View Full Version : How to Market Your Skills

Feb-18-2004, 1:19am
I have several mandolins for sale. Everyone that plays them likes them, but no buyers. I started at what I thought was a decent price.

How do I market my mandolins? Reduce Price? Give to better musicians to play?

How do I make my mandolins in demand?

Thanks in advance,

Steverustyone http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Feb-18-2004, 1:31am
How do you market your mandolins? How do you make your mandolins in demand?

Build them as flawlessly as you possibly can...and as good a sounding as you can. You've likely read the threads and posts where someone is having a few words to say about (you supply brand name here) mandolins and that their quality is not up to par.

Then, patience...word will get out how nice they are...

Michael Lewis
Feb-18-2004, 1:48am
You might consider consigning one or two to a music store. Keep in mind that the store will take a percentage of a sale. Pick a store that has a good reputation for mandolins, knowlegable staff, straight up business practices. If that store doesn't want to do it go to the next one you think can do a good job for you. Don't just go to a "music store", go to one that will give you some visibility. It is important that whoever you deal with that they be enthusiastic about your wares. Get on your horse and go see some people.

If you can get with a good musician maybe you can loan an instrument for a month or two. Mucicians get around and if they like something they can't keep their mouth shut about it. You might have to buy a ticket to a concert or buy a dinner and a few drinks to see a show, but usually you can get to talk to a performer and show your stuff. Be tactful, curteous, and don't talk too much. Be ready to help out with repairs and such.

The point is that you have to make the move, gesture, offer.

Chris Baird
Feb-18-2004, 11:15am
I think as a custom builder you have to offer something that someone can't get with a Gibson etc. or asian import. You've got to offer a higher level of workmanship and tonal quality to the big boys or their name and reputation will beat you every time. You've got to secure some kind of advantage that makes you a viable alternative to something more secure. I've only sold a few mandos but they have all sold within a week. I think it came down to me offering a mandolin that is markedly different from any other on the market with a high level of attention to detail and with a tonal quality and price comparable to the mainstream.

Feb-18-2004, 11:30am
I'll second Mr Lewis's first paragraph! #At a local music store here in my town they have ten mandolins hanging on the wall with Breedlove being the most expensive. #Not a one of them is in tune and of the lower end models 4 of them had major buzzes when given a casual strum. #Just how they expect to sell any of them is beyond me. They also had a tenor banjo which was tuned like a 5 string minus the 5th string and when I started tuning it in 5ths got all huffy with me and told me its supposed to be tuned how they had it. #I attempted to explain but met resistance and I didn't argue since it was their banjo but politely hung it on the wall and left. #I won't be returning or making any recommendations to others to visit the store.

That said,the quality of your instrument will be judged by how well you build and how well your retailers promote and display them. A "high profile" player endorsing them couldn't hurt but in the end it all boils down to #1-sound and #2 craftsmanship. #Good Luck to ya!!!

Ted Eschliman
Feb-18-2004, 11:41am
The advice in the previous posts is worth it's weight in gold. I don't care how good a mandolin is, anytime I see yet another "regurgitation" (AKA "copy") of an F5, all I can do is yawn.
You can't beat the Asian import on it's own terms, unless you like working for nothing; all the more reason to innovate, which brings me to the subject of praising Michael Lewis' craft.
He heeds his own advice--hang with the "influencers," get your ax in their hands, listen to what they say about what they expect out of an instrument. Each counsel will invariably be different, but if you can lock into a new design (or even a novel "aspect"), the word will get out. Nothing like massaging a few egos along the way, too. We are talking about artist mentality, after all.
Michael has about the softest "sell" I've ever seen, but because he takes his "let the craft do its own selling" approach, it's all the more alluring. His only secret is doing that in the right places.
Sure, it's time off the bench making things, but just like a band selling its own music, for every hour you spend making "art," expect to spend an equal hour promoting it.

Feb-18-2004, 12:11pm
#You've got to offer a higher level of workmanship and tonal quality to the big boys or their name and reputation will beat you every time. #
I used to build for a "big name" company. I did not have to sell the product, just build it.
I think my mandolins are much better now, but they are harder to sell and don't command the prices of my earlier efforts with the "big name" on the peghead.
Establishing a reputation and a "name" is very important. If you build a lot of good instruments, deliver promptly, be consistant, be friendly, DON'T build any "dogs", and be patient the market will establish itself.

I think most people don't trust their own judgement when it comes to instruments. They want a "name" instrument because they are told that's what is good. That makes it tough for those of us who aren't well known to sell instruments because the quality often goes un-noticed.

John Flynn
Feb-18-2004, 1:20pm
I think most people don't trust their own judgement when it comes to instruments. They want a "name" instrument because they are told that's what is good.
Very true. I also think that in addition, people are looking for prestige from the nameplate. If they really need recognition, they should get it from thier playing. On the other hand, there are definitely some small builders out there whose work is not worth what they are charging and people are understandably wary.

I have a couple of ideas, I apologize if they are not practical or have been mentioned before. I am in the long range market for another mando, I have considered experienced small builders and I do come from a marketing/advertising background in a different industry, so please read my ideas in that light. I look for the following things in thinking about buying a small builder mando:
> If I can try one out and like it, that is the biggest thing. Strategies could include having them at stores, or having one that could be sent on approval to prospective buyers.
> A website with three key elements: sound files to listen the instruments, great pictures of the instruments and a good professional bio on you, with all your luthiery experience. I think the fact that you worked for a big outfit is a good selling point.
> Endorsements. If you can show pix of some famous people playing your instruments or you have a signature model named after a big name, that seems to carry some weight. Perhaps it shouldn't, but I think it does.
> In every thing you do, be great to deal with. That can be hard, because buyers can be really annoying sometimes. But I think some builders get thier reputations based on how they are to deal with as much as the quality of thier work.

Just my two cents.

Feb-18-2004, 2:25pm
I agree too! I don't like to buy a pig-in-a-poke either, but let's not forget that Steverustyone sayes he has mandolins for sale now. Look at 'em, play 'em, No waiting! People say they like them, but don't buy.
I know how he feels. I have unsold mandolins too. I have one loaned out right now for use in the recording studio. Why? So I can get some MP3s for my future web site. Good idea, jflynnstl. I'd already thought of it, but it all takes time. Time away from building. Also, I might get mentioned on an album cover or two (CDs are still albums), and others in the studio will get to hear the mandolin and might remember the name.

Steve, I think part of the frustration is having instruments for sale NOW while buyers languish on waiting lists for comparable instruments at higher prices.

Oh, and another thing! I've lost count of the times I've been asked if I'm interested in artist endorsments. A lot of the pros are spoiled. They don't expect to pay for instruments anymore. (And they are the ones that can actually make some money with these things!)
It can't hurt to work a deal with a well known musician, but If you've never heard of the guy, it may not be worth a big discount. It also may be the next Sam or Chris or whoever. There was a time when nobody had heard of them either. I feel like I can afford to discount to the well known pros, but I can't afford to give them away.

John Flynn
Feb-18-2004, 3:37pm

All valid points, but it comes down to the old addage, "It takes money to make money." Undercapitalization and lack of cash flow are two of the classic reasons small businesses fail. It has nothing to do with the quality of the product. That would include the capital funding to give an artist a free mando. It also takes time to make money. Time away from production, time to do marketing, etc. That is why every competent business plan includes not just the product and how it will produced, but also a complete business model with a financial plan and a go-to-market plan. There are always reasons why not to take the time to do all this, but it is ignored at every business' peril.

Here is one idea: He could see if he can get someone else to market the instruments. Obviously the downside is having to split some of the profits, but it allows the luthier to concentrate on building while someone else handles the path to market. I notice that some of the big online music stores have become sole sources for some small builders. I don't know how successful that is, but it would seem worth looking into.

The bottom line is that marketing is an art, just like luthery. It takes time, money, experience and creativity. Getting a product to into a paying buyer's hands doesn't just happen, any more than the building of the instrument just happens. The big names are in a different ballgame, but it has taken them years and a lot of money spent to get there: Thier product is a known quantity with buyers, they have estabished distribution chains that work, they have well funded and researched marketing plans and they have estabilshed price points that work with thier target customers.

A newcomer has to make up for all that, no matter how talented they are or how good thier product is. The annals of business are littered with people who had great skills, a great product and no sales.

Feb-18-2004, 3:51pm
One thing I can add is you can never underestimate the value of a professional looking website if you are using the internet to advertise.

A website that looks cheap will make its visitor think your mandolins are cheap, conversely a website that looks great will make your mandolins look great, even if such is not the case.

I swear I have seen some mandolins that list high in price and are touted on this board only because the website is really cool...can't prove that, but what I'm thinking about, the mandolins are dogs.

Conversely, I have come into contact with several local struggling luthiers with a good product but very poor websites, ignore this advice, and are still struggling.

I'm not saying a nice website is the be-all-end-all...that is the mandolin itself, just that it really can't hurt to have quality advertisement with your quality product.

Feb-18-2004, 4:22pm
Mando Johnny and jlb, those last two posts are probably the best in this thread so far!

Funny tho, how there is always an exception to a rule. All the time and money I spend in promotion, advertising, and meeting and greeting players is to try to promote my building. I'd like to do more building and less repair. I don't really promote myself as a repairman, but my reputation for repair, restoration, and set-up continues to grow and the jobs keep coming in. I'll get a call from someone who'll say something like "I got your number from so-and-so. He sayes you know what you're doing."
Word of mouth. Never underestimate word of mouth.

jlb, you are absolutely right! That's why I don't have a web site up yet. It's not good enough yet. I know I'll put it up before it's as good as I want it and work on it more later, but I think no web site is better than a cheap website. At least for me for now.

The same goes for business cards, logos, sales receipts, etc. It all needs to look professional. I for one will favor a business with a more professional looking sign on the street over one with a "home made" looking sign.

I forgot to mention. I have two offers from web designers to trade web site work for instrument repair. I know time is money, but it seems a little easier to do the trade than pay the money.

Feb-18-2004, 5:01pm
It is hard marketing any new product, but there is good advice here. Getting a store to carry your instruments is good if it is one that sells comparable instruments - my (and probably every) area has a couple good instrument shops, and others that wouldn't understand a good handmade instrument or know how to sell it (or have customers to buy it). Try some of the better internet companies, too - I would think they would like to try a good new builder (some might disagree with that, but I would in their place). People will often think that an instrument is better if a music store thinks enough of it to carry it. Also, some people would rather buy from a store than from an individual builder. The store would actually do some of the selling for you, and that can take some pressure off. Some people are good at building, others at sales.

Gallagher Guitars gained success by giving one to Doc Watson, but that won't happen to everyone. Gather up the favorable comments, though, to use inpromotion. A good web site is important, along with a good brochure. Not only for customers, but retailers you deal with want to know that you conduct business in a professional manner.

Most importantly, be patient and realize it takes time, and you can't rush things. Get your instrument out so people can see and hear it, and realize you have to start small and build up. I've been in business myself (the book business) for 22 years; after 7-8 years I realized that people need time to know you, deal with you, and trust you. That's why people will buy from a store they have done business with and not an individual. Most people give up too quickly, not realizing that you can't hasten the process too much - just keep doing the right thing, and have confidence in yourself and your product.

Feb-19-2004, 10:59am
I am a "consumer/lurker" and not a builder. From a "users" perspective, it would be interesting to have a site on the Cafe where one or a couple of good mandolin players that are active on the Cafe board on a regular basis review mandolins made by individuals. It would only be useful to the prospective buyers if the reviews reflected their honest opinions. Perhaps a rating system for quality build, tone, volume as an example. Such review is obviously highly subjective. But I ordered a Brentrup based upon informal discussion on the Board. Sort of the Consumer Reports for Mandolins.

Feb-20-2004, 1:45am
As a mandolin shopper...I don't really care anything about the "prestige" factor of the big name mandos, what I do care about are sound, playability, workmanship, warranty and resale value.

I think having at least one of your mandos in a music store would be a good idea. Probably the main reason I ended up buying a Gibson as opposed to a Dearstone, Rattlesnake, Ratliff or one of the other smaller builders was that I was able to walk into the music store play the mandolin and fall enough in love with it to buy it.

Carrying them to some festivals or consigning one with one of the dealers who does the festival circuit is another good way to get word of mouth. All the musicians I know love to talk about so and so mandolin they played and really liked, even if they didn't buy it.

I also agree that you have to beat the mass market mandos in some significant way, it either has to sound a lot better or sound at least as good but cost signifcantly less. I hope I never have to sell my mandolin, but if I did, I know that I can much more easily sell a well known brand on the cafe or ebay than I can something no one has ever heard of.

Feb-20-2004, 12:30pm
I think the idea of a review or ranking system is a very good one. There is an accoustic guitar ranking website (the name escapes me, I'm sure many of you know it) that allows owners of a particular model to rate their instrument on a scale of 1-10 in several categories. This is more of a "we the people" system of ranking as opposed to a single critic or two. Whatever the method used, it would be nice to see such a resource available to the mandolin community. It may even help level the playing field for some of the small or unknown builders.

Chris Baird
Feb-20-2004, 1:16pm
It would be a nice addition to the cafe to have a section dedicated to reviews of mandolins by the folks who play them. I've been shopping for digital cameras and there are sites with sections that have various cameras listed by name and then a discussion for each camera. Something like that here would be useful. There are alot of disscussions reviewing mandolins but they are scattered all over the board and hard to find. It would be nice to have one section dedicated to review.

Feb-20-2004, 1:21pm
Chris, at the risk of hijacking this thread, what cameras do you like? I'm looking too.

Feb-20-2004, 1:46pm
Hey folks, tack me on as a graphic/web designer looking to trade design work for an instrument. See the site in my sig as an example, or check out my portfolio online.


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