Anthem Musical Instruments
Upgraded lines, an expanded team, protected territories,
and “freedom pricing” add up to retail opportunity
No one doubts the school band market’s role in driving the fortunes of the entire music products industry. Or that school music retailers are a breed unto themselves, with a unique skill set and temperament. One manufacturer has taken extra steps to ensure that its dealer partners are fairly rewarded. For more than ten years, Anthem Musical Instruments has been providing opportunities for children to explore music and build lifelong relationships in local music programs. The company’s recent growth is built upon an overhaul of the entire product line, product affordability, exemplary retail support, and respect for dealer profitability.
Following his five-year tenure creating and growing the Sonaré brand for Powell Flutes, David Kilkenny found himself fielding numerous inquiries from school music retailers about his experiences manufacturing flutes in China. Needing to increase rental program profit margins, most sought to exploit the competitive advantages associated with exclusive product lines.
The number and similarity of their requests represented a clear need for Kilkenny’s expertise in overseas manufacture, and perhaps for a different approach to retail territories. After meeting with a variety of school music retailers, he developed a business plan that drew heavily on his experiences at Powell Flutes and Grover Pro Percussion as well as advice from colleagues and industry friends. He founded Anthem in 2007 and officially introduced the company at the 2008 NAMM show. Many dealers he’d worked with over the years quickly supported his new venture.
Being small and nimble, Anthem was able to quickly address early setbacks such as fragile red brass trumpet bells and flutes tarnishing due to excess sulfur in the case glue. In 2010, Kilkenny appointed Quality Control Manager Brent Beech to overhaul the entire line. In cooperation with existing dealers, Beech, now vice president, continually examines the instruments, elicits customer feedback, and applies it to future product designs. Many refinements have been implemented since 2010. Most significantly, over the past two years Anthem introduced its A-3000 Series, representing improved versions of its entire flute, clarinet, trombone, saxophone, trumpet, and background brass lines. Beech also oversees a repair staff that tests every instrument before it leaves Anthem’s Massachusetts headquarters, and he makes frequent trips to China to implement improvements at the manufacturing level.
Offering an affordable, quality product line and maintaining a complete stock of spare parts was just half of Kilkenny’s original plan. What truly distinguishes Anthem—and has proven to be a pillar of its success—is the way it does business, and in particular its relationships with its dealers. A strong “buy local” advocate, Anthem touts the benefits of buying locally in its marketing media and sells its product line exclusively through locally owned, independent music retailers. Further, it doesn’t allow its dealers to sell its instruments via the internet or mail order catalogs.
Per the company’s official policy, each retail partner negotiates an exclusive territory, agreeing to sell Anthem horns only within that territory, and not to ship beyond it. This approach allows Anthem to offer “freedom pricing,” where each dealer sets the street price and retail price in its own market, giving each dealer a protected product line and the ability to create and adjust its own pricing and sales strategies. Ultimately, each retailer—not the internet dealer or the chain store across town—realizes the rewards of its sales and brand building efforts.
In 2014, fellow school band sector veteran Frank Sarcia joined the Anthem team as sales manager. Already well versed in the intricacies of limited distribution sales strategies, Sarcia was an ideal fit for Anthem, and his appointment was perfectly timed for the new A-3000 Series’ debut.
That same year, Kilkenny and Beech teamed up with flute veteran Chris McKenna to introduce the North Bridge Winds division. North Bridge offers a complete line of step-up flutes that feature a headjoint handmade in the U.S. by McKenna. The line took off immediately, and world-renowned flutist Paul Edmund-Davies (former principal of the London Symphony) has been endorsing the flute and headlining clinic tours to support the line. Appealing to flutists of all ages, the clinics’ program highlights the movie soundtracks that Edmund-Davies has played on including Harry Potter, Star Wars, Beauty & the Beast, and Mission Impossible. Edmund-Davies and Kilkenny have completed five clinic tours, most recently throughout the East Coast and Midwest in the fall of 2017 with their “Flutey & The Beast” tour. They plan to visit Australia in the spring of 2018.
As part of the North Bridge incorporation, McKenna rebranded his personal line of professional headjoints and created a new website and advertising campaign. North Bridge also supports the Simplyflute.com educational website developed by Edmund-Davies.
As Anthem continues to improve its product line and add new dealers, North Bridge plans to expand its marketing efforts and provide even more educational opportunities in 2018 in support of its distribution network. “Our limited distribution strategy ultimately caps Anthem’s long-term potential,” says Kilkenny, “but we still have a long way to go. As we look for the right retail partners in our open territories—not every retail partner—Anthem’s growth has been steady and controlled. The last ten years have been personally rewarding for me as I work alongside a great team at Anthem, and with a great team of retail partners. I’m looking forward to continuing our mission and to implementing some extremely creative marketing campaigns in 2018.”
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