looks cool. It has the shape of a guitar and has a little pocket for the pick holder. It does very well with acoustic models because when you face the stings into the neck pocket, the body of the guitar does not bump up against the amp, or table, or counter.

The Strings Out version does not have the pick holder, but has the ability to sit up, so that you can also use it effectively as a neck cradle. This feature was never talked about much in the original marketing, but once it was out there in YouTube videos, people loved the simplicity of having two stands in one.

People have asked us why one model looks like a guitar and has the cool pick holder while the other one has the neck cradle feature. We tell people “We did that so you have to buy one of each!” We’re joking, of course, but if we made them both the same, we are not doing our job as American innovators.

Having the colors in the lineup was a very important feature and another one that was based upon fan feedback. With so many guitar techs using the products anywhere from local shows to world tours, having the product in black became a little more challenging when the house lights went out. We tried glow-in-the-dark materials, LED lights, reflective tape, et cetera. After many trial and error attempts, the colors became the way to go.

Axe-Handler scored a major endorsement partnership with Dave Ellefson of Megadeth, who has his own signature edition.

How did that relationship come about, how important has it been in terms of growing awareness of the brand, and are you working on more artist endorsement deals?

David is a great guy to work with. We engaged first regarding the distribution for his Ellefson Coffee Company. As we talked more about the legacy of his brand, this was one of those perfect items to market with him. We love to talk to great artists and offer these opportunities. We have revenue-sharing options for them as well as chances to take the revenue share and put it to good causes like Guitars for Vets.

David is one great example of this partnership. Tyler Lawson with Music is Win is another. We are constantly looking at how to use the co-branding of our Axe-Handler line to offer well-known artist and organizations revenue-sharing opportunities.

We have started offering a co-branded Axe-Handler for some of the Schools of Rock, Guitars for Vets, and Stew Mac. I think the Stew Mac Axe-Handler will be offered at the end of 2018 in their catalog. We have many endorsement partnerships in the works. We also now have a license agreement with ESP to offer the ESP Axe-Handler for worldwide distribution. I believe we are one of the first licensed accessories with ESP that is offered through ESP and RE-Axe Products. ESP Japan now has the ESP Axe-Handler in fifty music stores in Japan.

We also became global distributors for Wal-Mart in 2018. This is pretty cool for us as a company as we are distributors for online sales of music products and accessories. This allows us not only to offer the Axe-Handler, but nearly any music product line that wants to have Wal-Mart as a customer, but may not be able to go through all the hoops to get on board and manage order flow. RE-Axe products can serve as a fulfillment center in this arrangement.

As you touched upon, RE-Axe has joined a number of MI suppliers in actively supporting Guitars for Vets. Why is that cause so important to the company and how as the relationship with G4V evolved?

We would like to do much more with them in the future. This is an ongoing project and likely it would be best to check in with us for follow up. On the cause issue, music therapy for these vets has been proven vital for their ongoing recovery. We were introduced to them by Ron Keel who has had a friendship with Jeff for several years.

What’s your current North American distribution model and how would an interested MI retailer go about stocking Axe-Handler products?

We follow a simple purpose-driven model for the business. Three words say it all: “LIKE, KNOW, TRUST.” We have these words on the wall in the office to let people understand our business structure. We want consumers to like who we are as people and as a business. We want them to know our story and our ambition to support local music stores around the world. We want our customers to trust that we will always make everything we offer the best we can make it.

We were approached once by a marketing firm with the concept of having a lower priced version of the Axe-Handler. The marketing concept was to have a “pro line” and a “junior line.” We responded to them that this was impossible to do. They asked why. We let them know that there is not a way for us to make a better version than what we have and there is not a compromise for us to make a lower-end version of less quality.

Our proposition is simple. We do not sell the Axe-Handler at certain big-box music chains or massive, discount online music outlets. You can offer it in-store at whatever pricing you wish, but it is not to be advertised for anything less than MSRP because it would hurt everyone in the supply chain.

Our order minimums are under $55 and include free shipping to your store. We even offer a store the chance for us to buy back your initial order in the event you have gone six months without ever selling one. The only “fine print” on that offer is the requirement that you did try to offer it for sale. We have never had to buy back any store orders for the product not selling and will make every effort to support stores with sales and marketing ideas, so that it never comes up.

For the smaller retailer, we understand introducing a new product is a hit or miss at times. We have been out for seven years now. We have people make product reviews on YouTube and blogging sites just because they love our products.

In short, if you are a local music store in your community, we want you to try us out. It is easy to have in stock, the buy-in is low, and we stand behind it with a buyback feature. Outside of this, what a great holiday stocking stuffer the Axe-Handler is for the season. Bundle it with strings, picks, or other products you have a terrible margin on, and let’s get some revenue growing for your business. Have people get an Axe-Handler as a gift for pre-paying for 10 music lessons. We will talk you through every successful idea we know of to support your success in carrying the Axe-Handler line.

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