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Partners In Profit

...under the same roof. Under the On-Stage brand, the company offers top-selling stands for every conceivable application, along with a wide range of cases and music accessories. The TMP Pro Distribution side is a one-stop shop for audio gear, representing more than 180 top brands including Shure, QSC, JBL, and Yamaha. What the proprietary brands and distribution operations share in common is a laser-like focus on creating profitable solutions for partners around the world.

Every industry supplier at least pays lip service to “partnering” and “creating mutually beneficial relationships.” What sets the Hennesseys apart is the number of prominent retailers who are on record lauding The Music People for consistently delivering high-profit products and services. Lori Maxwell, the accessory buyer at Minneapolis-based Schmitt Music, says, “I love working with The Music People. On-Stage product is not hard to sell when you know that you are providing customers with the best product and the best pricing.” Kenny Stanton of Ken Stanton Music in Atlanta adds, “On-Stage just makes sense. Good features, great quality, and our sales staff love to sell what our customers want to buy.” The fan mail has been matched by a steady influx of orders fueling 36 years of consistent growth.

This “customer profit” strategy was resoundingly validated in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. As industry sales went into a tailspin, The Music People consistently recorded double-digit sales gains. John explains, “Part of our growth had to do with the accessory market. People who couldn’t afford new instruments were still buying accessories. But, we also benefitted because retailers began analyzing their business and investing in more profitable products and suppliers.”

From a start in the basement of Jim Hennessey’s Hartford home, The Music People has developed a global footprint. The company currently operates warehouses in California, Kentucky, and Connecticut to offer same-day service to nearly every retailer in the U.S. A distribution center in Ningbo, China provides quality control on Chinese-made products while facilitating more efficient global shipping. Laying the groundwork for future growth, The Music People recently remodeled its Berlin, Connecticut headquarters. The redesigned space houses a global sales team, product development staff, marketing departments, and administrative staff, with ample room for expansion. In addition, it includes a soundproofed room for optimal demonstrations of audio gear.

The growth and current success of The Music People directly trace back to Jim Hennessey’s formative career experiences. He got his start as a sheet metal apprentice at the Pratt & Whitney aircraft engine company, where he acquired drafting, metal working, and industrial design skills. A few years later, he took a better paying job at nearby Kaman Corporation, working on the company’s helicopters. Kaman entered the music industry in 1966 with the introduction of the Ovation roundback guitar, and five years later Jim was transferred to the fledgling guitar division.

Under the loose organizational structure of Ovation in its early years, Jim immersed himself in every facet of the business: marketing, artist relations, product design, and production. Delivering guitars at concerts to the likes of Paul McCartney, the Eagles, and Pink Floyd, he saw the need for a sturdy guitar stand that could hold multiple instruments. With his previous metalworking experience, it was a snap for him to build a workable prototype. He was sufficiently excited about the stand that he pitched Kaman management on incorporating it into a comprehensive Ovation accessory program. When the proposal was nixed, he decided to do it on his own, and The Music People was launched.

Hennessey’s first guitar stand is still in the catalog, a testament to the quality of the original design, but the On Stage line has since expanded to include hundreds of different items. Whether it’s a loudspeaker stand, a bracket for attaching an iPad to a microphone stand, or a saxophone stand, all the On-Stage products are defined by durable construction and unique and useful design touches, like proprietary “velveteen rubber” padding that is long lasting and won’t mar the finish of an instrument, or a bracket design that can accommodate either an electric or acoustic guitar.

Jim continues to direct product development. His skills as a draftsman are evident by the stacks of meticulous hand-drawn product blueprints that clutter the long table in his office. There’s a scale drawing of a presentation stand for showcasing prized guitars, a new design for a portable guitar stand, and sleek brackets for handling mobile devices of all sizes. He’s kept busy because every new product and musical genre seems to create the need for a new type of stand or bracket. EDM has fueled demand for specialized tables with computer brackets; popular digital field recorders require fittings so they can be attached to a mic stand or even a guitar; and the new generation of LED lighting has necessitated redesigned lighting stands and fixtures. Although he’s even-tempered and unfailingly affable, Jim bristles at the suggestion that this growing array of stands is somehow a commodity. “These are useful tools, and none of our products are ‘me-too,’” he says.

The artful designs of On-Stage stands are complemented by eye-catching packaging that acts as an in-store salesperson. When Jim got his start, stands were shipped in plain cardboard boxes at best stamped with a model number. He had the original idea of creating colorful packaging that depicted the product in use. The idea has since been widely copied, but On-Stage packaging continues to get high marks. Pete Sides of Robert M. Sides Music in McKeesport, Pennsylvania says, “The packaging saves warehouse space because the products go straight to the display floor looking good, and it makes the product easier to sell because salesperson and customer know what’s in the box and how it benefits them.”

Jim says, “I have so much fun, I can’t think of retiring,” but he has happily delegated operations of the business to Sharon and John. Their focus has been developing the logistical systems to coordinate the sourcing and production of hundreds of products from factories around the world. They count The Music People’s 55 employees as their “most important asset,” but a room full of servers and proprietary software tracking sales, shipments, and inventory rank a close second. Sharon, who works closely with key accounts, explains, “With retailers so focused on inventory turns and margins, being able to fill orders on a timely basis, with cost-effective shipping, is critical.”

In the early 1980s, Jim began distributing microphones to supplement his stand business. Microphone sales were less seasonal than stands, and, because the inventory turnover was faster, required less capital. What began as a way to boost cash flow has grown into a division that delivers nearly half of the company’s annual revenues. TMP Professional now offers more than 180 audio lines—in fact the lines it doesn’t represent make for a much shorter list. As a broad-based audio distributor, TMP makes it possible for retailers to access products without having to commit to the large quantities that buying direct from the manufacturer requires. However, the company’s technically adept sales force is a critical component of the division. John explains, “We’re not just box movers. Our sales team helps retailers and integrators match the right products to the application. And when there’s a problem with products from different manufacturers working together, we can help sort it out.” To keep TMP crew abreast of evolving software and hardware, representatives from key audio companies regularly conduct training sessions at the company’s audio demonstration room.

The distribution and accessory businesses have grown to complement each other. Bundling stands, cases, and other accessories with audio gear is a way of offering retailers meaningful reductions in shipping costs. However, Sharon says lower shipping costs are only a start and that the company hasn’t “come close” to fully exploiting the potential synergies of the two divisions.

While Jim takes satisfaction in dreaming up new products, John and Sharon harbor large-scale ambitions for the future of The Music People. With solid sales, distribution, and product sourcing systems in place, they see opportunity to both increase market share and to expand their product portfolio. Their ambitions are supported by an enthusiastic team of employees. The Hartford Courant conducts blind polls of employees to create its annual “Best Companies To Work For” in the Hartford Area, and The Music People regularly finishes near the top of the list, besting the giant insurance and health care companies that dominate the local economy. Sharon says that the awards reflect the low-key atmosphere, a conscious effort to match employee talents with the right job, and perks like an extra day off prior to major holidays. John adds that “Clear goals and a sense of purpose have created real teamwork.”

As a company that isn’t easily categorized, The Music People tends to fly under the radar. Yet with sales topping $40 million, it ranks as one of the industry’s more significant distributors. The Hennesseys are happy with the comparatively low profile. As Sharon puts it, “we just want to be important to our customers around the world.”


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