Stohrer Music News, Introspection 2015 Edition

 

new featured photo

(Edit, December 2015.  Waitlist was opened for a while and is now closed again until 2017 at least.  That was fast!  But since I work slow, it doesn’t take a whole lot to keep me busy.  Read on though, because the majority of this post talks about a change in my repair philosophy and how I charge that is important.)

Now that I am coming to the end of my waitlist- and therefore, to things agreed-upon with customers up to two years ago- some changes are afoot here at Stohrer Music, and I want to tell you what they are and why I am making them.

 

Early on in my career I made two assumptions that I have come to believe are incorrect, and the time has come to amend my thinking.

Assumption one (This one goes all the way back to the beginning of my career):  As time goes on and I get better at my job, I will also get faster.  Therefore until I get “good enough”- let us say perhaps 10 years of experience- my prices should be aspirational.  That is, that I should price my work according to how long I think it should take me as a good repairer, rather than how long it does actually take me.

Here I am now with about 11 years of full-time-plus saxophone repair under my belt, and I can say that this assumption proved to be only partially correct.  I have indeed gotten more efficient at some procedures.  But these efficiency gains manifest themselves more with cleaner, neater, better repair work than with a notable reduction in time spent.  And indeed, any gains on the time-spent front have been completely obliterated by learning new things to do- for example post alignment, swedging and facing, something I was not doing 5 years ago, that now can take an entire day for me to do on some horns- and every once in a while, even longer.

I know this because I recently did something I’ve been afraid to do: I got myself a timeclock, and I’ve started keeping meticulous track of how long things actually take me.  I did this because I have a successful business with relatively low overhead a long waitlist (one that I am finally reaching the bottom of, which allows me to make the changes I am making), yet I was working long hours to get the job done and make ends meet, and I wanted to find out where I had failed.  Some of my fears were not realized- I found that I was not slacking off or getting distracted, and I was putting in plenty of actual hands-moving bench time per week.  One of my fears was realized, in a big way: I found that I am spending way, way more time than I am charging for on big jobs- and the bigger the job got, the more I was undercharging.

Assumption two: If someone wants an overhaul, the only option is for me to do everything I know how to do.  As I continue to learn and grow as a repairman, this assumption has led (predictably in hindsight) to what is known as “feature creep“.  As I continued to get better and learn new things, I continued to add more procedures to my overhaul- which due to a bad decision on my part several years ago, is offered and described as a one-size-fits-all service.  So I would add folks to my waitlist, lock in a price range, and then by the time I got to their spot I was doing 10-20 more hours than I had planned on for that price- and at least some of the time, some of the work I did was superfluous.  At least I wasn’t charging people for unnecessary work, but I was working nights and weekends to make a service that had bloated beyond its original intent fit into its original timeline- and much to my shame, a couple times I rushed.

 

So in short, I have been underpaying myself by design/willful ignorance/belief that somehow I was “slow” or that I wasn’t doing all I could to be efficient at my job, and also I have been overdoing overhauls by default due to failure to evolve my reasoning.

Not all is lost, of course.  My repair work continues to improve and I am happy with my development as a repairman, feeling that I am doing my best work yet, particularly in recent times with respect to padwork, neck fitting, and mechanical work.  The fault we are talking about here lies in my abilities as a businessman.

What all this means is that I will go back to doing what most other folks do- offering more nuanced choices and charging by the hour.  My communication with clients will improve and be more in-depth, and each job I do will be more tailored to the needs of the player, rather than a doctrinaire approach to the mechanical ideal.  To be sure, work that disregards practical considerations will still be available to those crazy enough to want it, but no longer at a flat rate!

I have updated the “Repair” section of my website accordingly.

 



1920s Conn Alto and Curved Soprano – Early New Wonder Series II
An Extremely Informal Comparison of Two Otherwise Identical Horns Save For Plating
Original Selmer (Paris) saxophone spring set from the 1920s
338xxx King Super 20 Alto Repad