Master of All Things Stringed: Michael Schear of Amati’s Fine Instruments and Amahi Ukuleles

Victoria Wasylak • FrettedSeptember 2019 • August 30, 2019

As president and head honcho of Amati’s Fine Instruments and Amahi Ukuleles, it’s safe to say Michael Schear is the master of all things stringed. In the early ‘80s, however, he was on an entirely different path, working in the world of photography.

His quick instinct told him to think fast and landed him in the MI world. As computer-based technology started its meteoric pace of growth, he shifted career paths, going on to learn violin making from a master craftsman.

Founding Amati’s Fine Instruments, a still-thriving maker of violas, violins, cellos, and more, he also (unknowingly at the time) set himself up for a career in making ukuleles. Starting the Amahi Ukulele biz in 2011 – in time to take advantage of the ongoing ukulele boom – his timing couldn’t have been better, and Schear is still reaping the benefits via Amahi’s gorgeous, glossy models and loyalty to brick and mortar stores.

In his chat with MMR, Schear shared some of the best sales tactics that keep the uke trend flying high, as well as the trends he sees within this mighty subsection of the MI market and Amahi’s bestsellers. Read the full interview below.

You changed careers in the ‘80s, from photography to the musical instrument world. But how did you pick to work with violins? How long did it take you to learn violin making and restoration?

I started the company thirty years ago when I noticed that computers were going to alter the photography business that I was in at that time. I changed careers and started studying violin making and restoration under a master violinmaker for seven years. After opening three retail stores and having a wholesale business in the orchestral strings market, my wife asked me if I could find some ukuleles for her students that wanted to start an after school ukulele program. The rest is history.

What can you tell us about your facilities? How many employees do you have?

We are located in Cincinnati, Ohio where we maintain 30,000 square feet of space that includes our warehouse and office spaces. We currently have over 40 employees.

Then ukuleles came into the fold when your wife needed them for an after-school program and you started Amahi Ukuleles. Did that require any additional special training? Were you nervous about starting this new sector of business? Take us through that journey.

We were actually well positioned to make the jump into fretted instruments. Several members of our staff that work on orchestral instruments are also very well versed in guitar and electric bass making and repair, so we had all the know-how we needed to get started. Because the ukulele world is less name-driven than guitars, we went in without fear of being accepted in the market. There has been a definite learning curve from our first generation of models and we have received lots of good feedback from our dealers to help make improvements.

What have been some special business milestones for Amahi thus far?

When we first got into the ukulele business, my initial goal was to sell 40,000 ukuleles a year – we have well surpassed that goal! We were also honored to receive two NAMM Best In Show awards for Gotta Stock It and Company to Watch.

There’s a ukulele boom right now, and it’s been here for years. When did you first start to see it in the industry? Why do you think it hasn’t slowed down?

In 2014 we saw a dramatic jump in sales. It was really easy to get our current customers to try our ukuleles because we started offering monthly package deals to make ordering simple. We pieced together our best-selling models in different price ranges and offered them at a discount in those quantities with free shipping. The pricing was such that dealers could at least double their cost at MAP – it was a no-brainer. We are also seeing more and more orders for class sets of ukuleles. Teachers are beginning to adopt the ukulele as a beginning instrument. The ukulele movement is also continuing to grow with a very enthusiastic community. There are so many ukulele clubs and festivals across the globe now which makes it easy for anyone to pick up the instrument and be a part of a group making music.

What do you see dealers doing that helps them to sell ukuleles?

Our most successful dealers are those that are displaying ukuleles right at point of sale or high traffic areas in their store. We offer several custom-made displays that are freestanding and allow the dealer to easily move to different areas of the store. They are most often an impulse buy. Additionally, the dealers that are offering in-store events such as ukulele circles or group classes are selling more. A free event like a ukulele circle or clinic for beginners is a great way to get your customers to fall in love with the ukulele.

What are your newest developments and/or products with Amahi?

We recently added some new colors and designs to our tropical series ukuleles. Also, our glossy flamed maple in rainbow finish has been a best seller, so we added five new colors to that line. We’ve found that dealers and consumers are looking for unique looking models at price points under $200. The glossy flamed maple ukuleles MAP at $179. They are a great step up from the entry level models with some personality as well!

What trends have you seen in the ukulele world? (i.e., what features and styles are customers looking for most in the past year or so?)

One of the trends we noticed is that consumers are more attracted to unique designs and bright colors.

What have been the most popular models from Amahi recently? Why do you think these models have been so popular?

One of our most popular entry level ukuleles is the DDUK9, soprano with our wave logo design followed by our 120 series mahogany soprano. The PGUK555 flamed maple with rainbow finish has been a best seller since it was introduced last year. Consumers are looking for fun designs that are also high quality.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know about?

We want dealers to know our company motto, and that is: Supporting Small Business. Amahi doesn’t have a minimum order requirement, but we do require dealers to have a brick and mortar retail location. We don’t sell direct to end users, we don’t sell to big box stores or large online retailers. It’s just something we refuse to bend on. As a family business we pride ourselves on providing the best and easiest customer service experience.

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