Chesbro Music Co. at 100
Celebrating a century of involvement in the music products industry in 2011, Chesbro Music Co. remains one of the key players in instrument and accessory distribution. Theorganizationalsoremainsafamily operation, through to the present day.
Currently Chesbro handles Ibanez, Tama, Eleuke, Ohana, over 100 print publishers, musical gifts, Musi*key publication, Harmony Jewelry/Future Primitive jewelry, and their own brand of guitars under the Tanara brand,and GIG and CMC percussion instruments.
“Our great grandfather apprenticed in a music store at the age of 14 and then went onto Valparaio Music Conservatory,” explains Vanetta Chesbro Wilson, CEO of present-day Chesbro Music Co. “After this, he went back to work in Seattle at a music company and opened his own piano and music store in 1897. Due to tough economic times, he closed up shop in 1910 and moved to Idaho where he had heard farmers would be interested in music. He opened another retail music store in Idaho in 1911.”
“He sold, tuned, and delivered pianos door to door in a horse drawn wagon, and taught music,” adds Tana Stahn, CFO. “He also created music demand up and down the valley by starting the first band programs. He supplied the teachers and uniforms and sold the instruments.
“The retail store moved a couple of times until settling in Idaho Falls. Over the years, the retail store has remained a part of the community and a basis for the business. He sold products that fit the times including pianos, records, phonographs, console televisions, radios, pianos, band instruments, M.I. accessories, guitars, and printed music.”
Chesbro’s Can Do the Job…
By the 1930s, Horace Chesbro had convinced eastern publishers and MI vendors that the Western United States was not being serviced well by a distributor and Chesbro’s could do the job.
“[Horace] then proceeded to set up mini consignment racks in small communities that couldn’t support a music store,” says Chesbro Wilson. “It was called Chesbro’s Little Music Store. The local drug store became the place to buy music and accessories which was serviced by Chesbro Music Co. and traveling salesmen. To this day we still have some drug store accounts that have consigned print music racks.
“Chesbro has distributed many instrument and accessory lines over the years including Yamaha, Casio, D’Addario, Hohner, Rico, Vic Firth, and others. Great Grandfather also had his own registered trade names he carried including Gold Medal Reeds, H&H strings, Carl Bruener violins, Utona band instruments, and Melburn guitars. The longest distributor relationship and major growth of the company was when we established a relationship with Hoshino Gakki Company. Chesbro developed the Western United States and helped the Ibanez and Tama lines to flourish and become one of the top M.I. brands today.
We have dealt with Hoshino Gakki since 1973. Our companies and philosophies were very similar and it has been a great relationship.”
When discussing the factors that have led to such sustained achievement, Stahn feels it’s a deceptively simple formula: “The key success in the past 100 years has been the ability to grow as the market grew and to do what we knew to do best. Chesbro’s name is synonymous with service, integrity, fairness and good relations. Until about the past 15 years, we were unique as a distributor in offering print, accessories, and instruments to dealers. Automation has been a key turning point. We automated our MI division in the 1970s with our proprietary software and then we completely automated the print music division in 2004, which was unique at that time in the industry for print music distributors.”
Vanetta continues: “We have continued to look for new product lines, opportunities, partnerships, and ways to expand the business. Marketing and advertising presentation and sophistication has greatly improved. Catalogs are full color and are more professional and prolific. Social media has also changed the market and the entire model of how the customer receives or accepts the marketing message.
“We have over 20 employees who have been with the company over 20 years and one of our outside salesmen, Gary Bennett, have been calling on accounts for more than 40 years. Excellent products and a diverse mix of product lines and divisions have helped Chesbro service customers in the western United States for over a 100 years.”
That degree of customer service is facilitated by a staff that understands, appreciates, and enjoys MI. “They love the music industry, enjoy working with the dealers, and are cross trained to provide efficiency and productivity,” explains Stahn.
“The values of fairness, integrity, and incredible service over the years has helped dealers remain with Chesbros. Over 40 percent of our sales are from dealers who have dealt with Chesbro for over 20 years.”
Currently based out of three facilities (retail and wholesale) totaling 63,000 square feet in Idaho Falls and Rexburg, Chesbro also benefits from a strong relationship with the local government and community. “Idaho Falls is pro-business with access to a great work force with two universities within 30 miles, and a great place to raise a family,” says Vanetta. “The other part of the success equation is we have always met our business financial obligations and have not been highly leveraged using retained earnings to finance day-to-day business operations.”
Understanding Today’s Market, Anticipating the Future…
When discussing the changing face of operations in the MI world, Stahn notes that, “Automation and logistic channels are much better and provide more accurate, with faster service and enhanced inventory controls. This allows remote access by employees and customers. Available information control has changed from the manufacturer/distributor/seller to the consumer which has led to more price competition and more direct channel buying power. There’s more competition from manufacturers and publishers which bypass distributors and sometimes dealers. The expectations of a distributor are much higher, nowadays: Product availability, product depth and breadth, same-day shipping, and financing through dating programs, et cetera.”
Chesbro is far from resting on its laurels, however, and keeps an eye toward the future while also remaining focused on how best to negotiate the current difficult economic climate. “We’re always looking for new opportunities to expand through product lines, expansion of territory, and channel development,” says Vanetta. “We have a long-term agreement with the Eleuke brand which we just renewed. We’re actively promoting that line and looking for new dealers, so we’re pretty excited about that.
“These days, there’s continued consolidation of vendors, distributors, plus vendors that cross over into complimentary products and markets. The economic situation will continue to put stress on our industry and continue to force all of us to work better and more efficiently. As a distributor, we’re looking for ways to encourage our dealers to use the Web. Making the order process streamlined is a benefit. We’re using automation as much as possible, which I think most businesses are. That allows us to use our personnel more efficiently.”
“There’s certainly been an increase of Web-only dealers who want to sell products,” observes Tana. “We lend most of our support to brick and mortar dealers because they really are making the efforts to promote the brands and attract dealers. We’ll fulfill their Web orders as they expand into the online world, as well.”
“Logistic companies may try to enter the M.I. world more aggressively,” adds Chesbro Wilson. “I think sales and marketing are one component and distribution is another component. Companies like UPS and other logistics companies are trying to service many industries. Even Amazon tries to provide that distribution function for our world. Distribution is the question, though. who does that best: An outsider or someone within the industry? We believe we offer unrivaled service to our partners.”