Connecting people who love pianos around the world
Many of today’s piano dealers say their toughest competition comes from Craigslist. While the surfeit of used pianos on the market inarguably slows new piano sales, for some dealers, “used” is a moneymaker; for others, it’s just an annoying distraction. Enter Piano Finders, an innovative service provider based in the San Francisco Bay area offering solutions designed to put money in piano retailers’ tills.
Founded in 1982 by entrepreneur Karen Lile and concert pianist/composer Kendall Ross Bean, Piano Finders started humbly and decidedly low-tech as a piano sales broker and information service. Although then, as now, its general mission was to “connect people who love pianos around the world,” pre-internet, its data management tools included a telephone, a KayPro computer with two 5-1/2" floppy drives, and a daisy wheel printer.
Nevertheless, the business grew quickly, expanding from its original purview into a full dealership with an 8,500-square-foot showroom and shop with 60 grand pianos on the floor. But with an eye toward uncharted territory, Lile and Bean closed the brick-and-mortar showroom in 1996 to focus on networking with dealers and technicians across the country, “going virtual” with its piano brokerage activities. That same year they launched the Piano Donation Project, which gives Piano Finders Affiliate dealers a place to refer clients who prefer to donate their piano for a tax deduction rather than trade it in. In exchange, the Project’s staff takes over fielding the donors’ questions and Affiliate dealers’ salespeople receive hot leads plus community goodwill and connections without all the time-burning drudgery of client screening.
According to Lile, who remains Piano Finders’ president, piano salespeople are increasingly frustrated by the volume of phone calls they receive from customers seeking to sell or give away used pianos. They become Piano Finders Affiliates so they can dedicate more time and energy to following up on bona fide leads. “Just turning customers away without offering them solutions doesn’t build the positive p.r. piano dealers and salespeople need,” she says. “The Piano Donation Project removes that burden.” Piano donors in the U.S. receive retail value tax deductions, while the company’s piano retailer clients have the choice of buying quality used instruments for wholesale prices or just benefiting from the community goodwill and connections for being involved in the project without ever buying a used piano.
In addition to acting as a broker for wholesale used pianos, Piano Finders provides insurance appraisals and inspects and evaluates the condition of quality vintage American pianos that will be shipped to dealers in Asia for resale. The company’s website has become a “go-to” destination, logging more than 50 million hits globally. Most of its dealer clients do business in the 48 contiguous states, though some are located in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Piano Finders has continued to provide repair, rebuilding, and refinishing services primarily for private clients and their high-end and celebrity-owned pianos in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vice President Bean is also a master piano rebuilder, piano appraiser, and concert pianist.
Lile says that technological advances such as e-commerce, mobile platforms, and social media are “finally catching up with my original vision in the 1980s,” and her team are conversant in all these areas to meet any client’s preferences and needs. With two decades of experience, her company offers a wealth of knowledge and connections to its many piano retail clients. And with virtually all of its business originating by referral, Piano Finders’ success and growth over the years are testaments to its reputation for fairness, its expertise, and many long-term relationships founded on trust.
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