Value, and Protected Sales Territories
December 2003 Issue of The Music Trades Magazine
WYMAN PIANO COMPANY National Sales Manager George Benson (left) and President Tim Laskey
IT WAS A CHALLENGING YEAR to start a piano company. But then Tim Laskey and George Benson have survived a number of challenging years in the piano business, all the while developing the expertise and relationships to succeed even now. The two founded Wyman Piano in November 2002, and despite the turgid market, business has been growing steadily ever since.
Laskey, now president of the Nashville-based Wyman Piano, "grew up with the Wurlitzer organization" beginning in 1971. Following 11 years as a Wurlitzer district sales manager he moved to California to run his own Baldwin retail store in the Sacramento area. Three years later he accepted an offer to become a district sales manager for Baldwin, where he rose through the ranks to division vice-president of Western sales until the end of the 90s. He was then tapped to start a national accounts program to handle Baldwin's sales to major hotel chains, senior citizen centers, and other large corporate customers. During the company's downsizing he became division vice president of sales for the entire nation, allowing him to work with Baldwin dealers across the country as all of its district sales managers reported to him.
Starting at Baldwin's Cincinnati office in 1976, Benson had a similiar career trajectory that included stops as district sales manager for numerous regious, division vice-president of major accounts, division vice-president of national accounts. When Gibson purchased Baldwin, Benson became a regional sales manager in the Southeast and Laskey moved to Nashville to become product manager, responsible for advancing Baldwin's existing relationship with Samick for the Wurlitzer and Chickering products as well as helping develop a new Chinese-made line. Then in 2002, capitalizing on his 15-year relationship with the Beijing Piano Factory in China while he was "pre-Gibson" Baldwin. Laskey made the decision to launch Wyman Piano, appointing Benson national sales manager.
Laskey is seekeing to build Wyman Piano's dealer network, but he's being very careful about it. "We're not looking to sell to everybody on the street," he stressed. "I see this as a key shortcoming of some piano manufacturers, especially the ones that offer the same piano with three different names on it to get multiple distribution within a market. Every dealer in the country will tell you that this doesn't benefit them. We're offering a large selling territory, maybe one per state."
Wyman pianos are manufactured at a state-of-the-art factory in Beijing. Laskey and Benson partnered with other former Baldwin veterans to teach the factory how to execute the product for the U.S. market. "The factory knows how to make pianos," Laskey explains. "They've been doing it since 1949. But they've been building primarily for the Chinese market, which has different values and priorities than the U.S. market. We solved all of those problems. We made jigs for them, corrected their methods, went back to critique their work and advise them so they got it right by themselves, every time -- and then we inspected and inspected and inspected.
According to Laskey, dealers will feel good about promoting Wyman Piano features. For example, the Wyman TriPhonic spruce soundboard utilizes three layers of fine spruce whose grains are positioned at prescribed angles for optimum tone projection and durability. The TriPhonic cantilevered bass bridge allows bass string vibrations to be transferred to a more vibrant area of the soundboard. The 19-ply Wyman wrestplank, made of hard rock maple, with plies oriented for maximum strength and tuning stability, along with the thick, sturdy Wyman sand-cast iron plate and wooden back frame all work together to provide outstanding tuning stability over the life of the instrument. "The dealer and, even more importantly, the salespeople and technicians, have to believe in your product," Laskey commented. "When a salesperson sits down and plays a Wyman piano, he or she immediately knows that it's a quality instrument. Customers relate better to how it looks. The way our cabinet is put together, the finish, which we insist is mirror-like and perfectly flat, with no waves or defects, and even the finishing of the plate inside are all beautiful. Also, there are very large polished-chrome plate knobs attaching the plate into the piano that look like crown jewels instead of competitors' models' Phillips-head screws. Those kinds of cosmetic details and even things like our pianos' double-sized casters reinforce how well it performs musically. If a Wyman piano is sitting next to another Chinese piano, ours looks much more substantial and higher quality. Really, our buyers care about the whole package -- and of course the price."
A challenging year to start a piano company? No doubt. But Tim Laskey is confident in the Wyman Piano Company's prospects. "There's really a need for a product like Wyman's," he concluded. "It's a very good quality piano with a whole host of selling features at a great price. Even better, it's offered by guys the industry knows and trusts that won't have dealers competing against the same product being sold down the street."