A Luthiers Guide To Business: What type of luthier are you?
Since the dawn of musicians, there has always been a stigma about musicians and making a living. Musicians often make incredible sacrifices to pursue a career with their craft that every day seems to get more difficult to be a “full-time” job.
Often this leads to most nights moonlighting as a musician and taking another job to “pay the bills”. While some choose to take on a more stable solution, a select daring few choose to become luthiers. Armed with their creativity and deep passion for guitars, they dig deep into their souls to produce an instrument that inspires all and can be sold to make a living.
Building a guitar is one thing, but building a business is entirely different. This segment is a dedicated field guide to starting your business as a luthier. We will be discussing all of the important elements of building a strong competitive business while staying true to your instruments and identity. While it sometimes is a more stiff subject (because we all know we’d rather be building), it is equally as important as a good design is.
A hard part of this process is the balance between creativity and business rationality. What this sometimes means is accepting facts that we may not personally agree with, but understand that the decision is the right choice for the business. A right choice means any choice towards either saving money, making money, and/or driving the company forward with the path of least resistance.
A path of resistance is not an issue, but it is a choice to engage in a bit of swimming upstream (which I personally seem to find myself in one venture or another). This choice doesn’t mean that it’s a wrong decision though. This path just means there is an increased chance of not succeeding, and also means there is a risk of taking a longer time to reach your goals, potential stunted or limited growth, or worse getting crushed in the market.
The trick to succeeding is creating an honest roadmap based on who you are, what you are looking for in your business, and what type of luthier you are.
The Two Types of Luthiers
The first step of the journey into building a guitar business is understanding what type of luthier you are. I feel that there are two types of luthiers. Each type sets the pace for the type of business you would like to have. It determines how your business will grow, what your pricing needs to be, and what your limitations are.
As I already mentioned, none of these choices are bad. They are simply choices and each choice has its own system and flow. The trick is learning to exist in the flow that makes the most sense to your artistic style.
Luthier A: The solo luthier
A solo luthier is a maker who wants to wear all of the hats within their brand. They want to make each instrument by themselves and often by hand. This type of luthier often makes fewer guitars a year because of their time spent on each instrument. In order for this type of luthier to understand their businesses' goals they need to answer the following questions:
How many guitars can I realistically make a year?
How many guitars a month do I need out the door to pay expenses that month?
What is the desired income I am looking for?
How do I automate or optimize systems that take away my time?
What are my monthly expenses?
If the math you did after answering the questions above were not to your taste and you can not decrease your costs, then you must increase your prices. The thing to take note of, though, that can lead to issues is seeing where your type of instrument fits within the marketplace. If you outprice yourself then you need to supplement the price difference with branding that justifies the pricing. If this does not occur now, you risk making even fewer guitars because of an increased price with numbers that were already not favorable to your needs.
If your math did work out and you're happy with the results you have then congratulations! You just need to sustain yourself at the current rate and enjoy. If you want to continue growing, then read on for marketing tips. Just remember, you’re a one luthier show so think on behalf of the 50 different hats you're wearing every day and be honest with your business.
As this series continues we will look into the ways a one luthier shop can increase efficiencies with technology, marketing, branding, and more.
Faster to start your business
Complete control of all operations
No employees so work is a constant
Performs all operations of the business
Luthier B: Full-Scale Operation
Luthier B would be the type of luthier looking to grow their operation to a multi-employee business. This type of luthier wants to produce many more guitars than a solo maker would and is more than likely willing to let outside sources help speed up production or build a team to maintain their goals. This type of maker first needs to decide a few things before proceeding:
How much income do I want to make?
How many employees do I need to achieve this?
What will it cost to hire employees?
What can I automate to run my business lean?
What are the monthly expenses?
How many guitars are needed to be sold a month to sustain the business?
Employees help make day to day operations easier
More responsibilities Higher operation costs
Responsibilities to employees
Which type of luthier fits your description? Now that you figured out which type of business makes the most sense for your needs, we can discuss in our next article how viable your instrument model is in relationship to the questions you answered above and what that means to your income.
For any questions please contact email@example.com or @zacdelvecchio on Instagram