Anthem Musical Instruments
A Profitable Alternative For School Music Retailers
Back in 2007, former Sonaré Winds president David Kilkenny was being approached, right and left, by retailers desperate to increase their profit margins and increase their cash flow. Most sought guidance on importing instruments from China; some even offered to pay him to help them create a private-label line. To a one, they cited suppliers saturating the market with product through e-tailers, big box chains, mail order, and nearby competitors. With MAP prices often ineffective, they asked, why should manufacturers enjoy gross margins of 40% to 50% or more while asking retailers to survive on 30% or less? Kilkenny responded by launching Anthem Musical Instruments, a supplier of profitable student woodwinds, brasswinds, and accessories.
Kilkenny has successfully navigated obstacles typically encountered in importing musical instruments—such as difficulties finding the right suppliers; distinguishing trading companies from actual manufacturers; communication challenges; receiving products that differ from what was ordered; product quality issues and high defect rates; long lead times; the nerve-wracking, cash-flow crippling prepayment typically demanded by Chinese suppliers; finding replacement parts; and most importantly, predetermining the real cost of “inexpensive” imports. “Retailers can’t assume that the import price of a product represents its actual cost,” Kilkenny points out. “They have to account for scrap, which tends to be very high, as well as replacement parts, testing, communications, site visits, shipping, tariffs, prepayment costs, etc. There are also significant start-up and continual R&D expenses that need to be factored into the cost structure.”
To ensure that Anthem is serving real-world needs of its customers, its product development team includes music retailers, instrument makers, band directors, and repair technicians. Using their recommendations, the company works with a select group of independent instrument makers with longstanding traditions of crafting handmade instruments. Each partner specializes in specific instruments and employs highly skilled craftsmen.
Anthem offers dealers exclusive territories, with no internet or mail order sales. Also, it doesn’t state a MAP or MSP policy. Instead, its “Freedom Pricing” policy sets only the dealer net, allowing its member dealers to determine their own margins based upon their particular market and profit strategy. Kilkenny explains, “This combination allows dealers to price in the best way for their market without having to worry about the pricing decisions of other Anthem dealers.”
Designed and developed for the U.S. market by retailers, repair technicians, and band directors, Anthem’s line includes flutes, clarinets, oboes, saxes, trumpets, trombones, French horns, tubas, euphoniums, and its own comprehensive line of custom, stackable ABS cases as well as SKB backround instrument cases. Distinctive, saleable appointments include hand-cut flute headjoints, shimmed pads, hand-lapped trumpet valves, and hand-hammered, laser-fused bells.
Director of Quality (and professional clarinetist) Brent Beech oversees product development and instrument testing as each horn is tested and adjusted before it leaves Anthem’s headquarters in North Billerica, Massachusetts. Industry veteran Jack Faas, formerly with Yamaha and Boosey & Hawkes, contributes to product development and heads up the sales effort.
Anthem maintains a presence in each factory, working with the craftspeople and spot-checking instruments. Finished horns are play-tested and adjusted both in China before they ship and again after they arrive in the U.S. to ensure that retailers will receive a well-made, playable instrument. And to ensure great after-sale service, Anthem stocks replacement parts at its U.S. headquarters and publishes a comprehensive replacement parts catalog.
As word of Anthem instruments’ quality and the company’s flexible pricing policies has spread, many school music programs have embraced the brand. Current customers include Breber Music Co, Schmitt Music, Willis Music Co., Palen Music Center, Quinlan & Fabish Music Co., Ken Stanton Music, Music Masters, and Kephart’s Music Center, among others. “Our prices allow band directors to extend their bid dollars to get more for their money,” notes Kilkenny. “The response from the teachers has been overwhelmingly positive.”
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