Sunday, November 13, 2011

Daddy's Junky Music Closes--An Object Lesson For Us All

Daddy's Junky Music, a New Hampshire icon since 1966, recently closed its doors for good. To hear Daddy's owner, Fred Bramante, tell it, they were unable to overcome a poor economy but, even more importantly, they could not overcome their internet competition and the lack of sales taxes charged by many internet businesses. A costly labor dispute also contributed to Daddy's insolvency. Troy Richardson of LA Guitar Examiner has a particularly insightful article that closely scrutinizes and dissects Daddy's explanations of their demise:

In order to survive, every business needs four things-- products people want at reasonable prices, a means of letting people know what they offer, convenient shopping methods,
and service that makes the customer feel valued after the sale. At the heart of those parameters is the need to be able to adapt to a constantly changing business environment and mastery of the newest business tools.

Richardson describes a business that failed to keep up with its p
roduct line, offering a narrower and narrower range of mediocre products over the years, both new and used. Says Richardson, "The product lines left weren’t supported with any depth. With only mid-level product offerings at best, the quality of used gear coming in spiraled down to where most musicians were hard pressed to find anything worth owning."

Customer service lies at the heart of every successful business, and the quality of customer service is a direct function of a business's employees, their own sense of v
alue and their pride in the products they are pushing. Staff turnover is a significant indicator of employee morale and Daddy's had a problem. Again, Richardson offer the following: "Reviews on show post after post by unhappy customers encouraging others to shop elsewhere, with only the most glowing reports coming in at three stars and stating 'it wasn’t that bad.' While there were a few die-hard employees there for years, the company retained few others, having turnover that rivaled the big chain stores they were trying to beat. Many industry professionals got their start at Daddy’s, only to move on to work for manufacturers, rep firms or, unfortunately, the competition."

Daddy's claims internet competition undermined their success,
especially the absence of an internet sales tax, but Daddy's had several opportunities to capitalize on the internet as a business tool. Successful businesses try and tweak, try and tweak, until they find what works. Daddy's apparently skipped the tweak part, tried and abandoned online selling strategies on more than one occasion. Richardson lays out a time line that put Daddy's at the forefront of the internet commerce revolution, and certainly at the vanguard of the brick-and-mortar alternatives, that they simply failed to capitalize on. Used Gear by Mail,, and Daddysonline all had promising platforms but, rather than fine tuning, it seems Daddy's simply abandoned them. Observes Richardson, "Possibly too little too late, never seemed to get the push the other web-based programs received and faded away with the rest of the business."

It is profoundly significant that in 2008, Daddy's settled a l
abor dispute involving two employees and a manager for between $600,000 and $700,000, a not insubstantial sum. Said Bramante in an interview with Jake O'Donnell of Exeter Patch, "I didn't want anyone to think they'd been cheated... It cleared my conscience." It also probably cleared out most of the bank account. Entering a recession with cash reserves so seriously depleted was probably the final, though not the only, nail in the coffin for Daddy's.

On the surface, Daddy's was a business that succumbed to the vagaries of the economy and changing ecommerce technology. But, a little digging suggests a business that survived in spite of itself until it couldn't anymore. Bramante is quoted as saying, "It's a miracle we got this far... Ultimately, this didn't need to happen." No, no, it didn't. It didn't need to happen.

So, what is the object lesson for us? I sell guitar straps. Odds are, you sell your music. We are all bound by the same requirements for success-- a product people want at a reasonable price, an effective means of spreading information about our product, customers and fans who feel appreciated, and using the latest available technology to make that product available for purchase. It doesn't matter what you sell. The rules are the same. Learn from Daddy's.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Unique, Affordable Christmas Gifts--How About A Handmade Guitar Strap?

Christmas will be here soon and, like most of us, you're probably trying to figure out how to buy gifts that have quality and meaning without breaking your Christmas budget. It's tough times right now. Most of us understand that. Being immersed in the local and regional music scene, I am especially sensitive to the fact that there are fewer gigs out there, smaller draws, less money at the end of the night. What was once a struggle to move forward has become a battle just to survive.

When I started making handmade guitar straps in 1998, those musicians were exactly the ones I had in mind-- people who were getting started, didn't have much money, but needed and wanted to bring a distinctive persona to the stage. I've never abandoned that group of musicians because they have always been special to me, people with goals and hopes and the talent to make them real, and that's why I've tried to keep my guitar strap prices within their reach. The top paragraph takes you to my Artfire studio where you'll see a range of prices from $45 to $500. Maybe you'll see something that's perfect for the struggling musician in your life, maybe you won't. Don't just shop at my studio; look around Artfire, where I sell my guitar straps. You'll see all kinds of really cool, well made, affordable creations.

When you visit an Artfire studio, be sure to look for the Certified Handmade Artifact in the artisan studio you're visiting. Check their feedback by clicking the gold stars in the Seller Information box. Be especially sure to check their check in date just above the gold stars. If it's been a while since they checked in, unless they are on vacation and have a vacation message in their studio, move on to another studio. Some sellers conceal their check in date and I honestly don't know why. But, if you see something you just must have, check their sales numbers for some assurance that they're active and message them before you buy to make sure they'll be responsive. Read the descriptions carefully to be sure you are getting what you think you are getting.

You can have a great Christmas if you just think creatively. You can find wonderfully unique and unusual, affordable, one-of-a-kind creations and buy from a trustworthy artisan. I hope you try Artfire and I really hope you'll check out my guitar straps. Merry Christmas!! Terri

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Gibson Guitars and Federal Intimidation

In late 2009, Gibson Guitars was raided by the federal government and a little over $500,000 in wood and other materials were seized. The premise of the 2009 raid was that Gibson was importing and using Madagascar wood, primarily ebony and rosewood, for their fretboards. Supposedly, the imported wood Gibson was using violated the Lacey Act ( The Lacy Act was first introduced and passed Congress in 1900. Its primary target was the movement of game and wild birds from one state to another for hunting purposes in an effort to preserve those species in their natural habitat.

Over the years, the Lacey Act has undergone several revisions and amendments to expand its reach to include international importation of wood and plants. When Gibson was raided in 2009, the accusation was that they were using wood that had been improperly imported from Madagascar. What made it improper was that it could not be immediately documented by Gibson as to whether the wood was cultivated, naturally fallen, or wild growing. Cultivated (farmed) wood, if properly documented, is permissible; naturally fallen wood (a tree that dies naturally) is also permissible; wild growing harvested wood is not permissible. Gibson relies on their international suppliers to provide the certification that the imported wood complies with international law, import and export regulations, and with the Lacey Act. According to Gibson, they fully cooperated with the Department of Justice and were able to prove after the 2009 seizure that the wood they were using was legal, even providing sworn statements from the Madagascar government that the wood they had imported met Madagascar exportation laws. They apparently requested on several occasions that the Department of Justice return the seized materials or file charges, neither of which happened. Remember that the seized wood represented a major financial drain on Gibson, interfered with production, and cost Gibson a lot of money.

(Madagascar Ebony Wood)

In June 2011, Gibson filed a court action requesting that their materials be returned by the Department of Justice. In August 2011, the DOJ again raided Gibson, this time on the premise that wood Gibson had imported from India violated India's export laws. The basis of the violation seems to be that Indian law prohibits the exportation of wood that is unfinished by Indian workers. What Gibson was importing was partially finished wood that their workers then finished by staining the wood, perhaps installing position markers, those kinds of final finishing touches. Gibson's international supplier of Indian wood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council ( On August 25, 2011, Gibson issued a press statement concerning the August 2011 raid and the history as it related to the 2009 raid (

(Unfinished Indian Rosewood)

This is not a small matter. The Wall Street Journal has pointed out ( that musicians who travel internationally may find themselves under federal scrutiny, and not just if they own a Gibson guitar. The owners of vintage guitars seldom if ever have records documenting the sources of their guitar's construction materials. If your tuning pegs are ivory, what kind of ivory? How was it gotten? Is that fretboard rosewood? Where did it come from? Can you turn to the manufacturer and reasonably expect them to provide you with this information? Records get old, get lost, suffer water or fire damage. Records simply cannot always be found. And, if you can't prove that your guitar is compliant with all applicable laws governing its wood and ivory components, import and export regulations and treaties, what then? Can it be seized as a presumptive violation the way Gibson's materials were? What if you decide to sell your old guitar? What records will you have to be able to present to a prospective buyer?

(Vintage Gibson--What's it made of? Where did the materials come from?)

These are very real and serious issues that musicians everywhere will have to consider as they prepare to buy or sell their new or used instruments, plan their tours, etc. Right now, especially if you own a Gibson guitar, you are vulnerable to whatever hoops the federal government decides to place before you and require you to jump through. Whether Gibson initially violated laws that led to the 2009 raid waits to be seen since the Department of Justice has failed to file any charges resulting from that seizure and has, as a result of Gibson's June court filing, asked the court for a stay. That is to say, for two years, the federal government sat on Gibson's seized materials without taking any action until forced to do so by Gibson's filing. With the August raid coming on the heels of Gibson's attempt to seek relief from the court, and the fact that it is based on an entirely new and separate but equally squishy set of issues, my own feeling is that this action amounts to raw intimidation being exercised by the Department of Justice; they are making an example of Gibson, demonstrating just how easy it would be to destroy your business if that is what they decide they want to do.

This issue is no longer about simply protecting trees and complying with treaties. This issue has reached a new and much more disturbing plane, the government's ability to seize your property and seriously injure your business, then sit back for two years, only to do it all over again when you finally exercise your right of petition. There is much here to ponder.