September 20, 2021

Pandemic economy damages music supply chain

Retailers wait longer for instruments to arrive

Editor’s note: this is part one of a two-part story. Look for part two in tomorrow’s CNA.

Scarcity during this pandemic has taken from nearly every conceivable industry worldwide. Different countries having different restrictions to contain the coronavirus have led to longer delays in the arrival of parts and products. Music retailers have been greatly impacted by this lack of cohesion as instruments often are made up of many complex and essential parts that aren’t available to sell.

In Des Moines, sales and marketing representative for Rieman Music Rick Poe said the issues he’s experienced is two-pronged.

“First and foremost it’s manufacturing,” Poe said. “Most of the stuff’s coming from Japan and they’ve really cut back on manufacturing, for one. Number two, the supply chain, even stuff that’s been made, it’s hard to get a container ship; we’ve been told this by our manufacturers, so they might have a product ready to go, can’t get a container ship.”

Industries are lacking access to resources that make a product and the music industry is no exception.

“If that one natural resource you need to make your product, maybe it’s rosewood for that guitar neck or something, if you can’t get it, well, you can’t finish your product,” Poe said.

Poe also said that he can’t get an estimated arrival for any instrument.

“So not only can you not get it, they just quit even giving you ETAs.”

After those hurdles have been cleared, however, getting products to the store becomes easier.

“Once something’s sitting in a warehouse in America, then it becomes more normal, so it’s like, ‘I got five of these in a warehouse, you can have it next week,’ Poe said. “But until something’s sitting in a warehouse in the United States, it’s the wild west right now.”

Creston’s Rieman Music sales associate Amber Callahan said their store experienced staff shortages, layoffs and restructuring in the pandemic.

“For over a year; the last school year up to this August, we were from noon – 5, and at the time, part of our staff had decided to leave and restructured our branch here,” Callahan said. “So, we actually gained a new road representative that goes to the schools, we had to kind of restructure how we do things.”

When the shipping delays Poe experienced reached Creston, Rieman, and the band programs they supplied to, felt the pain both ways.

“Basically, with COVID, we’ve also had shipping delays with different brands and different companies, so some of our wait times are very long now,” Callahan said. “Also with COVID we also didn’t have a ton of students who were renting instruments with us because their band programs were not happening, or they were happening virtually.”

Callahan said inflation is also tied into shipping delays and longer wait times.

“I think one of the reasons the shipment wasn’t happening was because the price of goods have gone up, the price of shipping has gone up, just getting parts has gone up, due to scarcity, and they obviously weren’t making instruments while everyone was shut down, so they’re having to make up for all of that now,” she said.

Rising costs and longer wait times have led consumers to suppliers of less expensive, but lower quality instruments.

“I think a lot of families are wanting to get an instrument at a cheaper price, so they go onto Amazon, or they go onto Wish, which, while they are cost-effective they are not good instruments in the long-run and that can affect how a child interprets their band experience because many times, a child will think they don’t know how to play an instrument when really the instrument doesn’t work for them,” Callahan said. “So during COVID, we haven’t had a ton of sales because people are going to more cost-effective means, even if their instrument isn’t reliable or durable.”

However, Callahan echoed Poe’s words that once the instruments are in the U.S., accessing them becomes attainable and Yamaha, a Japanese product, is the hardest to come by.

“I know Conn-Selmer is located in Indiana, so that’s a little bit easier for us to access, but Yamaha, which is one of our more popular brands, that has greatly affected our shipment of Yamaha instruments and because directors specifically ask for certain brands like Yamaha, we are very low in stock because we can’t get it ordered,” she said.

Despite the calamity over the last year and a half, Callahan said Rieman in Creston has largely rebounded.

“We do want to reiterate that our business is doing well now, now that schools are opened up and we’re starting programs back up again,” she said. “With our staff, we are busy pretty much 9 – 5 every day, we have been running around the past couple weeks getting schools prepared and ready to go for their beginner band night. So, while have been affected by COVID, we are coming back pretty well, we’re recovering.”