There’s been a lot in the national and local press lately discussing the decline of the piano industry, based mainly on a dated and cursory examination of a microcosm of the industry that a small amount of fact checking would have done much to dispel. The following is a response from Jordan Kitt’s President Chris Syllaba which indicates the DC area piano business is alive and well.
The DC Piano Industry is Alive and Well.
Despite recent articles to the contrary, the piano business in and around the nation’s capital is strong. There has been a recent focus on the “30,000 to 40,000 (acoustic) pianos” being produced annually to the exclusion of the 100,000+ digital and technology-equipped pianos sold annually which is simply not an accurate picture of the piano industry. This also doesn’t include mention of the estimated 100,000+ used pianos sold each year up from a virtually non-existent used piano business in the early 1900’s. And while the quality is debatable, there are also hundreds of thousands of portable keyboards sold each year to families starting their children on piano lessons. The recent assessments would be the equivalent of judging the telecommunications industry based on sales of rotary phones, or perhaps concern over the declining popularity of Blackberry devices because they now account for only ½% of the smartphone market.
Much more indicative of the returning health and vibrancy of the piano business and music education in DC is the 102 year-old piano retailer and Washington institution, Jordan Kitt’s Music. Founded in 1912 on 13th and G streets NW, just a stone’s throw from the White House, this venerable company has persevered and excelled through good and bad times alike, including some of the most difficult times in our history such as The Great Depression, World War II and the most recent recession and subsequent financial crisis. This has been accomplished through the time honored tradition of providing good service, adapting to changing times and cultivating long-standing relationships and sales with virtually every music and cultural institution in the Washington DC area.
While the very narrow segment of new acoustic pianos is indeed a maturing industry, recent articles ignore many aspects of the industry that have changed dramatically and positively over the last 30 years. It should also be noted that there are many more successful piano dealers in America today, by a huge multiple, than unsuccessful ones; due to a willingness and ability to change with the times and stay relevant.
With its size and breadth of products, services and education offerings, Jordan Kitt’s is a much better indicator of the health of the industry in the DC market as well as nationally. While sales of certain acoustic pianos (think grandma’s spinet piano of the 1950’s) have declined or disappeared entirely, sales of other categories like digital pianos, hybrid pianos and player grands are booming. Just one example is Yamaha’s recent introduction of entirely new categories of piano instruments (like hybrid and TransAcoustic pianos) that weren’t even available five years ago and that are much more relevant than our parents’ old clunker in the basement.
Contrary to the quoted assertion that “children are too busy, with their sports and their iPads and their instant gratification”, music education is still very much alive. This is evidenced by Jordan Kitt’s education revenues as a percent of total sales per store, which have doubled over the past 10 years. Also, established music schools like the Levine School of Music (with revenues of over $9 Million a year out of only a handful of locations) indicate that there are still plenty of parents out there that value piano lessons and music education in general. A vibrant music education environment, both publicly and privately, is the most important leading indicator of sales growth going forward.
Other excuses like “competition is too great”, “houses are too small (Really? The average home size of around 2,600 square feet is the largest ever)”, and “the world is moving too fast” are just that; ill researched conjectures and excuses.
Since I took over leadership of Jordan Kitt’s in 2011, the company has experienced year-over-year sales growth, well beyond the pace of inflation. I suspect that other well-run piano retailers are experiencing similar results in today’s environment. These are the indicators of a healthy industry.
The excellent work of Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) in the formation of the Congressional STEAM Caucus (STEM + Arts and Design) should also be mentioned, and is commendable and vital to improving the education of our children. Supported by the music industry trade organization NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), Congresswoman Bonamici and Congressman Schock’s efforts over the last couple of years will have a further positive impact on the piano business and the musical instrument industry as a whole.
The successful piano retailers in the greater Washington DC market will agree with me that in today’s generally good economic climate, the success or failure of an individual piano store is obviously internally, not externally driven. Furthermore, there isn’t a business today in any industry in any market that would be successful by doing things the same way they were doing things even 5 or 10 years ago.
In today’s world, there are few things of true and lasting value and importance like music. There is enough reporting out there of all of the horrors in the world without having to heap on yet another negative viewpoint of one of the most important and wholesome industries in existence.
I have had the pleasure of playing the piano since I was four and a half years old. The benefits to me of this part of my cultural and educational upbringing are simply incalculable. Our industry supports these efforts not only for its own interests but also because it is the right thing to do.
President & CEO
Jordan Kitt’s Music
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