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June 18, 2020 06:17 PM

13 Music Products Industry Leaders Talk About How to Survive the Difficult Time

Much has been talked about the impact of CORVID-19. Since the declaration of a state of emergency over the virus in Japan on April 7, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers struggled to minimize the impact while temporarily closing store fronts, reducing work hours and employing remote working. Japanese government lifted the statement of emergency by May 25, but the virus has changed our traditional lifestyle and behavior in society completely.

Music activities from live concerts to band and ensemble performance are no longer the same in style as before. Besides preventing the infection and adapting to the sense of social distancing, how can the industry re-structure business? Japan Music Trades interviewed 13 industry leaders.

Adapt to new lifestyle
Our sales and music studio operation have been heavily impacted. On May 11, we started providing music studio students with online lessons. Though infection case is declining in Japan, it still expands overseas. We understand music activities will expand as 5G wireless technology for digital cellular networks is deployed, and hope to keep pace with the technology innovation to contribute to development of music culture.
We appreciate very much music retailers their consistent efforts to support musicians and the industry on the frontline. We would like to support them with value-added products committing to the needs of music makers.”
Kentaro Kawai, Executive Director, Kawai Musical Insts. Manufacturing Co., Ltd.

Begin from scratch
“Considerable number of retailers have temporarily closed stores or if not, only find quite a few customers visit the stores. Naturally, wholesale business like us is much affected. Present restricted social conditions will not change any time soon. What we can do is to adapt to new lifestyle. Restriction of band activities indisputably impact music industry.
“People have more time at home, and they are likely to buy acoustic guitars, ukuleles and DAW-related products online. On the contrary, there are limited demands for electric guitars as they can’t be played in live concerts.
Anyway, there is no way but we begin from scratch, away from the conventional basics of business. We hope we all survive this hard time!”
Masatoshi Kojima, president, Kanda Shokai Corporation

Support retailers and Work together
“We expanded support for retailers who are increasing share of online business with E-mails and phone calls after the declaration of state of emergency. For example, we added Kikutani original guitar and ukulele packages for the first time players. The picture we see after the battle with the coronavirus may be different from present days. Once remote working and online sales have become standard, music products sales and music activities will be done online more than ever.
“Wholesale business never exists without close-knit relationship with retailers who directly connect to users and market. We are divine partners, and we can work together to win this battle.”
Akira Kikutani, president, Kikutani Music Co., Ltd.

Opportunity to upgrade online skills
“After the declaration of a state of emergency, sales of fretted instruments, wind instruments and drums and related products have devastatingly declined, but online sales of primarily inexpensive acoustic guitars and ukuleles through our website and business at the storefronts located in shopping malls have been going up.
“The coronavirus pandemic has changed our traditional marketing strategy and it provides us to upgrade online skills we haven’t planned before. When we acquire advanced know-how, we will see sales increase of high-ticket models online.
“It’s encouraging that demands for music making is growing in this difficult time. As a retailer we work together with our suppliers, and as a wholesaler, we are ready to support retailers at our best.”
Tomohiro Kurosawa, president, T. Kurosawa & Co., Ltd.

The industry is recession intact
“Production level at our manufacturing bases in China and Hong Kong has went down to 60% or 70%, and about 80% in Vietnam because of short supply of parts.
“Sales in the domestic market dipped from 10% to 20% in March as shipment stumbled, but thanks to healthy online marketing, they didn’t decline much after April backed by surging demands for digital pianos and guitar strings reflecting revived popularity for acoustic guitars. Overseas business maintains 80% of former level.
“We set our priority now on restraining unnecessary cost and keep our strength. Recognized for its expertise, music products industry has been traditionally supported by core fans, and less influenced by negative trend of macro economy. I believe our users come back.”
Seiki Kato, president, Korg Inc.

Society needs real shops and exciting musical experience
“We closed most storefronts temporarily as of middle of May. Part of music instructors at music studios started online lesson after the spring holiday season in May, and resumed teaching at studios nationwide in June.
“We have already carried out networking with storefronts in local cities outside of Tokyo area since some years ago, and prepared for remote working during Tokyo Olympic Games planned this summer. All these helped us adapt to remote working and online meeting environment without much difficulty.
“Net sales have significantly increased since March, but they are insufficient to compensate the sales dip of real shops and music teaching business. We see impact is greater for music teaching operation and our original events including band contest which attracts about 2,000 bands every year than store sales.
“Having experienced many customers rushed into our stores right after the statement of emergency lifted, we are convinced that real time musical experience is essential for our life and society.
“As we recognize importance of real time musical experience, we feel customers expect us good selection of products and customer service more than ever. We will lose support from customers unless we have expertise at both real stores and online platform. This pandemic made it clear.”
Toshiaki Hirose, president, Shimamura Music Co., Ltd.

To enhance additional value
“As retailers closed doors, our sales have steeply declined. Order cancellation and postponement from overseas partners flooded in, but they now resumed distribution. We are grateful. We are anxious that production of entry model guitars in China went down by 50%. It is going to be a serious damage.
“Staying at home, more and more people are seeking communication and music playing by means of PC and mobile. Musicians are doing recording at home studio. We will see soon guitarists plug their electric-acoustic guitars into interface connected with PC.
“Music market won’t recover in a short time, demands diminish, and customers withhold purchase of musical instruments. It is time to keep cash flow and make efforts to reduce loss in daily operation. Restricted flow of people and goods, our sales will largely depend on online, but we should remember what face-to-face deal means. It is the real strength of music stores.”
Hayami Tahte, president, Takamine Gakki Co., Ltd.

Be prepared for growing online sales
“Chinese market is gradually coming back. On the contrary, domestic sales and export to Europe and U.S. declined, to nearly half as a total. The point is it takes long time to win this battle. At this moment we are preparing to improve our online marketing skill as we believe remote working and online business will take a larger share in our society.
“It’s a difficult time for manufacturers like us and wholesalers, but retailers are more distressed than us. We want to support them and work together to serve customer and save music culture.”
Teruhisa Mano, president, Tombo Musical Instr. Co., Ltd.

Provide students with continuous support
“Schools are closed, it’s a hard time for school market wholesalers like us as Spring is the most important season as we provide schools with instruction books and musical instruments. We undertake this time a special occasion to help support students of symphonic bands to have knowledge on instrument maintenance and cleaning. We hope students get back to school with smile soon and play music and enjoy ensemble session.
“Business is slowly reverting in some areas, but it will take a long time before demand comes back. We are ready to meet the needs of retailers with good selection of inventory.”
Masato Horibe, president, Niimi Gakki Co., Ltd.

Music is deeply rooted in our mind
“Schools closed, symphonic band activities banned, declaration of a statement of emergency and stay home request by the government have swept customers away from music stores. It has affected our business.
“As an importer and wholesaler, we are seeking ways to better serve our customers in this difficult time. When we win the virus, business may take a different shape from what we see now. The key words for the present turmoil is ‘Connect people without direct contact’. There will emerge myriad of new solutions meeting the need in coming months. We must keep pace with development of new technologies.
“As we confront unprecedented difficulty, music gives us pleasure and comfort. Because we are involved in music business we should remember that music is deeply rooted in our mind.
“Business is really awful today. But we have overcome the bad times with history-proven resilience, and hopefully can defeat this difficulty. Get through this storm and we hope to see you soon!”
Hideki Nonaka, president, Nonaka Boeki Co., Ltd.

Team with outside industries
“We open all stores time shortening in Osaka area except 1 store located in a shopping center. Music studio operation was shut down for 3 months and store traffic has almost gone. Online sales increase but hardly offset sales decline of real stores. Sales for overseas tourists diminished and wind instruments sales are getting worse month after month. All store events were cancelled which evolved cancellation fees in some cases.
“Even after we don’t need to worry much about the virus, it’s sure to say way of business wouldn’t be the same as today. We feel music industry can better adapt to the new society by working together with outside industries related to music and sound.”
Akira Furuyama, president, Miki Gakki Co., Ltd.

Soothing effect of music
“We have tentatively closed real stores and music lesson studios operating nationwide since middle of March. During the period, we asked the music teachers for a video message addressed to students to help them keep interest in music making.
“In parallel with closure of the real stores, we closed our EC site for system upgrade. Online sales through 3rd party marketplace including Digimart and Rakuten greatly help us. It’s really nice to know that there are definitely strong demands for musical instruments. Music teaching studios are carried now in different styles, shifting group classes into private classes and introducing online lessons.
“Everyone stays at home, we see more and more people are enjoying music regardless they have music playing experience or not. They visit our website looking for sound control tools and information on maintenance of musical instruments. They appreciate information and value-added services only real stores can provide. Price only comes after quality. It well matches our policy as a music retailer and wholesaler.
“The power and role of music in our life will never change. We hope all members in the industry work together to advocate music helps keep our mind in good condition in this chaotic time.”
Masahiko Yamano, president, Yamano Music Co., Ltd.

Great Turning point for the industry
“We recognize this particular period to enhance product knowledge, customer service and communication skill. Sales of wind instruments and large keyboards including pianos and Electones as well as sound system used at live spots and outdoor events have been badly afflicted. On the contrary, staying at home spending has boosted sales of home audio products, acoustic guitars, compact type mixers for entry-level musicians and DTM products. Silent Series violins, brass instruments and electronic drums also sell dramatically, but they hardly compensate the loss of the struggling product lines.
“In this exceptional time, we concentrate on customer support and providing repair services upon request to meet the needs and increase loyal customers. Also, we posted on SNS movie contents named “Music Making at Home” suggesting first time players self-teach desired musical instruments at home. Consumer response was great with 10 times more access.
“Researchers report that the chances we acquire the virus is slim when playing recorders and wind instruments. This fact will help us to convince school authorities and parents to resume instrumental lesson and symphonic band activities.
“Working from home is now standard, online meeting increases and business trips to distant areas are quite few today. As new work style quickly prevails in our society, we have abundant time to entertain ourselves. Knowing the fact that music playing is most liked hobby among broad walks of people, we expect more and more people opt music making and demands for the tools for music grow.
“The industry members can cooperate and work together to explore demands and promote music making. In a way, this will be a great turning point for the music products industry. As long as we adapt to new lifestyle and innovative technologies we can accomplish the goal to increase music makers. Yamaha will continue to commit to healthy growth of the industry.
Masato Oshiki, president, Yamaha Music Japan Co., Ltd./Yamaha Music Retailing Co., Ltd.

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