KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - When the guys at Heritage Guitar Inc. developed a new guitar model, they would show it at a large guitar industry trade show.
If retailers there were interested, they’d buy a limited number to display in their stores and sell. After that, most other sales were done by word of mouth.
That has been the case for most of the past 31 years, since a cluster of former Gibson Guitar workers decided to stay in Kalamazoo and start Heritage Guitar.
But that is set to change with new owners, the Kalamazoo Gazette (https://bit.ly/1NsX7DC ) reported.
“We haven’t done a good job of telling the story of Heritage,” said Kyle Sobko, a marketing specialist for one of the company’s new owners and now marketing director for Heritage Guitar.
They are prepared to try to ramp up sales and marketing of Heritage guitars. That is starting with the reorganization of the ground-level, 10,000-square-foot guitar-production area of its Parsons Street facility. The effort is being made to enable greater efficiency, including a thorough cleaning of the space.
Production has been halted for two weeks to enable that.
Heritage was purchased on April 1 by Archie Leach and Jeff Nicholson, co-owners of PlazaCorp Realty Advisors Inc. Last year, that Kalamazoo-based commercial property management and development company bought the Parsons Street property on Kalamazoo’s North Side.
After consideration by Leach and Nicholson, they decided to buy the guitar-making business inside. Terms of their acquisition were not disclosed.
“Over time we have great plans for renovating the building,” said Sobko, although he would not provide details.
“With an increased focus on marketing and sales, there’s going to be more demand for Heritage guitars and we need to be able to handle that in a more efficient way,” he said.
He also said the new owners want to maintain the landmark, 99-year-old smokestack of the facility, which was the original factory of Gibson Guitar Corp. The building’s brick smoke stack continues to bear the Gibson name. Word that PlazaCorp planned to dismantle it last year was met by pleas from community members to save the historically significant structure.
“There is a community campaign to save the stack and we are working with them on a long-term vision for that,” Sobko said. “Our plan is to work with them to save the stack.”
Gibson closed its operations in Kalamazoo in 1984 after re-establishing its headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. The company was founded in Kalamazoo in 1894. Since the 1940s, its instruments have been some of the most widely used in rock ‘n’ roll and other popular music.
The former Gibson guitar makers who chose to stay here rather than relocate with Gibson, kept the guitar factory in use. With Gibson, each of them had already been working there for many years. And as Heritage Guitar they continue to use equipment and tools that were used to help make many of Gibson’s legendary instruments, including the Les Paul models of the 1950s and ‘60s.
“We have customers all over the world,” said Jim Deurloo, one of the founders of Heritage Guitar, and until April 1, a co-owner of the company along with “Marv Lamb and Bill Paige. But he said quite a lot of its sales have been done by word of mouth.
The company, as operated by him and his luthier partners, never had a marketing and sales plan that matched their guitar-making mojo. Guitarists who knew about Heritage and its history in Kalamazoo told others, or simply let others play their instruments until they, too, wanted one.
Deurloo said he is encouraged by the resources that he expects the new owners to bring.
“They’re concentrating on quality,” Deurloo said. “They’re concentrating on supplying the product and telling our story - about how we started and where we are now.”
He said, “That’s a very good thing.”
A lot of people don’t know about Heritage, he said, including a lot of people in Kalamazoo.
While Sobko said there is a long-term plan to invest in the Parsons Street facility, there won’t be any visible, external changes for quite some time.
“We have made and will continue to make investment in the sales and marketing in order for Heritage to continue for decades to come,” he said.
Ron Howard, marketing manager for the operation, said Deurloo and many longtime employees of the company are still around and working, and they are behind the company’s hand-crafted, high-quality products. He described them as primarily guitar players making guitars.
“There’s still a group of guitar players out there that are looking for that difference and that quality and will pay for the difference,” Howard said.
He and Sobko said they are encouraged by a cadre of guitar makers who have amassed skills under the founders of Heritage.
“We’re training the next generation of luthiers,” Sobko said.
He said, “The mood of all the original employees is fantastic. Everybody is working incredibly hard and they are excited about the bright future that is coming.”
Deurloo pointed to four guitar builders and finishers who he expects to carry on the Heritage tradition.
Information from: Kalamazoo Gazette, https://www.mlive.com/kalamazoo
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