People often compare the piano retail business to used car sales and, frankly, I can understand why. Over the years, far too many piano dealers have participated in misleading advertising schemes, unethical pricing schedules, “bait and switch” tactics, misrepresentation and outright dishonesty. It’s gotten bad enough that those of us who truly care about our clients have to work ten times harder to earn their trust. Piano shoppers today often experience real fear at the prospect of giving an unfamiliar business their hard-earned money. It’s sad, but it’s completely understandable.
The rise of The Internet helped in some ways. It’s given consumers a whole new voice. Piano shoppers can review their dealers, leave feedback and even warn others when they feel they were mistreated. The downside to the internet is its sheer volume of information. Everybody with an opinion and a smart phone can create a blog. …and while it’s great that everyone has an opinion, it’s hard to know whose opinions are based on real information and whose are based on old info, opinions or third-party propaganda.
How, then, can you tell which piano dealers are trustworthy and which ones are just “out to make a buck”?
Your first thought might be to contact your piano teacher or technician. They at least know more than you do. …but how familiar is your piano teacher with the current piano business? When was the last time (s)he visited a piano store and evaluated the pianos you are considering? Your technician knows how to fix your piano, but is (s)he an artist? Does (s)he understand piano pricing and trade values in your area? Does a local dealer pay your expert to send them business? It might be harder than you think to find someone whose opinion you can actually use.
This brings us back to the initial question – how can you find a piano dealer who has your best interests at heart? How can you find a “safe” company to do business with?
Here are some basic guidelines for finding that ideal piano outlet:
Look for Selection –Avoid a piano dealer with only one or two piano brands to sell. These dealers often use sales gimmicks, brand misrepresentation and high-pressure tactics to get your business before you have a chance to try other (better) instruments. Select your piano from a dealer with a wide variety of brands so you can choose the piano that sounds and feels best to you (Trust me – even if you don’t play, you will still be able to hear a difference!).
Look for Service – A piano is made up of over 12,000 parts. The money you might save buying your piano from a private party or a gimmicky “Store Closing” sale is money you’d gladly spend for the service and maintenance your piano will need over time. You wouldn’t buy a car if you couldn’t get it serviced anywhere. Do business with someone who has the staff to tune and maintain your piano. These dealers stay alive by providing good, long-term service relationships with their clients after the sale. It’s in their best interest to operate within yours.
Look for Fair Pricing – Avoid dealers who base their pricing on fictitious “retail” numbers. “Suggested Retail Prices” are determined by piano builders with a wide – and completely inconsistent – set of criteria. “Piano A” might have a suggested retail value of $5000, but a real market value of $3200. “Piano B” might be worth more, but have a lower suggested retail price. There’s no method to the madness here. It’s important to find a retailer who bases their pricing on the piano’s wholesale cost – not a “fake” retail figure. Some dealers even offer you an inflated price during your visit so they can call you with a “special” discount later. This is a tactic to get you to buy before you’re sure the piano is right for you. Instead, find a dealer with a low price guarantee. Then you can buy the piano you love when you’re ready and know that you’re guaranteed to get the best price possible.
Look Local – 77% of the money you spend with a local business stays in your community. If you can still get great pricing and shop locally, why wouldn’t you? Local dealers support music education in your town by working with local performance venues, symphonies and piano teachers. They have a proven track record of fairness and service and they understand that their reputation depends on your opinion of their business.
Look to the Future – Is your local dealer actively participating in your community – helping to build new musicians and foster piano education? Do they carry the materials and accessories you need? Are they open when you need them? Do they offer rental programs, financing and delivery? Do they have a clear and fair trade-up guarantee? What is their return policy? Avoid dealers who rely solely on urgency events (like “Going out of Business“ sales or “We purchased a dealer who was going out of business…” sales) to attract new customers and do business with someone who will be around when you need them.
In the end, choosing a piano is a very personal experience. In a perfect world, you’ll visit a reputable dealer, select a beautiful instrument for a great price and develop a life-long relationship with your dealer. Using the above guidelines is the best way to ensure that your investment is a sound one.