New Approach To Delivering Old World Craftsmanship
With the after-effects of the 2009 financial meltdown still lingering, the high-end piano market hardly seems like an inviting environment. However, for Austrian-based Brodmann Piano, it has provided an important engine of growth for 2012. Orders for the company’s flagship Artist Series of pianos, which includes a concert grand, three large and medium-sized grands, and a newly unveiled 132cm upright, have far outstripped production, creating a back-order situation. Company founders Christian Höferl and Colin Taylor point to this enthusiastic market response as a strong affirmation of the business strategy they laid out eight years ago.
Working at the famed Bösendorfer piano company, Höferl and Taylor had concluded that creating a second line of more affordable pianos would both serve an untapped market niche and strengthen the company’s market position worldwide. Their approach to developing this new line was to combine the best the world has to offer. Superlative components and raw materials from around the globe, skilled Austrian piano technicians, and Asian labor united in the development of an exceptional musical instrument at a more accessible price. Taylor explained, “We would use 100% German designs, components sourced from the best suppliers around the world, Austrian wood for the selected soundboards, and a U.S.-made pinblock—all assembled in superlative factories. And, we would make exceptional instruments available to a wider audience.”
The two were on the verge of implementing this global strategy in 2002 when Bösendorfer was acquired by BAWAG bank and the new owners summarily disbanded the project. Höferl and Taylor, however, were so convinced of the market potential of their proposed piano line that they struck out on their own. “Leaving secure jobs was not something we took lightly,” states Höferl. “Yet we believed so strongly in this concept that we were willing to put everything on the line for it. We saw a big niche that was not being serviced.”
The Brodmann name was chosen to convey the European character of the company and its piano. Joseph Brodmann was a pioneering Viennese piano builder in the early 1800s. His most successful apprentice was Ignaz Bösendorfer, who rose to become factory foreman, and took over the Brodmann factory in 1828, launching the Bösendorfer Company.
Today, the Brodmann line includes three distinct series. The Conservatory Series and Professional Series are assembled in China. The new premium Artist series is manufactured in Germany and finished in the company workshops in Vienna, Austria. Höferl acknowledges that “no one was asking for another high-end piano line,” but points out that there is a worldwide demand for improved product value. “With budgets tight, every music institution is looking for more for their money,” he says. “Our Artist Series offers the kind of quality and musical performance associated with the world’s more renowned brands, at between 25% and 35% less.” This significant price differential explains why the famed Moscow Conservatory recently purchased several Brodmann Artist Series pianos, following the example of numerous noted music schools in Austria, Germany, and the U.S. Höferl adds, “When we left Bösendorfer eight years ago, our goal was to come out with a piano that competes with what we sold before. With the Brodmann Artist Series we’ve done it.”
Höferl contends that every Brodmann Piano offers the tone, touch, and elegant cabinet work associated with the finest European piano makers, at attractive price points. However, he also knows that a compelling product is not all that’s required in today’s market. That’s why early next year Brodmann will introduce an in-house flooring program for qualified dealers. “After the banking crisis, retail flooring programs basically ended,” he says. “The situation has improved somewhat, but it’s still hard for dealers to get the financing they need. With the Brodmann flooring program, we will give our dealers the capacity to showcase the entire Brodmann product line. Experience has proved that if you show the pianos to qualified buyers, they will buy. With a stronger retail presence, we are convinced that we will be able to double our sales in the U.S. very quickly.”
Improved financing options will be supported by a new company showroom in Vienna, set to open in early 2013. Höferl stresses that Brodmann has no intention of competing with its existing dealers. However, the new location will allow the piano maker to raise its profile with influential musicians from around the world who regularly visit Vienna. It will also serve as a laboratory for testing sales and merchandising strategies. “Just as we have strong ideas about piano design and manufacture, we have strong ideas about how pianos should be presented,” he says. “The Vienna location will allow us to test our ideas.”
Brodmann has also expanded into the audiophile market with four lines of premium home loudspeakers by inviting noted loudspeaker designer, Hans Deutsch to join its team. Designed to deliver music “with no compromises,” the flagship JB 205 and JB 155 have now been launched to critical acclaim and the VC-7 floor loudspeakers have received rave reviews in the audiophile press. A reviewer from Stereophile magazine recently commented that the Brodmann “VC1, the VC2, and the VC7 sounded equally perfect playing piano and violin music as well as vocals, jazz, and rock. In fact, out of everything I heard in the (RMAF) show, I liked these best.”
The Brodmann team’s view is that every piano and loudspeaker that is produced is a direct reflection of their passion for music. Many of Brodmann’s staff are active musicians, and they take great pride in tirelessly researching new techniques and procedures to improve their products which they consider works of art. And they constantly strive to achieve the distinctive, dynamic, and natural Brodmann sound.
While Höferl sees expansion opportunities in the piano market, Brodmann is committed to remaining a niche, boutique type of manufacturer. “We are not trying to be the largest; our ego doesn’t go there. We will not sacrifice quality for quantity,” he says. Despite the accolades for the new pianos, Höferl and Taylor are still pushing hard for improvement. He states, “We’re pleased with our progress to date, but we don’t want to remain static. We still see ways to make better pianos and loudspeakers, and there are many opportunities to improve the presentation of our instruments and our dealer training. The biggest problem we face is that there aren’t enough hours in the day.”
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