Zildjian – Ahead of the Curve
“Counter to being in a recession, over the last two years we’ve invested over 14 million dollars into updating and enhancing our systems,” says Zildjian CEO, Craigie Zildjian. “One of the reasons we keep investing in the business is that we plan on coming out of this recession as an even stronger company.”
Indeed, 2009 saw aggressive marketing and product introductions from the historic cymbal manufacturer and 2010 promises more of the same.
“As a category leader, we believe we’ve weathered the storm well,” observes marketing director John Sorenson.
“We continue to have the same presence at all the trade shows,” he says. “We’re hearing about people scaling down or not showing up, but that’s not us. We’re keeping the exact same presence and footprint at all the shows – Frankfurt, NAMM, PASIC, all of that. Our hope is that we’re on the springboard, ready for real growth in 2010 and we want to be ahead of the curve. As far as advertising, too – we’re still in all the drum magazines and trade magazines.”
“Cost is important, especially in a recession, and we really try to have cost reduction programs, without sacrificing anything in terms of quality or our long-term goals,” says Zildjian. “I think that’s what’s good about a recession, if you can call anything about it ‘good’ – it’s a correction and sharpens you up.”
Hitting The Road
While they’re sticking to their guns, recession or not, it’s not as if Zildjian has been unaware of the challenges facing their dealers and end-users. “This past year, we went on the road with ZOT, Zildjian on Tour – our ‘Zildjian stimulus plan,’” explains Craigie. “Dealers are really hurting, so we asked ourselves, ‘What can we do?’ We went on the road to stir up business and sell-through, as opposed to just load-in. We went to over 20 dealers across the country, we’d show up with a family member, an artist, cymbal experts, product management and we’d bring out one-of-a-kind prototypes that you could only get the day of the event, and we’d also have a special one-day-only sale. For this year, this was the right thing for us to do and it was successful for all parties. We really pulled out all the stops.”
“Also, our DNA (Displays, New Products, and Accessories) Program is a holistic approach to how we work with our dealers,” adds Sorenson. “Again, to get them the right product at the right time with the right support materials, so that we have a very smooth flow-through of the product, as opposed to what may’ve happened in the past, where we’d run a quarterly promotion that would really promote loading in of the dealer. This program was to reward dealers who got behind Zildjian in a holistic approach – in other words they stocked our sticks, they stocked our bags, they stocked a model inventory of the cymbals that was worked out with their regional Zildjian sales manager.”
“Everyone’s different,” notes Craigie. “Instead of trying to put out these broad programs, what we’re trying to do is make sure that what we’re selling them will sell-through and that we’ve given them the tools and that we’re all working together. It’s a real partnership.”
New Cymbals, More Cool Shirts, Marketing in the Digital Age
Additionally, 2009 saw the launch of a significant new line for Zildjian. “We introduced a product called Z3 in 2009 as a replacement of our Z Custom Series – our ‘hard rocking’ cymbal line,” John says. “It really was probably the most comprehensive product launch we’ve done in the way of support materials, sampling, and all of that stuff. We’ve seen a really positive response to it. The message from a business standpoint is that we continue to invest. We knew if we came with something that we were really going to have to come with the gun loaded to get people interested and we definitely saw that.”
With one of the most recognizable logos in the MI industry, merchandising has long been a strong suit for Zildjian (how many drummers don’t own the classic black Zildjian logo tee?) and the company has recently been focusing their efforts. “My niece, Cady, is now in the business, representing the fifteenth generation,” says Craigie. “She’s in charge of Z-Gear, our merchandising.”
“It’s a small part of our business right now, but we are looking to grow it,” adds Sorenson. “In a balanced approach with everything else, of course, because, at the end of the day, it’s all about the cymbal and we don’t ever want to marginalize that in any way, shape, or form.
“It’s always been a good part of our business. It’s great visibility, but we’ve never oversaturated it like some brands. We always try and see, big picture, if things are consistent with what we’re trying to do for the long-term health of the brand. Everything that we do is with a long-term focus.”
Artist endorsement relationships are a key component of most MI suppliers’ overall marketing plan and Zildjian has long boasted and impressive artist roster. But with the ever-advancing climate of information distribution, the nature and value of endorsements is also transforming. “It clearly has changed,” concedes Craigie. “But the product has also changed – years ago, the products were much more basic, there was less to choose from and less available information. It has watered down somewhat, with so many artists affiliated with so many brands and because of changes in the recording industry and so on.”
Sorensen picks up the thread: “As revenue streams dry up from traditional sources, some artists wonder, ‘Can I make some money from clinics, from product endorsements?’ Before, that type of thing was icing on the cake – now, in a lot of ways, it is the cake. That does start to impact things. It’s a mature market, as well. There are boatloads of drummers and everybody’s got affiliations. It becomes a question of how many do you need, what impact does it provide? We love our artists, they’re a very important part of what Zildjian is, they are our eyes and ears in the musical marketplace. It’s just a different age and endorsements mean different things now to the kids coming up. I think there’s also an element of jadedness, because so much information is available these days. The consumers now define how your brand interfaces with them; not the other way around.”
Such proliferation of information via the Internet is a reality that Zildjian’s aware of, and working with, but they stand firmly by their traditional dealer network. “It’s becoming so easy,” Sorenson acknowledges. “I know that I, personally, would have no problem buying a cymbal or a drum kit online from a name I know and trust. If you don’t like it, you return it. It’s no big deal. But brick and mortar is absolutely essential to this mission of continuing to grow drummers and the drumming community. We can do our part – and we do, and more – but at the end of the day it’s going to be that local drum store that’s the nucleus of that community and those guys have got to be healthy and right now is a very difficult time. They’re having to adapt to how they co-exist with the ease and convenience of online browsing and purchasing.”
Looking to the Future
With a firm commitment to quality product and their dealer network, Zildjian’s already seeing signs that the market may’ve turned a corner and the company is looking for big things in the coming year. “Similar to other musical instruments, the high end is what slowed down for us in 2009,” says Craigie. “The mid to low was strong, while the high end took the brunt of the hit. It’s totally understandable. We did benefit from the weak dollar on the export side of the business last year. China is up over 30 percent. It’s a small market for us, sure, but still. Canada was up over 10 percent, compared to 2008. UK sales have been phenomenal and September ’09 sales, overall, were the best we’ve ever encountered. Again, we’ve been working really hard to position ourselves to be even stronger once we all come out of [the reession]. We’re expecting 2010 to be a great year.”