A Business in Which Many Women Might Succeed - The Tuner a Necessary Assistant - Qualities Which Make for Success - How to Charm Customers - The Best Way of Learning the Business Advertising - Piano Hiring and Selling - How to Start
It is somewhat surprising that few women have lighted on the idea of keeping a music shop as a solution to the oft-reiterated cry: "What shall I do for a living?" A music shop is just the kind of business an ex-music-teacher who has saved a capital of a few hundreds and possesses a good business head might open with every prospect of success.
Of course, she would have to engage two or more tuners, as required, because tuning is far too heavy work for a woman, entailing, as it does, the removal and replacement of parts of the piano-case; but, apart from that, there is nothing to hinder a capable woman interested in music from succeeding well in the venture.
She should make a practice of being much in the shop, not only playing accompaniments to songs and pianoforte solos for customers, but also playing when they are not there, to attract possible clients. This means that she ought to be an expert at sight-reading. Quite as important is a gracious, pleasing personality. The woman should be well-informed in musical matters, and ready to chat about a new song, the latest child prodigy, or the forthcoming performance of an oratorio or an opera. No trouble should be spared in trying to satisfy a customer.
A girl who manages a very successful business, or. rather, the music-selling part of it, once played long and unweariedly to a customer, and then sold one song. But that was not the end of the matter, for not long after she sold that very customer something better still - a piano.
"There are people outside," she would say to herself," how are they to know what all this music is? I will play it, then." And her playing charmed in customers, as surely as the Pied Piper's piping charmed the children into the mountain.
She cannot do better than take a post as assistant in a good shop, beginning possibly with a weekly wage of 7s. 6d., increasing to 15s. and £I, with time and experience. She should also be willing to give music lessons in the back of the shop, and add to her weekly salary a small commission on the pupils' fees. If, eventually, she is entrusted with all the retail work, she will be paid still more, according to the class of shop in which she works. After two or three years of such experience, she should be quite capable of making a start on her own account.
An assistant's hours are usually long - from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 9 to 2 on Wednesdays, and 9 to 10 on Saturdays. Friday and Saturday evenings are usually busy ones.
On arrival in the morning, it falls to the assistant's lot to dust the shop and put things tidy. Sheet music has to be kept spotlessly fresh, or it becomes unsaleable.
On glancing into a music-shop window, sheet music is there displayed, but it is mostly dummy music bought for the purpose of display. An assistant with taste will prefer to arrange bright-coloured sheet music with an eye to harmony, or entirely white sheet music which makes a dainty show. What with sheet music, music books, a pianoforte or harmonium, smaller musical instruments, such as violins, flutes, and mandolines, music-stands, advertisement notices, and placards, there is opportunity for a good display.
Inside the shop there will be as many large instruments as capital and spare room permit, and round the walls cardboard cases for music, lettered plainly to show the contents. The shop, or music salon as it may be called, needs to be prettily and artistically decorated, and kept scrupulously clean and free from dust. An even temperature must be maintained, for musical instruments are delicate things. Damp and excessive heat are both bad for them.
There are many details of work to be mastered by the beginner. There is the booking of tunings for the tuner, who usually has to be paid 2s. out of 3s. 6d. received for tuning a tricord cottage piano, and the booking of orders for music from the publishers. The shop-manager within a reasonable distance of London can "collect" or purchase this herself, but if she lives in the provinces, she must trust to the post.
It is well to be very prompt in "collecting," as it is technically called. It is the proud boast of one successful music-seller in the suburbs of London that music ordered up to nine in the evening, can be in the hands of the customer by eleven next morning. How she manages this is her secret, but it has won for the business a reputation of promptitude which has gone far to establish a sound connection.
Travellers come round from publishers once in about three months, and it is often cheapest to buy from them, though, to do so successfully, needs much discretion and foresight, as well as knowledge of the music-purchasing taste of the neighbourhood.
Most firms allow dealers three months' credit, but give no percentage off sales should that period be extended.
A distinction is made between the sale of "novelties" and "stock" music. "Stock" is music kept because there is a demand for it; and "novelty," unknown music which may take the fancy of a customer. The profit in the latter may be 50 per cent. The highest class of music pays well.
A special arrangement is usually made with teachers who get music for their pupils. They can purchase a Is. 4d. piece for Is. 2d., a Is. piece for Iod., and a 6d.
piece for 4 1/2d., and, for the time and trouble involved, receive the full price from the pupil's parents or school.
A notice is sometimes put up that music lessons or music practice are available in the music-room on payment of 6d. an hour. A few gramophones may be in evidence, because these instruments are saleable, and business may be done with the records.
One thing the seller of music should avoid is the loan of sheet music. Not only is the music frequently soiled or torn when returned, and henceforth unsaleable, but most music-sellers have stories to tell of borrowers who borrowed the music merely to copy it. The usual arrangement is to lend four pieces, say, of Is. 4d. music, at 2d. the four, or perhaps 2d. the one. Then, if one is kept, the 2d. is deducted from the price. However, for the reasons given above, such an arrangement is only possible with very reliable customers.
Another matter which should receive careful attention is advertising, especially as regards tuning, both in the local paper and on attractively prepared cards. "Advertise once in six weeks," is the rule some prefer to follow. Everyone who has a piano must have it tuned, even though no music is bought, and many people make contracts for tuning. It is well to leave a card with new residents. No piano improves by moving, and the tuner may soon be in request for one just brought into the neighbourhood.
This leads naturally to the mention of another important matter. In all businesses, attention to bookkeeping is essential to success, but it is specially important in a music shop, where purchases, sales, and expenses are varied. Balancing books should, like stocktaking, be as regular as clockwork. Both are tiresome, but very necessary. The average profits should not fall below 30 per cent in this business.
Not a few music-shopkeepers, besides teaching music, play the organ in church or chapel on Sundays, and this not only adds to income but extends custom; though that is looking at the matter from a utilitarian point of view.
Some shops make a feature of the sale of concert tickets for local concerts, and, in the case of suburban shops, for those in the adjoining city. The profit on this is not large, but every ticket sold brings the shop into notice, and is worth while for that reason.
Another small opportunity for making money occurs in the hiring-out of pianos. The usual charge is I0s. 6d. a month, and the same charge for one night. One guinea is asked for an upright grand or good-class piano. It may at first hearing appear strange that the same fee should be charged for one night as for a month, but the fact is that the hire for a night is usually for
Woman's Work concert purposes, and the piano is taken to a hall and submitted to rougher handling and treatment generally on the one evening than it receives during a month's use in a private house, where it is needed for practice by a musician or a learner.
The carriage of the piano costs the music shop 2S. 6d. each way, and the rest, 5s. 6d., is profit. It is very necessary to obtain payment beforehand, not only because the carriage has to be paid at once, but to ensure payment in the case of a customer giving a private address. Payment may be assured in the case of a public hall, but most pianoforte dealers have tragic stories to tell of the fate of instruments lent to unknown hirers, and the rule is never to let one leave the premises without a reference, and without the fee in advance, lest it be spirited away in the night.
It is a common practice to sell pianos on the instalment system, and the profit so gained exceeds that on sale by cash down.
For instance, an instrument which would be sold at L33 or £34 for cash, would sell on the instalment system at 21s. a month during three years, which would total to £37 16s. at the end of three years.
The woman who contemplates starting a business of this kind should first select a suitable neighbourhood, preferably in the growing, residential suburbs of a city or large town, and then take a house, in a shopping centre, which provides for roads of private houses in more than one direction.
The capital she has in hand must cover rent, shop-fittings, stock, payment of assistants and tuners, and housekeeping. Catalogues of musical instruments are easily obtainable from dealers.
Finally, the business is one particularly suitable for an educated woman who is musical and possessed of business capacity. Moreover, the perusal of any trade directory will reveal the important fact that there are few women at present engaged in it.