PASIC 2011: Reading the Pulse of the Percussion Market
PASIC 2011 took place November 10-12 in Indianapolis, Indiana, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Percussive Arts Society with innumerable flourishes and bangs. The festivities included the standard array of clinics, master classes, performances, and roundtables, in addition to the incessantly cacophonous exhibit hall. Although there appeared to be slightly fewer exhibitors on the showroom floor than in years past (official tally was 114, identical to 2010), attendance was visibly strong (PASIC’s estimates were in the range of 5,100). More importantly, according to exhibitors who chatted with MMR, sales generally surpassed expectations. “You can see that there are fewer people exhibiting, but it seems well attended,” noted Alan Vater of Vater Percussion on the second day of the convention. “It’s all been positive for us.”
Between those participating in the various events at PASIC, as well as the Bands of America Grand National Championship high school marching competition, which took place concurrently in the adjacent Lucas Oil Stadium, the attendees largely hailed from an extremely targeted demographic for the percussion market, providing a unique opportunity for exhibitors to showcase products to an informed audience. “We opened the show with gangbusters – the kids were already lined up to see our stuff,” reports Debbie Zildjian of Zildjian. “We like to feature prototypes at PASIC. We bring in a lot of new ideas direct to the consumer, as well as the educators who are here, so it’s a great test market for us. We usually sell out of all our prototypes, and we get great feedback about what we should consider turning into a regular item in our catalogue.” “Everyone who’s here is really dedicated and serious,” adds Mike Balter of Mike Balter Mallets. “These people really want to explore and see what’s out there. [PASIC] is a great place to take your blinders off and open your eyes to the world of percussion.”
Among the highlights of the convention were a PAS Hall of Fame induction ceremony for honorees Jimmy Cobb, Dick Schory and Tom Siwe, the PAS Marching Percussion Festival, which featured over 80 high school and collegiate ensembles, and a host of outstanding performances and clinics from the likes of Simon Phillips, John Riley, and Claus Hessler.
Back in the exhibit hall, MMR caught up with a number of manufacturers for their thoughts on the year in review for the percussion market, emerging trends, and some predictions about what to expect in 2012. Garwood Whaley of Meredith Music, also past-president of PAS, perhaps best expressed the overall sentiment at the show: “It has been a tough year for the industry, but we’re still kicking and we’re hopeful that things will pick up.”
Dave Clark, Dynasty
Percussion, overall, is doing very well for us, actually. We’re kind of bucking the trend of the 2008 economy drop-off. It seems that some of the schools and other organizations are more willing to purchase new percussion equipment for their groups. Also, our line of signature equipment that is geared toward high end consumers is growing and we are introducing new products, so that’s helping boost our sales.
We’re hoping for steady growth, just like everybody else. We’re not exactly aiming for the stars right now, but as long as we are maintaining our sales and customer service, that’s what we’re looking for.
As far as trends go, we’re seeing a lot of drum lines and marching groups wanting to have a certain look that’s unique and special. We’re expanding our custom finishes and we’re able to offer a lot of different options with good delivery. That’s definitely a trend we’re seeing. Also, other manufacturers are offering more new finishes and new options for customers. Generally, the drums themselves are pretty much the same as they’ve been over the last few years, and changing the finish is really where it’s been going.
Dick Markus, D’Addario/Pro-Mark/Evans/PureSound
I expect that next year will be as challenging as this one, overall. What’s been strong for us is that we’re an accessory company, and we’re growing. This actually has been a good year, and that’s probably due to changes we’ve made internally, in areas like efficiency. By getting our efficiency up, we’re generating fewer back orders. We know that dealers are stocking less, so if we can focus on keeping our back orders minimized, it fits in with their purchasing plan, so they can still turn stuff over to the customer at a reasonable rate. We are assuming so much of our own distribution now, and that’s really helping because the dealer can fine-tune it. There will be more of that internally.
There are a number of exciting announcements we have from the factory that will be coming in the next quarter – both heads and new strings that will make the consumers very happy. We’re expanding our target products and we’re looking at a lot of different things in a number of markets: educational, OEM, rock and roll, jazz, general playing, and orchestral. We’re meeting with a lot of players and educators and bringing them into the conversation.
With the purchase of Pro-Mark, that brand is obviously going through a big transition. We are literally investing millions of dollars in new machinery – from backline stuff like pipes and hoses to lighting, paint, information technology, just everything. All of this is going to mean more consistent quality and fewer seconds, which will be good and bad because the market for seconds has always been strong. We’re doing a major review of the product line. We’ve been polling consumers and dealers about what we need, and there are some surprises. We are mainly focusing on the factory, though. We have been asked if we’ll be staying in Houston, and the answer is yes, we will be. Houston works very well for us and we aren’t leaving. We may even end up doing more stuff down there as we evolve.
For the dealers, it’ll be important to know that we will be moving standing inventory to New York, so they won’t be getting a shipment from point A and point B – it will all be coming from one location. The space that move will give us will allow us to do more R&D. The end result for the consumer is that there will be more consistency and less clutter in the brand, which will allow us to bring more interesting products to the street.
Whether it’s us or in general, the key to survival in a tough market is just having the right stock. I’ve seen dealers who aren’t carrying inventory and they’re killing themselves because if a consumer goes in there and doesn’t see what they want, they will automatically go to the Web. That’s a big challenge for everyone, but mainly retailers. We’re embracing the new technology because it’s a reality, but the brick and mortar is what keeps us alive. If we don’t stock properly, we’re going to lose people. We’re extremely cognizant of that. We know that customer service is king; it always has been and it’s so much more so in this tough economy. There’s so much good product, and so much competition out there, that it’s critical to provide good service and have a good inventory. Taking care of the customer is the number one priority. Customer first, period.
Debbie Zildjian, Zildjian
The percussion market has been up and down for us, the way it has been for everyone. That being said, we just came off of a really good selling month. We have a lot of new products that are really exciting for the market place, as well as our Gen16, which is our venture into the acoustic-electronic market. That has some very exciting potential for us.
In this difficult market, everyone is looking for value. Zildjian, being the premier cymbal brand, always offers value. That’s why you want to go with the top-selling brands, as well as the breadth of the line that we offer, and the artist lineup that we have, which is a testimony to our brand. We just have to keep doing everything we can in this difficult economy.
Bob Berheide, Mapex
The percussion market has been good for us this year. Between sales in drum sets, snare drums, and our new line of kick pedals – with the Falcon, the Raptor and the 710 pedals – we’ve had a very good year. Our voyager, fully loaded entry-level kit has done extremely well. Our horizon ACB has done really well for us at the midlevel, and our pro lines of Saturn and Black Panthers have both done really well for us, too, so we’ve had strength at all levels of the market. It’s been a great year, and we’re thankful.
I hear from dealers and my reps that the percussion market overall is kind of tough. They tell me that accessories are doing really well, that hardware, sticks, heads, cymbals are all doing well, but kits are a challenge somewhere in the market. It’s one of those things where people aren’t buying a new instrument so much as fixing up the old one. There seems to be a lot of that going on with consumers.
I hope things will continue to pick up. We have some exciting tricks up our sleeve that we’ll be showing next year. I can’t get into it just yet, but I think it’s really going to help pick some of the drum set business up out of the doldrums.
Mike Balter, Balter Mallets
The last year has been very good. It’s been great for us because we’re an accessory item, so the people that can’t afford a new instrument will go out and get a new accessory that will help them sound like they have new instruments. There have been two major changes in mallet percussion over the last five years or so: marimbas have gotten longer, so now they need an implement that will allow them to cover the whole range of the instrument without switching; the other change is that there is now a lot of crossover – people are now incorporating vibes and marimba in the same setting and don’t want to switch mallets. And on the orchestral side, there are a lot of players who are looking for new tone colors, so we’ve developed a new line of glockenspiel mallets and xylophone mallets that are debuting at this show, with an array of tonal colors.
Ken Fuente, Gator Cases
One of the great things about our company is we set the benchmark in hard shell percussion cases. I just got an update on the numbers, and it looks like business is up and going to continue to grow. We have some new carriers that are going to come onto the market, and there’s a lot of excitement and anticipation in the percussion market for our products. Business is very good and going to be increasing. As far as trends go, lightweight is what I’m hearing: lightweight carriers, padded bags – it’s all about mobility.
Alan Vater, Vater Percussion
Since 2008, things have been trying for a lot of companies. We’ve actually had growth right through since then, so we are in a very good position right now. Accessory items are still sought after by consumers, and we do a lot of promotions and advertising, and we have a lot of great artists using our sticks. Our brand recognition is actually growing, so that’s helping our business quite a bit. Over the last year, we’ve seen growth, and we’re fortunate about that.
Things are going to continue to be a bit of a struggle – flat – for the percussion market at as a whole through the next year. After the election period, and hopefully there will be some changes and a new administration, and then things will start to turn around. People in general are not feeling like they’re getting a lot of backing as business people, and I feel like that’s inhibiting hiring and growth.
As far as Vater goes, we have some new products coming out at NAMM, and we have a great attitude so we’re just looking to sustain our growth and continue on a good track.
The thing to keep in mind in tough times is that service is number one. You do see a trend towards online buying right now. Our business with online sales has grown dramatically over the past two or three years. People are getting good service, convenience and a good price on the Internet. Dealers need to not only get involved with that but also recognize that service is a big part of what they offer. They need to focus on providing services like lessons or whatever else they can do to draw in the buying public.