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How not to sell a piano

  • Monday, 9. July 2012 @ 17:13
jmaxsohmer posted this on his facebook a little while ago, and I'd asked if I could share it, but I didn't get to it until now:

Jonathan Max-Sohmer
Saturday, June 9 at 5:58pm ·
How not to sell a piano, real or imitation:

1) Approach the customer who immediately gravitated to the Yamaha upright.
2) Proceed to explain why said upright is a great piano.
3) Draw the customers attention to the more expensive "electric piano" with all the fancy bells and whistles.
4) When the customer expresses zero interest in the electric piano and would rather discuss the real one, say that a silly attachment to real pianos is like refusing to give up a typewriter.
5) Mention how only "those Asian families" ever buy regular pianos.
6) When the customer mentions playing trumpet, demonstrate the electric piano's "trumpet" settings and proclaim them superior to a real trumpet.
7) Ask the customer if they still have "one of those big box-like televisions", and wouldn't they be embarrassed if they did?
8) Watch customer walk away.

To be fair, I wasn't going to buy a piano today anyway. It's on my to-do-someday list, but it's just not in the cards right now. I would love to have one, but I have other priorities for that kind of money. However, I would have taken a business card, and I would have gotten in touch with her whenever I'm ready to buy a piano in the future.

I suspect the real reason she wanted to sell me the electric piano instead of the real one is a matter of markup. An electric piano can be assembled almost entirely from factory-machined parts, from the circuit boards to the fake wood frame. You can price it a bit higher for someone who doesn't appreciate the qualities of the real piano because yes, it does have a whole bunch of really nifty features, including some that would increase the overall versatility of the instrument—assuming you value that over sound. An electric piano never needs to be tuned, and humidity and temperature are only a concern in the sense of general operating range.

A real piano, on the other hand, is a hand-made individual work of art (Yamaha is very consistent on its instrument quality, but you can't get around the fact that no two spruce soundboards will ever be completely identical). Most of its components can't be made in a factory by robots, although its wooden components can be sometimes be shaped that way. You cannot remove the master artisan from the piano building process. A real piano must be tuned every time you move it, and moving it requires skilled labor due to the extreme weight and sensitivity of the instrument. If it is mishandled in shipping and the soundboard cracks, the entire piano is ruined and yields little in salvage value. Even if it never moves, a piano that doesn't sell quickly must be tuned periodically if you ever hope to sell it in the future—no customer will buy a piano from you if your pianos sound like crap. If the humidity and temperature change substantially, even briefly, the piano must be tuned again. A real piano that is not played at least occasionally will need more frequent servicing.

All of these factors make a real piano very expensive to craft, transport, and sell. Take those costs, and then add in the significant cost reduction for the substitute product assembled from factory-machined parts. Selling the electric piano becomes a lot more lucrative.

I get that—you want to make more money. That's fine, but I don't want an electric piano. *Maybe* as a supplement, but it will never replace a real piano for me. So if you want to sell me anything, you really ought to just accept that I'm not going to buy that electric piano for my starter unit. And I'm not a salesman, but I'm pretty sure insulting the customer is a losing strategy.

The worst part is that she was very good at playing the pianos, at least for the purpose of those little demonstrations. So this isn't just some stupid sales twit, but someone with at least moderate technical proficiency.