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Mitch Brashers serves as store manager for the South Fremont Avenue operation of Springfield Music Inc., which was incorporated by Lee Coats, seated, in 1989.
Mitch Brashers serves as store manager for the South Fremont Avenue operation of Springfield Music Inc., which was incorporated by Lee Coats, seated, in 1989.

Business Spotlight: Perfect Pitch

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Springfield Music Inc.’s local efforts are funding growth outside of the Queen City, with store acquisitions in Kansas and Missouri the last six months.

“Springfield might have more successful music stores per capita than anywhere else in the state,” says Donovan Bankhead, vice president and co-owner of Springfield Music, giving a nod to longtime operators Hoover Music Co. and Palen Music Center. “Our competitors have sharpened our skills, and that has led to our success in other markets.”

Founded by Bill Spence in 1961, Springfield Music was purchased and incorporated by Lee Coats in 1989. The first expansion was in 2000 with the acquisition of Glynn’s Band Instruments in Springfield, giving Coats a base in the local orchestra and band instrument rental business that is still a key part of its model today.

Now a four-store regional chain, Springfield Music Inc. operates in Springfield, 3100 S. Fremont Ave., as well as in the Joplin, Kansas City and St. Louis markets.

One thing leads to another
Bankhead, a manager at Tulsa Band Instruments in the late 1990s before a stint as district sales manager for instrument distributor Conn-Selmer Inc., joined Springfield Music in January 2002. Before year’s end, Springfield Music had acquired Joplin’s Ernie Williamson Music.

“I think a lot of it has been driven to make the business profitable and efficient,” Bankhead says of Springfield Music’s acquisitions. “If you run an efficient, profitable business, more opportunities will open up.”

Such an opportunity presented itself last year when Bankhead made inquiries into purchasing Funky Munky Music in Shawnee, Kan., from Patrick Redd and Jon Kluiter.

“We started talking with them in the summer, and they were hesitant at first,” Bankhead says. “Things got serious in late September before we finally closed the deal on Oct. 22.”

It was around this time that a Fender guitar vendor, Larry Barnes, tipped off Bankhead about the impending closure of Fazio’s Frets and Friends store in Ellisville, just west of St. Louis.

“Larry called one day and said Mike Fazio was looking to liquidate his inventory because he couldn’t find a suitable buyer,” Bankhead says.

Bankhead says Fazio was seeking someone to operate the store he founded in 1978 the same way he had, by rewarding customer loyalty, as well as being highly respectful of employees.

“My wife would bring her kids to work instead of getting a babysitter,” Fazio’s Store Manager James Gast says about the St. Louis store’s culture. “Mike and his wife ran the store like a close-knit family.”

Springfield Music closed the Fazio’s deal on Feb. 11, adding eight employees and 25 music instructors to its rolls now at roughly 100 full- and part-time staff. The owners plan to spend up to $25,000 in physical improvements and computer system integration at the Kansas City and St. Louis stores.

Lessons learned
In Springfield, store revenues are split in thirds between retail, rental, and lesson and repair services, Bankhead says, declining to disclose revenues and profits. He says guitar lessons are the largest single revenue generator at all stores.

Roger Bown, the store’s master of band and orchestra rentals, says Springfield Music and Ernie Williamson Music in Joplin rent to dozens of area schools – chief among them Springfield, Joplin, Carthage and Willard school districts.

“Our rental service is an important and profitable part of the business, and we’re thankful for the schools that do business with us,” Bown says.

In recent years, both Fazio’s and Springfield Music have battled for the top spot in sales of Taylor Guitars in Missouri, says JR Robison, a district sales manager for California-based Taylor. For the last two years, Springfield Music has been on the Top 100 Dealers list by the National Association of Music Merchants.

“It’s kind of neat that a business that started in Springfield has been able to move so far up in the industry,” Bankhead says.

With the recent merging of two stores, Bankhead says the biggest challenge is in managing a staff that has been stretched thin. Still, he says Springfield Music prefers to take over existing stores rather than expand organically because there are fewer competitive obstacles and startup hurdles to overcome.

“Customer loyalty is something that takes a lifetime to get,” Bankhead says.[[In-content Ad]]

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