Music One plays on through recession, industry changes [Daily Inter Lake, Kalispell, Mont.]
(Daily Inter Lake, The (Kalispell, MT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 09--Music One owners Larry and George Miletich have found the path that has allowed their business to stay open through major changes in the music industry, economic recession and competition from the Internet.
"We're back right where we started," Larry Miletich said.
The Miletich family opened Music One in 1981 as a business that sold instruments, but was based largely on service and repair. While Music One has gone through various stages since then, brothers George and Larry Miletich have relied on their service expertise to keep the doors to their Main Street shop open in Kalispell.
"We've seen our business start out as service-oriented, then we went to sales when the economy was good, and now we're back to lessons and repairs," Larry said.
The Miletich family has a long history as musicians.
George and Larry's great-grandfather had built mandolins in Serbia; George still has some of his old tools. George Sr. and Larry played professionally on the East Coast before the family moved to the Flathead Valley in 1978.
Music One first opened in Ashley Square west of town, and after a few years, the Miletiches were approached by Gateway West Mall.
"They said, 'We want a music store and we will pay for the move and remodeling,'" Larry said. "People say the '80s were a bad economy, but that's when we started and we grew."
Its reputation for quality repair was a major part of what helpedMusic One grow, with the store having up to seven employees at its peak. The Miletiches now have one employee, Greg Kerzman, who teaches and also works on the sales floor.
The store has always put an emphasis on stringed instruments -- guitars, banjos, violins. It used to carry pianos and band instruments, but economic hard times made pianos a less viable business; cultural shifts also made their mark.
"When the economy took a big fall, we had to restructure to survive," Miletich said. "Pianos are big, heavy and expensive. The market for pianos fell 42 percent nationwide."
Larry said the majority of people who want to learn a new instrument favor the guitar as a cool, cheap and transportable form of music. Other stringed instruments are also popular.
"There's been a huge resurgence in ukulele," Larry said. "You can buy one for $45."
To stay as relevant as possible, the Miletiches have even adapted the way they give lessons. They each give around 25 private lessons each week. They emphasize technique and style as much as ever, but have found that the goals of most music students these days are to be able to play with others as soon as possible.
"A lot of people want to play in praise bands or jam in a garage band," George said. "Traditional lesson plans don't work as far as that goes. We fast-track them so they're ready to play with a group."
Playing with the students -- George on bass, guitar and drums or Larry on guitar -- is a good way to help their students develop group skills, Larry said.
Price pressures from online retailers have hurt the sales side of the business, though they also do some online sales themselves, but Larry said he feels like there's a cultural shift under way that will send people back to their local retailers.
"We're from here and we will continue to be here and we put our money back into the community. If you have to pay a little more, then look at what you're getting," he said. "People say we might be a few dollars more on our strings, but I tell them that we deserve it."
George and Larry both believe strongly that local purchases bring more value to their customers than is often realized.
"If you're doing business in the community, you're supporting your tax base, your infrastructure, those who are actively donating to the community," George said. "When you make an online purchase, all that money goes out of your community. That starts adding up. All the little things add up."
The purchase of musical instruments online doesn't compare to the purchase of something more standard such as electronics, George said.
The Miletiches are constantly being asked to work on instruments that arrived from an online purchase in less than desirable shape. Often people purchase guitars and when they arrive, the bridge won't be attached to the guitar or the instrument is so out of tune it's not playable.
An instrument also reacts to the climate and humidity levels, and it has to be serviced and maintained.
"It will come straight in the box from China," George said. "Then they'll come here and need one or two hours' worth of work, and that adds another $100 to $150 to their guitar."
Keeping their stock of around 100 instruments in perfect shape is a big part of the job for the Miletiches. They want to be sure that people who come in to try an instrument know what they're getting while giving it a test play and can play it right away upon purchase.
"Your instrument will be set up by a professional tech, that's a huge value there," Larry said.
The Miletiches are authorized with the highest certification to repair the most popular and enduring guitar brands -- Fender, Gibson and Martin.
They are always deep into repair orders, with some projects that last for months. People will bring in old family heirlooms that need extensive rebuilding.
"People are very passionate about their instruments," Larry said. "They trust us to work on their instruments as if they were our own."
With the nonstop backlog of repair work, the lessons (for which there is always a waiting list) the sales work and keeping their stock in top playing condition, the Miletiches have few days where they're not in the store, which is open six days a week. They usually work those six days, and then often add Sundays, for 10 to 12 hours a day.
"It has to be your passion," Larry said. "My son is in college and I told him when you pick a career, make sure you enjoy it. It takes a big bite our of your life. If you have a small business, you won't survive by standing behind the counter and hoping someone will come in."
Business reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4439 or by email at email@example.com.
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