Rearranged music shop hits all the right notes
Entrepreneurs typically display under-new-ownership banners on their storefronts when first taking over an existing business. But Jonathan Watkins didn’t stop there.

In 2003, when Watkins purchased a 40-year-old Port Washington music shop that sells, rents and repairs instruments and provides lessons, he displayed the new-ownership banner. He also changed the store’s name to Wright Music, and he was just getting started.

Watkins removed the previous owners’ numerous tchotchkes, which had put wary parents on edge for fear their curious kids might accidentally break something. He cleared aisles and organized breakables behind new display cases, so kids could mill about while their parents took care of business.

With a new orderly atmosphere – and new offerings to boot – Watkins hopes to woo back some of the shop’s lost customers. He also hopes to earn a nod of approval from area school districts, some of which had removed the store from their recommended vendor lists.

Though the previous owners had built a solid business – solid enough, Watkins noted, to put their four children through college – “too much was out of control” by the time he bought the shop, Watkins said. Items lacked price tags, private lesson rooms had deteriorated and floor space wasn’t maximized to its fullest potential, he added.

Enter Watkins, a bassoonist and instructor whose 25 years of industry experience includes stints as a buyer and manager of New York music stores. He spent nearly $500,000 on the Port Washington shop, putting his professional retail background to work.

Such expertise can be important when a company’s reputation has lost its luster. “It’s harder to rebuild a business with a bad reputation than it is to start a new one in a new location,” said Lucille Wesnofske, director of the Small Business Development Center at Farmingdale State University of New York. Owners who purchase existing businesses with dwindling client bases must “start winning back customers,” Wesnofske said.

While the effort can be less challenging for businesses with a targeted market and little competition (like a neighborhood music store) than for those whose competitors are nearby and numerous (like a local deli), it is not easy, she added. Aside from revamping the business, the owner must market the company judiciously to lure consumers back, according to Wesnofske.

Watkins has been busy on both fronts. He refurbished a former shipping and workspace area into a full-time repair shop. The repair shop is run by Bruce Huron, whom Watkins met in the 1980s and brings with him a following among musicians, drawing new customers into the shop. Watkins also sees Huron as a possible successor. “Bruce has a vested interest in growing the business,” the owner said, adding his two other full-time employees are professional musicians.

To revamp the lesson area on the shop’s lower floor, Watkins painted classrooms, put in more soundproofing and installed dehumidifiers and purifiers to improve air quality. He purchased new instruments and is replacing classroom doors so they have windows, enabling parents to look in on their children.

To market the business, Watkins attends various conventions, and also goes to local school concerts to see his clients perform. He also is putting together a traveling clarinet clinic he plans to bring to area schools, and doesn’t hesitate to call contacts at local districts for referrals.

Watkins didn’t take a salary the first year of his new enterprise, but now the business is profitable, he said. With trusted staff on hand, Watkins last year took an office across the street, where he can work on the business end.

“It doesn’t make sense to be behind the counter selling sheet music,” he said. “My job is to create the money.”

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