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Approaches to Career and Business

  • 1.  Approaches to Career and Business

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 08-27-2021 09:13
    In the discussion of tool cases, the topic of tuning versus added repairs came up. I thought I'd share some thoughts on this and invite others to do the same, without discussing fees.
    Here's how I explain rates and piano maintenance to clients:
    I charge "X" amount for a normal fine tuning, and this fee is the same as the hourly rate for the first hour of a service call. After the first hour, I charge "X" per hour for all additional maintenance. My normal minimum recommendation for a piano in regular use, is:
    6-month tunings. And an additional 2-3 hours of yearly maintenance beyond that, for maintenance of hammer shape, regulation, voicing, repairs and dusting and vacuuming. And also cleaning off the damp chaser humidifier bar / sensors if there is calcification, changing pads and clean-sleeve (most use distilled water though).
    If a piano needs even more maintenance, then the action has to go to the shop. This would be more likely for the filing of deeply-grooved hammers that will be returned to use, and polishing key frame pins and capstans and applying McLube dry film. Sometimes I do some hammer filing at the customer's house.
    My business practices have been formulated by paying close attention to how other successful, more senior technicians in the PTG operate, then thinking about their philosophy and comparing to my thinking, and discussing it with my wife.
    I find there are customers who will require the tuning only. But they pay adequately for the simple hour of tuning only, and have to understand that they cannot expect more things than a tuning, if they want to pay for a tuning only. It then becomes my free option and delight to do extra work for an individual, couple or family who I would like to help out a bit, sensing that would be an encouragement to them, to do so.
    Some of this might sound harsh and unsympathetic. But I don't think that's the case. I want to feel generous and to enjoy working for my customers. That is what will produce good work. Resenting the technician's life of constant free extras, and conditioning customers to expect extra items or get discounts, may not lead to happiness and quality work. Or quality clients. On the other hand, if a piano technician finds that they can be truly happy, and support themselves by charging for a tuning and making it a practice to include additional maintenance at no added cost, I see no problem with that. I just tend to prefer to clarify that the tuning fee is just that, if that is all a customer wants.
    I do generally take care of a 5-minute adjustment or something simple. But that's on a volunteer basis, and I don't condition clients to expect more than a tuning, for the tuning fee.
    I have also noticed that some technicians like to be less specific about fees, and include an unspecified quantity of extras inside a tuning fee or some larger block fee that doesn't involve a specific amount of time. Or, some advise the practice of notating that extras have been done at every service visit. However, I have sensed over the years that a lot of the people I work for do not believe that anything is really "free," and that this practice does not, in fact, improve their perception of me as a professional businessman. So I instead prefer accuracy of billing according to my time on-site. This also helps both me and the customer not waste time talking since I'm getting paid by the hour. I have begun to find that I lean more toward being more professional than a "friend" to clients. Whether they realize it or not, most people are best served by a tech who does not get overly involved in conversation, or take time out of their day, but who instead focuses on extremely good work, done quietly and efficiently - and that's it. Then, their music and the piano become the main thing, and their loyalty based almost purely the quality of technical work / tuning accuracy and stability.
    Friends, try not to work so much, or in manner that you dislike your job. Arrange your life so that when you wake up in the morning, you WANT to live the way you are living. If that's not the case, make the changes. This career requires this, and no less. You should pursue some degree of happiness in your career and life; this is not a selfish thing to do.

    People's values and beliefs will be the basis for their lives and the way they treat other people.


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    Tom Wright, RPT
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  • 2.  RE: Approaches to Career and Business

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 30 days ago
    Well written. My only free service is professional key cleaning. I don't have to tell them I do this for my health. On my Gazelle scheduling there are three choices. Just a tuning, my piano has been neglected, and extended service. People have been amazingly honest about which they pick. Pedals not working and sticking keys are also scheduling options.

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    Larry Messerly, RPT
    Bringing Harmony to Homes
    www.lacrossepianotuning.com
    ljmesserly@gmail.com
    928-899-7292
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  • 3.  RE: Approaches to Career and Business

    Member
    Posted 30 days ago
    Tom ... well written and good advice. I have found that you have to take the time to get an idea from the customer what they are after. Education is a huge part of what we should be doing and it is very helpful to know in advance what you are walking into. I gently ask about the pianos history, the last time it had any service, any issues besides tuning such as stuck keys, noises, if it has been moved recently . I wrote a brochure that I had printed up that explains the various services I offer including tunings, pitch raises, repairs, regulation, cleaning , and what is included and not included. I request the owner to be present and ask them to block off enough time to allow for the tuning and extra compensated work. I state my tuning fee upfront and also what a pitch adjustment costs and that there can be a need for multiple pitch adjustments. I also show the client where the pitch is using my SAT III or SAT IV and how the piano sounds against my Accu-Fork. There are clients who will try to squeeze you to do extra things at no cost to them. Generally I find those in the more affluent households where they expect more for the fee. I have also learned to not get pinned down to an on the spot proposal that they will hold you to.

    At this point of my career I am moving toward doing more high level work that includes replacing actions, high level action regulation and upgrading outdated player systems.  These jobs not only can pay well but they can return huge benefits as you can work doing things to pianos that will astound the owners and enhance your standing. You will also have to work less on the instruments that have seen better days. I think we all learn that at a certain point we can only do so much with the parts that have suffered wear and tear, neglect, etc. I am now recommending going with new parts in many cases instead of trying to make do. There is no reward when a client says just says make the piano playable and I don't need it to be concert pianist quality.

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    James Kelly
    Owner- Fur Elise Piano Service
    Pawleys Island SC
    843-325-4357
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  • 4.  RE: Approaches to Career and Business

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 30 days ago

    I am very excited. Who says life has no more surprises?

    I have just bought a piano which has seen better days. Only enough of the basics are still there that I think it is retrievable.

    Everyone's business evolves, like our lives evolve. I am nearly retired, except for concert work and looking after the musical community. And I am not in good shape. Just walking leaning on a cane is a chore. So, I thought that my aim at this point should be to improve my mobility, so I can keep doing concert work.

    ??A large piano has sat in a local fraternity for at least 60 years, getting gradually more derelict by the year. It's an above-average fraternity, or the thing wouldn't be playable at all. Well, it barely is.

    ??I advised the fraternity on what to get, within their purchase budget which kept changing. I found them a totally pristine 6'4" Boston grand, privately owned, not far away, at an excellent price. So they are doing just fine. But they needed to sell their old piano, and I found I had some very decided opinions as to what was and wasn't appropriate for it.

    In the end, the easiest thing was to buy it. (If you want to do something right, do it yourself.) It is supposed to arrive on Sept. 8. I have a lot to do to make room for it.

    It's a Steinway C, made in 1887!









  • 5.  RE: Approaches to Career and Business

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 29 days ago
    Tom, an excellent, well written piece! While I agree with most of your content, I will address two of your statements.
    . 1) "My business practices have been formulated by paying close attention to how other successful, more senior technicians in the PTG operate, then thinking about their philosophy and comparing to my thinking".
    2) "I have sensed over the years that a lot of the people I work for do not believe that anything is really "free," and that this practice does not, in fact, improve their perception of me as a professional businessman".
      This type of business practice can be successful or not, depending upon demographics and regions. In Southern Illinois, the piano service customer, in general, would not appreciate a business "attitude" as described (with the exception of commercial work, such as the university, church, school, concert, and the pianist that understandably  requires a more detailed service call). A "Southern Hospitality" is required to be successful, taking the extra time to get to know the customer, introducing the "human element". Yes, they do wish to have a good tuning/repair, however, for the most part, the experience must have a personal overtone.
       Example: For the majority of home customers, I spend at least 5 Minutes playing their freshly tuned piano, introducing a professional, but therapeutic element. On certain customers, I will extend this to 20 minutes. Wasted time or unprofessional? I don't believe so, and the therapy is mutual for both customer and technician. You are serving the person(s) on a much higher level. There have been other piano technicians that have tried the more strict business approach, only to leave Southern Illinois, without success. In this area, the perception of a good, professional businessman includes the "human element", and serving the whole person, including extra time included with the service call. Being a "friend", as well as a businessman, is rewarding beyond discussion. I am so blessed to have had this experience for 45 years in the piano field!




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    Greg Junker
    Greg Junker's Piano Shoppe, LLC
    Belleville IL
    618-971-9595
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  • 6.  RE: Approaches to Career and Business

    Member
    Posted 29 days ago
    I absolutely agree that it is worth building time into appointments to get to know the client as well as the piano. When I first meet the client I break the ice at the door and ask a little about the piano, who plays etc. I always play it before and after the visit. As the late David Anderson put it we are building trust and a realtionship. I have looked through my customer list and former occupations or even current range from A to Z. How do I know this ? Some chit chat during the call. I do not like the strict business model. When I started I often overbooked and had to keep calling folks that I would be late or we would have to re-schedule. There time is valuable so I use mt cell phone to give them an ETA just so they know I am running late. With Covid I found it was best to do either an am or a pm but only one a day to avoid too much exposure, Many of my calls involve a pitch adjustment and a fine tuning. We also walk into the unpredictable and unexpected which eats your lunch.

    When I finish the tuning and put things back I will play and it shows to the customer how much better the piano is. Some want me to keep playing and I have done a mini-concert. There are many lonely people out there and we bring value to their day. Its a bonus to see a customer smile
    We probably have the "best job" in the world.

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    James Kelly
    Owner- Fur Elise Piano Service
    Pawleys Island SC
    843-325-4357
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  • 7.  RE: Approaches to Career and Business

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 29 days ago
    I can appreciate your service philosophy James.

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    Greg Junker
    Owner
    Belleville IL
    618-971-9595
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  • 8.  RE: Approaches to Career and Business

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 28 days ago
    I regularly joke: "I have 2500 15 minute friends".

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    Blaine Hebert
    Duarte CA
    626-795-5170
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  • 9.  RE: Approaches to Career and Business

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 29 days ago
    I have to share I pretty much agree with the different views expressed. There isn't a one size-fits-all formula for being a piano technician. It's a mistake to follow other people's rules because they might not work out in your situation.
    Interesting and helpful to see how others approach these things.
    I tend to be a personable and rather outgoing in person. So I have to remember to be moderate. Others have to work on being more friendly. Others are naturally just right for the setting :) Likewise, there are regional considerations and even different considerations for different clients. Some appreciate that a technician can and will play the piano at a visit. Others find it offensive in the DC area (unfortunately!).
    I also have to agree that being rushed or acting like you're in a hurry is a big mistake most of the time.
    Anyways, thanks guys for sharing your wisdom from years of being in business.

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    Tom Wright, RPT
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