Keyboard production has been relocated to Salo, Finland, former home
of Nokia’s mobile phone operations.
GeneralmusicSoundion, an online Finnish m.i. retailer, has acquired the assets of Generalmusic, with the ambitious goal of restoring the Italian keyboard manufacturer to its former prominence. At its peak, Generalmusic employed more than 400 and sold a diverse range of digital pianos, synthesizers, and church organs in 80 countries worldwide. Retailing and manufacturing require very different skill sets, and only a handful of music enterprises have mastered both disciplines. However, Soundion CEO Jukka Kulmala is betting that his unusual managerial background combined with Generalmusic’s strong brand reputation and local Finnish electronic and engineering expertise increase the odds of his success.
Fabled keyboard maker returns with new
products and production facilities
With the acquisition of Generalmusic, Kulmala takes control of one of Europe’s most illustrious keyboard manufacturers. The company dates back to 1890 when Antonio Galanti and his three sons began manufacturing accordions in the town of Mondaino, Italy. As the popularity of the accordion began to wane, Antonio’s grandson Matteo pushed the family into electronic keyboards, founding General Electro Music in 1959. (The name was shortened to Generalmusic in 1994.) Matteo initially parlayed his engineering and production expertise into OEM contracts building home organs for Baldwin and Thomas, and performance keyboards for Vox. A few years later, he began selling keyboards under his own brand name. In 1987, Generalmusic consolidated its position as Europe’s largest keyboard manufacturer with the acquisition of its main rival, ELKA. In 1992, it expanded again, entering the church organ market with the acquisition of the Alhborn Organ Company. The company also branched out into the audio market with its LEM brand (Laboratorio Elettroacustico Musicale) offering a line of portable p.a. systems.
Generalmusic faltered in 2009, following the global financial panic, and filed for bankruptcy in 2011. Kulmala purchased the company assets at auction in 2012 and immediately moved all operations and equipment from Mondaino to a new factory in Salo, Finland, which will be the site of all future production. Kulmala states, “We’ll be offering superior quality and innovative technology. We’re not going to China to chase a lower price.”
Located about 40 miles northeast of Helsinki, Salo is not an obvious site for an electronic keyboard factory. However, as the former location of Nokia’s mobile phone headquarters and manufacturing operations, the city offers the new Generalmusic some compelling advantages. Kulmala says that there is abundant local engineering talent and a vibrant network of electronic contract manufacturers. “We may be a little farther north, but we have the people and the know-how to compete with anyone,” he explains.
Generalmusic has a history of investing heavily in R&D and a technology-centric corporate culture. In the early 1960s, it was one of the first keyboard makers to embrace solid-state technology. More recently, its DRAKE digital sound engine, employed in the Realpiano digital piano line and the Promega synthesizer, has been described by many players as “ten years ahead of its time.” Kulmala says that the first new Generalmusic products, which are scheduled to ship in the second half of 2015, will continue this tradition of advanced technology. And drawing on some of the same engineers that made Nokia phones top sellers around the world, he contends the new keyboards will set a new standard of quality and reliability.
Reviving Generalmusic is the latest undertaking in Kulmala’s varied career. The 54-year-old started work at the Nordea Bank after he received his masters degree in economics and business administration. From commercial lending, he moved into the bank’s venture capital arm. An enthusiastic bass player and singer, he was tapped by the bank to structure a management buyout of F-Musiikki Oy, Finland’s largest music retailer and distributor. Six years of serving on the F-Musiiki board only increased his affinity for the music business, and in 2010, he launched Soundion.
“The European Union was Generalmusic’s largest market, and Kulmala says that there is large group of consumers, “cheering for our comeback.” Marketing efforts next year will be focused on regaining position there. However, Kulmala has global plans for the company. “With sound quality, playability, good design, and a great user interface, we’ll be pursuing markets around the world,” he says.
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