Best of Both Worlds
Great business often comes down to personal ingenuity, singular ideas, and individual drive. But another aspect that should never be overlooked is that of a successful and long-lasting partnership. New York based distributor Connolly Music Company and Austrian string manufacturer Thomastik-Infeld are the perfect example. As they celebrate 50 years in business together, the entity generally referred to as Thomastik-Infeld USA remains as strong as ever, continuing to innovate. They’ve brought a wide variety of products to the U.S. for players of bowed and fretted instruments, including brands like Dominant, Spirocore, Vision, Belcanto, and Superflexible. Over the years, world-famous musicians have endorsed these products – everyone from Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman and Hilary Hahn to George Benson and the Dave Matthews Band.
It all began, though, as a simple friendship between Connolly founder John Connolly and Thomastik-Infeld founder Otto Infeld. Current president Jake Connolly remembers, “My father, John, was the General Manager of the Gratz company – the distributor of Hofner and Thomastik-Infeld among other fine brands – in the mid-1950s and took regular trips to Europe, which was considered to be quite atypical back then.”
John started his own business just as Thomastik-Infeld was introducing their new synthetic string, Dominant. Jake Connolly says that John approached Infeld with the goal of creating a high profile for the strings. “My father appreciated Thomastik-Infeld for their innovative ideas and their agility as an entrepreneurial company – for respecting tradition, but not being bound by it,” he says. “Although the emerging Dominant string was not readily accepted by Europe at that point, John engaged in a big promotional push that involved rallying open minded American virtuoso musicians to test out these new strings, which ultimately served to put Connolly and Dominant on the map.” Connolly says that Thomastik-Infeld began the partnership focusing on creating a symbiotic, mutually beneficial arrangement.
Otto died in 1965, at which point his wife, Margaretha, took over the company with her son, Peter. John and Peter grew closer over the years, a relationship that Jake describes as one of “sound business advice, familial connection, and genuine friendship and respect.” That family-like relationship has continued down the lines, as it was later Jake’s turn to look to Peter as an uncle as his own role in the partnership developed. After Peter’s untimely death in 2009, his wife, Zdenka, took charge of the company. She now runs the business with Peter’s son, Robert.
Peter died in 2009 and, today, Peter’s wife, Zdenka, runs the business with his son, Robert.
Meanwhile, the company has had an active relationship with Thomastik-Infeld’s product development through the years. “Every meeting includes a product development discussion including market needs & product testing,” says Connolly. “We have always been fortunate to have a strong rapport with the music community and gain valuable feedback from dealers and musicians.” This cooperation has led to a careful eye toward unique products, one that the companies count as a hallmark of their collaboration. “There were many times when it would have been easier to release ‘me too’ products that would have been accepted in the market, but they held off until they had something exceptional,” says Connolly.
“Their bowed strings are the most notably famous and the quality and tone do indeed attract the top players across all genres,” he says. “Their fretted strings are used by high end players religiously and enjoy an almost underground cult status, but not as many people are aware of them as they’re not a general market string – but they attract many aficionados.” Connolly says that jazz great George Benson actually tracked the company down himself to find the strings and has been playing and endorsing them ever since.
In addition to the ingenuity and ability to adapt to the marketplace that have helped to make the company so successful, notes Connolly, the strong bond between the companies have helped steady the ship through any rough waters. “We have always considered each other family, and this attitude has enabled both companies to take a longer term strategy and approach than otherwise might have been possible,” he says.
“The ability to focus on fulfilling long term goals while at the same time having the agility to address short term changes has made for an incredibly strong partnership. One example is how we are able to work together to stabilize pricing in the USA during periods of wild currency fluctuation.”
In short, it sounds like a perfect match. “The partnership between the two companies has ultimately proven to be greater than the sum of its parts.”