Rochester, MN— Ann Petit believes in angels. She believes that Marc Carpenter, local entrepreneur and SCORE counselor, is the angel that sparked her and husband Larry to move their business, Petit Music, to Rochester.
Larry spoke to the Charter House Men’s Group about their business and services. Marc was there. He talked with Larry at the end of the session. Then he showed up one day at Petit Music in Eyota.
Marc told Ann and Larry that they had a unique business, that it would do better in Rochester, and that Rochester needed them. Ann said, “He was very gentle about making his suggestions, but he was very serious and insistent.”
Ann and Larry had already given some thought to moving to Rochester. Ann said, “We were almost there anyway. But we would not have done it as quickly, if at all. Marc was adamant.”
Ten years before, when they were starting the business, Ann went to SCORE for counseling. And her father, Lyle Seebach, was a SCORE counselor in Cresco, Iowa, Ann’s hometown. When she told him about Marc’s insistence that they move the business, he said, “Listen to him.”
Because of her father’s counseling, Ann had already done most of the things needed to analyze a business move, such as the business plan, financial statements, and cash-flow analysis. “This move was meant to be,” Ann said, “not to be easy, but to be.”
Piano restoration was the business in Eyota. Larry belongs to the Piano Technicians Guild. Ann taught music and had worked at Hamilton Music in Rochester for five years. So she knew the music business and the businesses in Rochester and had friends in those businesses. She and Larry knew the business would change when it moved, and Marc had suggestions for how it should change.
Marc came to see the progress as the building housing Petit Music was being built adjacent to West Circle Drive at 2765 Commerce Drive NW. Now, after three years in Rochester, the business is considerably different. Restoration is no longer the heart of the business. Ann says, “It’s off due to the economy, but there’s not much profit in restoring pianos.” She says that it costs so much to do quality restoration that people will not pay the price. All you can charge, she says, is enough to cover costs and labor. But Larry continues to perform restorations in their building in Eyota.
Retail sales of new, used, and reconditioned pianos is now the heart of the business. You can find a piano at Petit Music for as little as about $1000 (sometimes less), as much as $180,000 (coming from Steingraeber & Söhne this summer), and nearly everywhere between. They are one of only six businesses in the US that sell some of the 70 handcrafted pianos Steingraeber builds each year. Other limited-production pianos they carry are Petrof and Grotrian. And they have pianos from many other makers at considerably lower price points. Ann notes, however, that everything they sell produces quality sound. Petit Music is a member of the National Association of Music Merchants and employs six people in sales, moving, and restoration.
Ann says their offering of pianos, “makes a huge difference for the Rochester community.” People here no longer have to feel that they have to shop in the Twin Cities to have a sufficient selection of top quality instruments. “The sales tax can support this community,” Ann says, rather than going to the Cities.
And Larry’s knowledge of the insides of pianos is a big help to customers looking for the right instrument. Also customers can trade in a piano they bought at Petit Music on a more expensive model, and Petit Music will give them the full purchase price on the trade-in.
Besides restoring and retail sales, service is a major part of the business. Moving pianos is becoming a larger part of the business, although not necessarily by choice. Ann explained that Rochester did not have enough high-quality piano movers to satisfy customers paying for high-quality instruments, so Larry began moving them from the store to customers’ homes. Then he got more calls to move pianos from one house to another. Fortunately he has found another strong angel to help in that part of the business. Ann says that’s another service they want to offer so that the instruments important to the people in Rochester get the care they deserve.
Piano lessons are a major part of the business but a minor source of revenue. Petit Music has four music rooms available to teachers. Ann chooses the teachers, and all have music degrees. But they operate as independent teachers. They pay Petit Music $3 for each half hour they use a music room. Ann believes that teachers are entitled to a reasonable income for their efforts. She is satisfied to have the students and parents come through the show room as potential customers. There they can also select music books and sheet music that is for sale to the public. With all the activity of scheduling, sales, purchasing, and taking care of other aspects of business, Ann is no longer teaching, except for a few long-time students.
Ann says that she and Larry long ago agreed they would only have a business that they both love, and that is what they are building. They want to offer a complete piano business—sales, service, and lessons. Ann says, “It is important to support the community. This is a long-term thing for us.”
As part of supporting the community, they offer showroom for recitals, auditions, and competitions. Bella Voce, the local young women’s choir, holds its auditions in the showroom and has its business office within Petit Music. Ann and Larry may have already been declared angels by some of those who have used the facility or have been touched by them in other ways.
Some suggestions Marc made for the business have not been implemented because Petit Music has good relations with other local music businesses. If those businesses change for any reason, Ann says they may reconsider Marc’s suggestions.
And how is business since their move? Ann says sales are up a lot, even in a down economy. But it was expensive to move. And it is much more expensive to operate in Rochester than in Eyota. But they have a place to be seen by a much larger audience, and profits are up some. While no one can accurately predict, Ann believes the business will continue to grow as the economy recovers.
Marc Carpenter and other Rochester SCORE counselor angels assist area entrepreneurs with advice on managing their business challenges by providing confidential, free counseling—last year to more than 250 people. They also provide seminars about starting and operating businesses throughout the year.
Rochester SCORE is one of 389 chapters in the US that have assisted more than 7.8 million entrepreneurs. For more information call Rochester SCORE at 507-288-8103.