Diplomatte Musical Instruments
Recently, Diplomatte Musical Instruments has been making a splash on the Band and Orchestra instrument scene. Working with a select group of factories and suppliers all over the world has helped Paul Shelden, president and CEO of Diplomatte, keep overhead down and retail prices low, while still producing quality instruments. Shelden’s unique perspective, as both a player and educator has certainly had an effect on his brand. To get a better handle on the inspiration behind Diplomatte, MMR sat down with Shelden to discuss the company and it’s hopes for the future.
MMR: How did Diplomatte Musical Instruments get its start?
Paul Shelden: In the year 2000, my wife and I went on vacation for a week in China, which was a very ‘new thing’ at that time. I was fascinated with China and with the possibilities of what could happen there. So, I started to work with a factory in China for about four months, making trips back and forth as a consultant. I was impressed with how they worked, how they learned, and how intense they were in trying to do the right thing. A few years after that I thought that I would develop my own brand of instruments and my own business. So, I joined forces with the person who was the head of sales and international development for one of the factories and we formed Diplomatte Musical Instruments.
MMR: How has your background as a teacher and performer shaped the Diplomatte brand?
PS: I am the only person in the industry that’s running a company who has a Doctorate in Performance, and who is a professor, and band director. I was an educator; I am very much familiar with what educators and schools want. I am a musician; I know what has to be done for music students and professionals alike. So as a professional I was dedicated to making sure that I could produce the very finest instruments. As an educator, I was dedicated to the quality that students will be able to use. And I believe with the people that I am working with, we can start holding up the quality control mantel against any other instruments being made today.
MMR: How does Diplomatte maintain quality control?
PS: First, you don’t let anything out until it has been checked, rechecked and checked all over again. I think that as a musician, I am passionate about music and everything that has to do with music and when you get the factories – the managers in the factories, the owners of the factories and the workers in the factories passionate about what they are doing, then I think that a great deal has already been done to develop quality and quality control. I was at many larger factories where you see an assembly line manufacturing of clarinets, or flutes or trumpets or trombones or whatever. None of those people really cared. They were not really making a product beyond what they did in their chair — putting a screw together or soldering a joint or connection. For example, one of the violinmakers that I work with, the guy makes the entire violin. It’s not an assembly line. The complete process is overseen with a passion for quality.
When I go to the factory they respect me very much and they know that my demands are very high. I insist on the managers of each departments be able to play the instruments. How can you understand what a flute is supposed to sound like if you don’t play it? I’m the president of a company where I can play the product. If you take the president of a fish company where the guy doesn’t eat fish, he’s not gonna’ stay on top of things. I used to send materials and method books to some of the factory managers to help them understand more about the instruments and learn and study and understand that quality and quality control are the foundation of any product that’s going to come out of these factories.
MMR: Why China?
PS: My goal was to make the best instruments possible and to take advantage of the talents in China. To make good stuff, not junk. And my philosophy was based on the fact that many years ago, when I was much younger, Japan made all the junk in the world. Anything that came from Japan was junk — you knew it was junk before you saw it, because that was the way it was. That changed and Japan became the purveyor of all the good stuff. All of a sudden Japan was making cars that were better than American cars — not cheaper, but better and the same thing happened with musical instruments and engineering products. During the last decade, all the junk was coming from China and I knew that would change. Low and behold, I started working; not with large factories that made everything, but with smaller factories that concentrated on quality control – not on how much they can produce but how well they can produce it. We have been working out with about 22 different factories and we are very happy with the quality control.
MMR: How involved are you with the merchandising of your products?
PS: We do advertisements, and there’s a lot of word of mouth. I sell to merchandisers, dealers, and school systems, but I don’t sell individually to the public. We’re a wholesale house. At this point, I’m able to keep my overhead down. This might sound crazy, but I don’t want to grow too large. I just want to be able to make my products, make them well, and stay in control of the quality of the products. As the industry starts looking up, I will probably put a Web site into place and hire a couple more people, but I’m happy in being able to control the business this way and deal with a lot of word of mouth. So far, word of mouth has been doing very well for us.
MMR: What does the future hold for Diplomatte?
PS: I see the future holding a lot of promise. Again, I go back to my philosophy of what’s going to happen with China. China will follow the direction of Japan, and in many respects I see that happening already. As long as I can work with people that are passionate, caring, diligent and even forceful about making an excellent product and being proud of making an excellent product, we will grow well and we will do very well. I believe very strongly in what we do and what we continue to do. It’s a small company, and we’re trying to keep it small so that we can control as much as we can in the product development and quality control.