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Following a Trying Year, Flute Suppliers Look to a Brighter 2021

Christian Wissmuller • January 2021Roundtable • January 5, 2021

Certain instruments have actually seen increased sales during the pandemic and lockdowns/partial lockdowns throughout most of 2020. Has this been the case for your brand with respect to flutes?

Daniel Sharp

Daniel Sharp: The flute market has been hard hit by the pandemic. I think a few factors contributed – first the confusion and fear surrounding aerosols in the early months of the pandemic, followed by the economic insecurity experienced by many of our professional customers. Flutes, especially in the handmade category, can be some of the most expensive instruments on the market. We have seen some new sales from the amateur musician market. These players usually enjoy playing by themselves (naturally social-distanced) and may find themselves with more disposable income due to less opportunities for leisure activities or travel this year.

Brian Petterson: Our most important goals are to redouble our efforts to understand our customer and dealers’ needs to deliver market-leading support, particularly given the immense challenge the band & orchestra community has faced this year. This means working together to sell (or rent) a Yamaha flute or providing market-leading after-sale support for warranty service, parts needs, or answers to questions the hard-working salespeople send our way. Despite the difficult economy, we are striving to generate demand, grow dealer sales, and develop new and innovative products that will support the long-term health of the market.

Michael Summers: Since most of the nation has moved to full or hybrid virtual learning, and most live performances have temporarily ceased, sales for Jupiter, Azumi, and Altus are down compared to last year.

For your brand what are currently the top selling flute models?

Brian Petterson

BP: Yamaha offers a strong lineup in the flute segment. Across the range from student to artist-level, it’s almost impossible to single out a limited selection of top-selling models. Our continuous efforts in research and development drive our success, and the entire lineup of Yamaha flutes has been updated in the last decade. Yamaha gold and silver handmade flutes are a beautifully crafted option for the most discerning players. The lessons we learned in crafting those instruments were applied to our professional level flutes, which offer an outstanding combination of features and price, especially at the 600-series level. Flutists all over the country will be familiar with Yamaha 300 and 400-series flutes, which have been a market leader for decades and are also popular with woodwind doublers. Not to mention our extremely well-crafted student models that thrive in dealer rental pools.

MS: Our best-selling flutes have always been our JFL710A student flutes, which are ideal for the rental market. Before the pandemic, Azumi flutes had enjoyed a steady increase in sales over the past five years. All Azumi flutes feature Altus professional headjoints, making them very popular with teachers and advancing students. Altus flutes are played by some of the world’s finest flutists. Each Altus flute is handmade in Azumino, Japan. 907 and 1107 flutes lead this category.

DS: Our intermediate line of flutes, Sonaré, leads with top numbers both globally and domestically. The Sterling Silver body and headjoint models (601 and 705) are the most popular. In the handmade category, our Conservatory Flutes are top sellers domestically while the Custom Flutes do better internationally.

Have you been noticing any significant trends in the flute market – either on the supplier side, or end-user side (materials, designs, production techniques, preferred price-points, etc.)?

Michael Summers

MS: There have been no new innovations, however some manufactures have introduced some proprietary alloys. The flute market has been decreasing for several years now, and increases in brands and models has challenged all companies’ market share.

DS: While our Silver, Aurumite, and Gold flutes are always popular, we have seen a recent trend towards sales of our wooden flutes. Our Grenadilla Wood flutes have been an industry leader since their launch in the late ‘90s. Now that we are a part of the Buffet Crampon Group, we look to improve upon the work we’ve done and to gain more of the French savoir-faire which makes the Buffet instruments so special. We have also spend a lot more time customizing instruments or headjoint for players. Musicians at the highest level have a great appreciation for personal attention and tailoring. Knowing that their instrument was made for them, by skilled craftsmen in the USA, is an attractive attribute.

BP: It’s all about the sound and the craftsmanship – at all levels. Tracking trends in sound preferences is ongoing work that is especially a priority for our world-class Yamaha Atelier research and design team. And the level of craftsmanship over the whole Yamaha line includes an extremely high level of precise adjustment. At the premium levels we are starting to notice customer preferences back towards more traditional materials like silver, at the expense of some of the more exotic metals that have caught such a strong market hold in recent years. In other levels it’s all about value, which is why Yamaha flutes will always remain a part of the conversation. An excellent example of this is a feature like pointed key arms, which used to be limited to higher-end flute designs but are now ubiquitous on even student-level flutes. Our combination of features and price is appealing to many customers who are worried about a lot of other financial challenges that this past year has thrown at us.

What promotional or display strategies do you find especially successful MI retailers adopt when it comes to flutes?

BP: One thing I’ve always appreciated about the flute market is the beautiful presentation of the products in-store. Many flute displays would fit in at the local high-end jeweler’s shop! The attention and care are admirable. Of course, in-store traffic is a huge challenge right now and other tactics are needed to drive sales conversions. The most impactful promotional strategy we see Yamaha dealers using is creating exciting, can’t-miss sales events. We’ve been very impressed by the dealers who are doing their best to provide an excellent customer experience, whether through a one-on-one scheduled appointment, over the phone, or in a simple email exchange.

DS: Visibility is incredibly important. The “shine” factor to flutes is actually quite essential and aside from keeping instruments clean and polished, having a dedicated space within the retail environment for flutes will attract more serious buyers. Having a flutist on staff who can also “speak” flute can also help customers feel more confident when making what is often an expensive purchase. Digital promotion is just as important, and having beautiful photos on your website is vital. We invest a lot in beautiful and artful photography of our instruments and we’re happy to share these marketing assets with our retailers.

MS: During the pandemic, our promotions included a free lesson and an instant rebate with the purchase of an intermediate or professional flute. The free lesson was part of our successful “Stay-Learn- Play at Home” campaign.

Expectations for the coming months regarding this market segment?

DS: We expect flute sales to grow as we return to our pre-pandemic life next year. The flute market is tied very closely to the flute community: flute clubs, conventions, competitions, lessons, auditions, summer festivals, et cetera. Once these activities can be safely resumed, we expect big improvements.

MS: The short and long-term effects of the pandemic are really unclear. KHS America believes that music is an essential part of life, and like many other musicians, flutists are artists who enjoy performing for people. KHS America will continue to offer help and support to the flute market any way possible to get through the current challenges.

BP: Our expectations for the flute market for the next few months and beyond are that demand for Yamaha flutes will continue to be high. Even in a very challenging market, we see a strong community persevering and creating great music. The most important thing for us is to continue providing the flute community with valuable products and services that foster this creativity.

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