Jake Connolly: Connolly Music Company at 40 Years
“Founded in 1970 by John Connolly, Jr. (originally as “Connolly & Co., Inc.”), Connolly Music Company is now celebrating its 40th Anniversary. Best known for distributing such brands as Thomastik-Infeld and König & Meyer, the company remains a family owned enterprise, with John’s son Jake now at the helm.
MMR recently sat down with Jake Connolly to discuss the business’ history, the changing climate of MI, and some current and upcoming developments at Connolly Music Company.
MMR: Talk a little bit about the evolution of the company. Your father had worked at WM. R. Gratz prior to going out on his own, correct?
Jake Connolly: WM. R. Gratz was the exclusive distributor of products such as Hofner, Paesold, Bohm & Meinl, Kohlert, Thomastik-Infeld and others. My father, John Jr., was hired to be the general manager starting in the mid 1950s
In the mid 1960s, after the passing of William Gratz, his wife decided to sell off the company. My father, while just welcoming the birth of his fourth child (me) and starting to build a house for his family, decided to start his own company in 1969 and John M. Connolly & Co., Inc. was born.
John Jr. purchased some of the lines from the Gratz Co. and set up an office in Northport, NY. At that time, Thomastik-Infeld had just developed the world’s first synthetic string – a material named Perlon which, given the initial cool reception to this new “plastic” string, was given the prophetic brand name of ‘Dominant’ by Mrs. Infeld, who was running Thomastik-Infeld at the time alongside her son, Peter. She stated to my father when he approached her with the idea of acquiring the exclusive US distribution of the Thomastik-Infeld division that she hoped that wasn’t the only line he was taking on because, in her words, “You could never make a living just distributing strings.”
Connolly & Co. has always sold several other instruments, accessories, and fittings, however Thomastik-Infeld has always remained the cornerstone. The tremendous success the companies shared together as the Dominant string became the unrivaled market leader for decades surpassed both my father’s and Mrs. Infeld’s wildest expectations. Thomastik-Infeld also developed the first steel string for bowed instruments years earlier (1919)– another revolutionary product – however musicians were looking for the as yet alternatively unattainable warmth & lush sound provided by gut. Adaptors would also be awarded the benefits of longevity and consistency with this new product – and none of the disadvantages of gut. My father, who foresaw the potential of this newfangled string, took the significant risk of convincing the multitudes that what was new was, indeed, an improvement. And convince them he did.
MMR: Can you describe your own early role in the company and how you eventually came on board full time?
JC: A common occurrence in the Connolly household was for the kids to sit in front of the TV and package strings into envelopes. Although free labor was required, my father didn’t impress upon his children the need for a successor. Taking a free-to-be-you-and-me approach throughout our growing years, it was a bit of a surprise when dad suddenly announced during dinner (and my senior year of college) that he was selling the business and if anyone wanted to purchase it they were free to do so.
Sharing my father’s ability to see a risk and take it, I put my name in the hat. Now I just needed a loan. Apparently my love of risk was not matched by the bank and a sleek, red 10-speed didn’t qualify as collateral. I started working full time in 1991 and finalized the purchase of the company in 1994 when I was 24 – after a personal loan was issued and later paid in full. My father moved to Arizona to pursue his retirement in 1997.
MMR: What about remaining a family owned institution makes Connolly unique?
JC: I try to carry on my father’s key corporate values: that a company has to be run well for all of its partners, suppliers, customers, and employees. I’m also like many of our dealers who own privately held, family run companies who maintain certain family values in the business environment.
MMR: Describe some of the approaches Connolly has taken to successfully broaden the lines you represent – including, but not limited to, high profile endorsement relationships.
JC: Connolly Music Company’s values of passion, performance and partnership can be seen throughout many initiatives over the years and remain a consistent driving force in day-to-day and strategic operations.
Developing solid efficiencies in warehousing, importing and fulfillment & shipping to provide an optimum experience for customers boast such benefits as same day shipping and a 99.9% order accuracy rating.
The addition of over 40 sub-distributed lines to the core source brands (which currently include Thomastik-Infeld, Koenig & Meyer, The Realist, Heinrich Gill, Wolf & Coda Bow) provide significant convenience of selection to the mix – along with expert advice on the wide array of products. Carrying a deep and wide inventory is also a contributing factor to our success.
Constantly striving to find new ways to forge win-win partnerships with our customers, we implemented programs such as Power Points, Connolly’s customer loyalty program which affords an accumulation of points that can be redeemed in a variety of ways to satisfy individual customer needs such as free shipping, additional discounts and/or extended dating. Working out a satisfying MAP program in conjunction with our partners help to ensure the value of the brand and support the dealers who market Connolly products.
Forthcoming is Connolly’s B2B direct order entry site – open 24/7 for added convenience and record keeping ability.
MMR: With the continued expansion of the online market and ever-growing presence of big box outlets, how is Connolly approaching the current MI retail landscape?
JC: In order to create greater product insight & awareness within the marketplace, we decided to insure that the message was being communicated directly. Part of the mission to refine the marketing message and create a base of influence was accomplished through purchase of wholesale company G. P. Nordenholz Comp. The ability to learn directly from dealers what they needed most in terms of service and products and to in turn develop that to provide greater performance for the manufacturers Connolly represented was critical to maintaining expertise and street knowledge.
Connolly expends significant resources on consumer and supply chain marketing – focusing on advertising, direct mail, attending consumer, educator and trade shows, website development and providing dealers with tools to help market to their consumers. A current and newer initiative that focuses reaching the end user head on (including educators, students, players & luthiers) involves a clinic tour where the experts from Thomastik-Infeld in Austria along with our in house experts hit the road and visit universities, conservatories, youth orchestras and gather luthiers together to give what has been called a ‘fascinating education on the relationship between an instrument and it’s strings’. Providing musicians with ‘information they didn’t even know they needed to know’ yet enabled them to improve their sound, armed with the imparted technological information has met with resounding success in the various US states they have taken place in including New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Ohio and Texas to name a few. More are forthcoming. Educating the consumer and allowing them to make the best choices for themselves, we believe, will foster increased success at our customer level.
MMR: Are there any upcoming projects of note that you’d like to outline?
JC: The goal of being the foremost expert and leader in the best-in-class musical accessories market with an emphasis on the orchestral arena is now extending to include bowed instruments with the recent distribution arrangement for German Made highest quality violins with the Heinrich Gill and Bernd Dimbath lines and the new Realist Violin by David Gage (the only truly acoustic amplified violin).
Additional bow lines from German bow masters include Sebastian Dirr, Herbert & Christian Wanka and the new Georg Werner line of bows (to be released in March).
There has always been an emphasis on best-in-class products and many of these are European made products, so the current inclusion of additional synergistic lines follows a strong lineage, all the way back to Thomastik and including the more recent addition of world class Koenig and Meyer stands – the inventor of the in-bell wind instrument stand that fits inside the bell of the instrument which is among their many other innovations. (K&M is also celebrating their 60th anniversary).
We are always open to finding new synergistic products that will enhance offerings to customers and provide additional value.