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Bringing ‘Saxy’ Back: Saxophone Dealers and Vendors Aim to Maximize Sales During Troubled Times

Christian Wissmuller • August 2020Roundtable • July 28, 2020

No segment of MI hasn’t been hit – and hit hard – by the current and ongoing economic and health hardships and the saxophone market is no different. However, in speaking with reps from five of the major saxophone suppliers, we did learn of some bright spots (or at least hopes for eventual positive developments). Read on…

What are your brand’s top-selling saxophone models so far in 2020?

Tevis Laukat: Our Big Bell Stone Series Saxophones sell the best for us. We are humble and grateful that we could be the first creators of this exact size Big Bell in 2001. We hand-hammered different sizes of bells and chose this one to have the best sound.

David Benedetto

David Benedetto: Our raw bronze models (SDA-XR-82 alto & SDT-XR-92 tenor) are still leading the way. The unique look and dynamic sound of these horns has made them very popular. Players can utilize these horns for a variety of styles from contemporary, to jazz, to rock.

Ryan Richman: The 52nd Street models continue to be our best sellers here at Eastman, but our student line is enjoying increased sales as well as our newly introduced Rue Saint Georges models of alto and tenor saxophone.

Brian Petterson: Yamaha features a strong lineup in the saxophone segment. Across all voices and from student to artist-level, it’s almost impossible to single out a limited selection of top-selling models. The Custom model saxophones continue to be preferred by top saxophonists – or those aspiring to get to the top! The 62 alto and tenor saxophones have been perennial market-leading models due to their reliability and craftsmanship.

Even Yamaha step-up models, such as the 480 alto and tenor saxes, have incredible value and are as in-demand as ever.

Michael Summers: We always do extremely well with our ever-popular 700 series saxophones. They are educator-approved and are ideal for beginning saxophonists. Our JBS1000 baritone does well because it offers some unique features that make it popular, such as an adjustable floor peg and adjustable palm keys.

Are there any significant trends you’ve been noticing within this market segment?

DB: More and more professional players are learning about our horns. Dakota Saxophones was not around when these artists first learned to play, so they grew up playing other models. Once they try our horns they are impressed by the feel and sound of the instrument. They feel the solid construction of the horn and that it can be used in multiple settings has made our saxophones versatile.

Michael Summers

MS: Increased sales of our silver-plated 1100 series saxophones tell us that that players and educators, alike, recognize KHS as a viable and respectable manufacturer of high-quality saxophones. We’ve received several inquiries recently about expanding our saxophone models including requests for additional finishes.

BP: This year, the trends within the saxophone category have mirrored most of our other band instrument categories. Customers are facing difficult challenges right now; teachers are trying to inspire students to continue practicing, students are craving the opportunity to play music with friends in band class, and artists are stuck at home when they’d rather be touring. New dynamics have been added to the typical instrument search. Some customers are hesitant to buy used instruments and are seeking brand new/un-opened box products, while others are looking for value in high-quality, used instruments. The saxophone segment has always had a very strong re-sale market and Yamaha saxophones have very strong re-sale value.

RR: Because of the recent pandemic, I believe that the biggest trend in our industry is increased virtual interaction with our customers. Many are not traveling or visiting shops in person, but online sales seem to be growing. If a dealer or manufacturer can improve their presence online it will pay off in today’s market. We’ve been hosting online educational sessions to assist sales people, technicians, and store owners that have been received very positively.

Tevis Laukat

TL: Yes, we have noticed an increase in players practicing more and improving. They have had more time to create, write, develop, and promote their skills. It’s been encouraging and positive to see Cannonball Artist “live-at-home” concerts and also clips and posts from players of all abilities – concerts, recordings, and posts have been from the USA and also from other countries.

What are some effective promotion and display techniques you’ve observed successful dealers adopting?

MS: When stay-at –home mandates began, we launched a promotion that included one month of free lessons with the purchase of any step-up instrument. We’ve had some success with this program, and we look forward to continuing promotions like this.

RR: One technique shared by our dealers is direct outreach to their customers. This has worked especially well with rental conversions and step up sales. It is so encouraging when we hear that a dealer has had a record breaking month, especially during the shutdowns that have occurred. With the hurdles we have today to reach customers, another practice that is showing success is having a better online presence. Social media and other platforms that allow a company to deliver its message are more important than ever before. Product reviews, unboxing videos, and performance demonstrations are ways to reach people in their own homes.

TL: We see successful dealers with a continued commitment to school band programs. We also see success when dealers have a separate practice or lesson room for customers to test instruments. Having an inventory adequate to supply the needs of the customer is so helpful. It’s easier to sell when the customer can hold the horn in their hands.

Brian Petterson

BP: The most impactful sales and promotional strategy we see Yamaha dealers using is creating exciting, can’t-miss sales events. In the current environment, this means generating excitement remotely and utilizing an excellent web presence, complemented by strong customer service. A well-executed event (even a digital one) requires weeks of planning, developing leads, networking, and community outreach. We’ve been very impressed by the dealers who are doing their best to provide an excellent customer experience, whether that’s through a one-on-one scheduled appointment, over the phone or in a simple email exchange. The most effective approach right now is to be solutions-oriented and have a “glass half-full” attitude!

DB: Dealers that have product in their store have been the most successful. When a customer comes into a store and can play the horn immediately this has a huge impact. Conducting special in-store events also continues to be very effective. Our cost to consumers is also very favorable and our dealers emphasize this. When a customer can save hundreds or thousands of dollars on a purchase and still get a quality professional-level horn, this becomes an important factor as well.

Obviously the pandemic has impacted all retail. How have saxophone sales, specifically, been affected these past few months?

BP: The restrictions on physical retail activities and the premature closing of schools before the end of the school year have been important factors in limiting demand over the last few months. Spring is usually a very active season for step-up sales, as well as recruitment activity for the upcoming school year. Given the current situation Yamaha is currently putting even more resources than usual into advocating for music programs and supporting teachers. Demand for Yamaha saxophones is still high, and the segment continues to be a best-seller, but reinforcing the foundations of the market is where we’re focused right now.

DB: The pandemic has certainly hit sales. Since mid-March the country has been almost at a standstill and music dealers have had to close temporarily. Buying a professional saxophone is something that you need to play first before deciding and without this ability, sales have naturally been hit. Business is starting to open up again. Retailers and consumers are adjusted to the new health and safety protocols in order to continue shopping. We are seeing those dealers focusing on online sales to have continued success.

TL: Almost all music stores were closed around the world at least for a time and this affected us greatly. However, there are players who had time, received stimulus checks, and were able to reach their dealer. Cannonball saxophones were still delivered during this time.

MS: Previously during an economic downturn, we used to use the phrase, “flat is the new up.” Now the complication is calculating forecasts based on whether school will initiate 100 percent remote learning. Saxophone is widely used in all genres of music, and performing saxophonists worldwide now have the added concern of whether they will have places to play in the coming months.

Ryan Rich

RR: The biggest way that saxophone sales have been affected in the past few months was in our ability to ship to our dealers. Many of them were closed or operating in a reduced capacity, as were we, during the shutdown. This made a big impact on our sales simply because we couldn’t ship product. This has been a concern because the demand is still there, and has only grown, so we want to make sure everyone who wants an instrument during these challenging times has an outlet to purchase one.

What are your expectations for the sax market in the coming months?

TL: People have been saving money during this pandemic and quarantine. In a positive way, they are looking for a musical outlet. We expect saxophones to be a part of that positive outlet. Playing music relieves stress and brings satisfaction and happiness.

BP: Expectations for the saxophone market for the next few months and beyond continue to be high. Even in a very challenging market, we see a strong saxophone community persevering and creating great music. The most important thing for us is to continue providing the saxophone community with valuable products and services that foster this creativity. The Yamaha saxophone line offers an option for every level of musician, at every price point, and we continue to invest in research and development projects, much like the ones that resulted in the completely revamped Yamaha baritone saxophone line. Despite the difficult economy, we are still striving to generate demand, grow dealer sales, and develop new and innovative products that will support the long-term health of the market.

RR: We have a lot of hope and encouragement from our dealer network. I really enjoy being contacted by customers letting us know how much they are enjoying their new saxophones, and seeing our artists adapt to the conditions that are in front of us. I know in my own family, we have young musicians who are not slowed down in their studies of music by what is going on. I truly believe there are so many of us that believe music education and what it provides is immeasurable. We have seen and will continue to see music educators find new and creative ways to create and teach music during this period.

DB: Music is resilient and such a strong part of our culture. Speaking with dealers across the country, I’m hearing that many are using the change in shopping behavior as an opportunity to bring in customers for a specific buying opportunity. They can qualify the customer ahead to make sure they have what they are looking for and learn more about them to offer alternate suggestions. It takes additional prep time on the part of the dealer, but the results are promising. Overall, people are shopping, just differently, and providing a good product, backed by service with attractive savings never goes out of style.

MS: With all the uncertainty revolving around music in schools, it’s hard to predict what the next few months will bring. However, it is imperative that we continue to advocate for the arts. We look for ways to assist musicians, educators, and music stores in any fashion, even if that means teaching and learning remotely. If that turns into a few saxophone sales, that’s okay too. Music is essential – saxophones included.

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