Building the World’s Largest Flute Company – Phil Unger of Flute Center of New York
INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 50:18)
PODCAST AUDIO[sc name=”sponsors”]
Phil Unger of Flute Center of New York shares his journey of building the world’s largest flute company, offering affordable student models to handcrafted platinum instruments. Phil’s passion for his craft and dedication to customers has made his business a huge success.
Phil Unger, the founder of Flute Center of New York, discusses various aspects of his business. He talks about the evolution of his repair business into the world’s largest flute company, the flute community and its inclusive nature, the company’s sales cycle, the power of social media as a marketing tool, the importance of honesty, ethics, and transparency, e-commerce, his company’s unique and special customer experience, and his commitment to reinventing himself. Unger emphasizes the importance of constantly finding ways to improve and prioritize the customer to run a successful company.
- 00:00:00 In this section, Phil Unger talks about how he got into the music industry and ultimately started his e-commerce business, Flute Center of New York. Originally pursuing a degree in radio-television, he realized it wasn’t what he wanted to do and turned to musical instrument repair upon the suggestion of his parents. After completing an intensive year-long program in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, he started a repair business that evolved into the world’s largest flute company, specializing in professional flutes and accessories. While it started as a retail store, the business eventually transitioned into e-commerce.
- 00:05:00 In this section, Phil Unger, founder of Flute Center of New York, discusses how the flute community is cohesive and international, which led him to specialize in professional flutes and repair. He eventually moved towards helping individuals buy and sell flutes, leading to the growth and success of his business. The company sells to customers all over the world, with the majority of the business being national. Flute Center of New York is the largest flute-centric company in the world, with other major companies in the US, Japan, Korea, and Europe. They represent manufacturers from around the world and are the largest distributor for every brand of flute they sell.
- 00:10:00 In this section, Phil Unger, founder of Flute Center of New York, talks about their sales cycle and how it differs based on the price of the flute. He mentions that most online sales are made for student line and intermediate line flutes, while expensive flutes are usually tested by the player before buying. He also explains that all flutes have the same mechanical structure despite the price and the sound quality differs based on the player’s preference and connection with the instrument. The player chooses the flute he or she connects with, and that becomes their voice for composing music.
- 00:15:00 we do something good for one flutist in the community, it can spread quickly and we know that the flutists will take care of their instruments and share their experiences with others. The flute is unique in that it’s the closest instrument to the human voice, making the connection between the player and the instrument very personal. Flutists take care of their instruments like they are their children, and this connection extends into a tight-knit community that supports each other and celebrates each other’s successes. The community is inclusive and connected through social media and master classes that bring flutists together from around the world. This community makes Phil Unger’s job at Flute Center of New York easier because they are a built-in audience that helps to spread the word about their products and services.
- 00:20:00 In this section, Phil Unger discusses the power of social media as a marketing tool and how Flute Center of New York targets its audience through various methods such as master classes, recitals, podcasts, and influencer partnerships. Phil also talks about the growth of the company and how they focus on providing a unique and special customer experience, which he believes has contributed to their success. While he is not certain whether the increase in business is due to taking more market share or more people playing the flute, he believes the pandemic may have played a role in encouraging more people to take up the instrument.
- 00:25:00 In this section, Phil Unger talks about the importance of honesty, ethics, and transparency in business practices. He believes that doing the right thing reflects in the experiences that customers have and the numbers they produce. Despite not being very popular in mainstream media, the flute has a strong global community, with players from different music genres. Phil also clarifies the distinction between playing an instrument and composing music since players can specialize in specific music genres, such as classical, jazz, or world music.
- 00:30:00 In this section, the interviewer asks Phil Unger about the e-commerce aspect of his business and how it differs from in-person retail. Unger explains that while most customers who come to the store are local, the e-commerce customers are mainly too far away to visit. However, the audience is essentially the same and they rarely have returns or exchanges because of their play-testing model. Unger’s company ships flutes to potential customers around the country for them to try out, ensuring that by the time they make a decision, they’re pretty set on which instrument they want.
- 00:35:00 In this section, Phil Unger explains that his company, Flute Center of New York, makes it easy for customers to buy flutes, even offering to send return labels. He mentions that while he and the CEO are the visionaries of the company, they have delegated responsibilities to different teams that run the business like a well-oiled machine. Phil admits that he has given over the processes of the business to people who better understand those worlds than he does. He credits his success to his fantastic team, who love, respect, and support each other to achieve their common goal. When asked about mistakes made, Phil could not speak to e-commerce specifically but stated that he believes in taking risks, learning from failures, and always thinking of new ways to reinvent themselves.
- 00:40:00 In this section, Phil Unger discusses how his company, Flute Center of New York, constantly reevaluates and adjusts their spending to ensure a good return on investment. He also talks about some mistakes made in the past and how the company has improved by focusing on never reusing boxes, rigorous testing of flutes, and ensuring they are clean before shipping. Though he is not a flute player himself, Phil saw an opportunity in the market and has built personal relationships with flutists from all over the world, creating a community he loves.
- 00:45:00 In this section of the transcript, the interviewer asks Phil Unger if there is anything in the e-commerce retail or tech landscape he feels excited about, to which Unger responds positively but doesn’t divulge any details. He then discusses the importance of constantly introducing productivity software into their operation and mentions a mentor who showed him how to be in the business world. Unger’s best business advice is to always prioritize the customer and to find a solution that works for everyone in every problem. He believes that positive reviews and happy customers are the keys to running a successful company.
What You’ll Learn
Interview with Phil Unger of Flute Center of New York
|01:17||Starting the business|
|16:02||The global culture of playing flutes|
|39:24||Mistakes made, lessons learned|
|44:41||Rapid fire round|
In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.
Phil Unger of Flute Center of New York
- Best business advice you ever received (Response: Don’t look for ways to say no. Always look for ways to say yes.)
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Hey, they’re entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant, and welcome to Trep Talks. This is a show where I interview successful e-commerce entrepreneurs, business executives, and thought leaders, and ask them questions about their business story, and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their business.
And today I’m really excited to welcome Phil Unger to the show. Phil is the founder of the Food Center of New. Flute center cells, flutes, piccolos, sheet music, and a wide range of flute related accessories. And today I’m gonna ask Phil a few questions about his entrepreneurial journey and some of those strategies and tactics that he has used to start and grow his business.
So thank you so much for joining me today at, uh, Phil. Really appreciate it. So let’s get right into it. [00:01:00] Um, can you hear me? I can. Okay. So I know I, I did a little bit of a research in your background, and I think you have an interesting story. Um, I think you were trying to do something different and you accidentally, uh, got into music.
In music. Can you share a little bit about, you know, how you got the idea, how you got into the music industry, food business, and how did you decide to start your
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: e-commerce? Thanks Han. Uh, I, uh, I appreciate you welcoming me into your new venture. I guess it’s relatively new, um, and Sure. It, it wasn’t exactly by accident.
Um, I had gone to university and uh, was ready to graduate with a degree in radio television, when. Realized that this really wasn’t [00:02:00] what was gonna make me happy in life. So I, um, I despaired a bit. I had about six months left to finish my degree and I went to my parents and I said, you know, I not sure that this is really what I want to do.
It’s a cutthroat business and I’m not. Really a cutthroat guy. Um, so my mother said, you know, Phil, you’ve always been good with your hands. You love taking things apart, figuring out how they work. And, uh, being a minor musician, myself and my father, being a professional musician, I had grown up around a music store in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
And, uh, spent some time in that store watching the owner of that business, uh, repair instruments. So I was somewhat familiar with the field, uh, [00:03:00] at least by site, and my mom said, what about, uh, musical instrument repair? And I thought, you know, that sounds like something I might really enjoy. Uh, coincidentally, if you read any studies, About, um, job ratings from, uh, most stressful to least stressful musical instrument.
Repairman is the least stressful job. Uh, just about on the planet. At least that’s what, okay. That’s what these studies say. So anyway, so, uh, there was one school in the country and, uh, town called Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. That, uh, was the best program available. It was a very intensive year long program where you work eight to five every day and they only take 20 students.
And I went there and I interviewed, they accepted me as a student, but I had to wait six months, which is almost exactly how much time I had left. Uh, finished my degree in school. So I finished my degree in [00:04:00] school. I got my, uh, my diploma and I went out and I trained for a year. And that’s how it happened.
And. Then there was an evolution between that repair, um, uh, diploma that I got and now having the largest flute business in, in the world.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So did your business start out at the retail store first and then you got into
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: e-commerce store? No, it didn’t. It started out as, um, A, uh, repair business and, uh, I did, I made a decision because I saw that there was a niche market with professional flues.
Uh, because at the time I repaired all woodwind and all brass instruments, but I saw that there was a, not just a niche market, but there was a whole community built up [00:05:00] around the flute. An unusual community, different than other instruments, different than saxophones, different than, uh, strings, violins, uh, there’s, um, a very cohesive, tightly knit international.
Of tus that, uh, we all know each other, doesn’t matter what country you’re from. And, um, so anyway, I decided to focus to specialize in professional flutes. I got some more training in Boston and um, and I moved away from all the other instruments specialized in flute repair, and as an offshoot of the repair business.
I don’t quite even remember how it happened, but I started, uh, helping people sell their instruments by their instruments, and it grew from there. [00:06:00] And how much, uh, this was well before any e-commerce, uh, was even, uh,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: a thing. Yeah. So it, it almost seems like you did spend a considerable time or your professional.
Really just having, becoming the expert on the fluid repair side of things. And then slowly, organically, you just realize that there is a business for selling and buying food. Um, I mean, it’s very interesting based on, you know, some of the research that I did and some of the numbers that I saw, your business is doing really, really well.
And can you share like, I mean, I, I wouldn’t have imagined that there’s such a huge demand for. Can you share a little bit about the market? Like as you said, it’s a global market. Are you selling, like, are most of your customers globally? Is it North America based? Well, and most of the customer and what, like who, who, who are the people who are actually buying the food?[00:07:00]
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Well, uh, that’s a good, that’s a good, really good question. I mean, we sell. You know, student flutes to very expensive flutes made of, uh, solid gold, uh, platinum and silver. Um, so we reach all markets. Um, we do, uh, by virtue, I think of being in New York. And having visiting orchestras, uh, constantly from all over the world.
We do do quite a bit of international sales as well. Um, but obviously most, the vast majority of our business is, is national. Um, but we sell to flutists, um, you know, all over, all over America and, and the world, and we deal with. Professional players from many orchestras, [00:08:00] um, all over the world. Matter of fact, just today I sold a flute to a guy from, from Israel.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And as you said, like your company is, you’re saying, you know, it’s the largest centric company in the world. Is that, is that by far true? Yeah. Yes. Okay. So I mean, it seems like, um, I mean, what, what other countries or what other places in the world are big, uh, around flu?
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Flu? Well, there’s four major flute centric companies in America, and then there’s some others in Europe.
Uh, there’s a few others in and Japan and Korea. There’s a few places where there’s some, also some large flute businesses. Um, and, uh, You know, we not only sell new instruments, my business, but we’re also the largest, uh, consignment shop [00:09:00] in, in the world. Uh, by far we, uh, we do, uh, I think $2 million a year just in, uh, in other people’s instruments.
So, um, so there’s many different facets of. Of our business. And of course now, um, with the advent of the internet and, um, shopping carts, we’re a big part of that movement as well. And are
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: most of yours, um, created in-house or are you you selling mostly? We’re not a manufacturer.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Yeah. Okay. We, we, we, we represent manufacturers.
Uh, around the world and, uh, with every manufacturer we are, we are their single largest, um, distributor for, for every brand of [00:10:00] flute, we are the single largest distributor for all, for just about every in America. Okay. Yeah.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: And what is the sales cycle like? Um, I’m assuming like some of the more expensive fluids, like does it require one individual.
I mean, it’s almost like buying a car. I mean, if it, uh, you know, some of our’s, such an expensive item.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Yeah. Some of cost more than a car.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yes. Yeah. So I’m, I’m, I’m assuming like some of the introductory pollutes that are not as expensive, people are easier, easier for them to buy online versus the more expensive items there.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: that’s a, that’s an interesting question. That’s true. The vast majority of our online sales. Are, um, the student line to intermediate line, uh, in, in, in the price point. You know, it’s $500 to, I, I would say $2,000. [00:11:00] Um, in which case, you know, these are customers though one will never meet. Two, we’ll, we’ll probably never know.
And then flutes that are maybe more handmade and or more expensive. Normally those players want to play them first because it’s a very personal voice for each player. You know what? One flute that may work for one player. Uh, may not be the voice that another player is looking for. So, um, although that being said, we do have sales on the internet, uh, for, you know, $10,000 flutes that the person doesn’t play first, so, but for the most part they do.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Can you share a little bit about [00:12:00] just the. The music of flute, do you need, like, does it differ based on how expensive an instrument is or how, uh, complicated, you know, in terms of the different, uh, buttons and things like that or that are on the instrument versus like simple wooden, wooden made flute.
Does the music quality differ from, uh, different flute instruments?
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Well that’s, that’s a great question. Um, all flutes mechanically are the same. A, a, a modern system flute that, that people play in orchestras and, and high school bands. It doesn’t matter if it’s 500,000 or 100,000, it’s exactly the same mechanism.
Not maybe in terms of quality, but in terms of the keys that are on the. [00:13:00] So, um, so in, in, in that way, they’re, they’re all the same. Um, now you may ask, is a more expensive flute inherently better than a lesser expensive flute? And the answer is not necessarily. Um, it depends on what the player is looking for.
So, you know, gold obviously is more expensive than. Is gold better than silver? Um, it’s different than silver. So if that’s the sound that you’re looking for, then that’s what you’ll buy. Um, but it isn’t inherently a better flute because it’s made of a different material. And, uh, some players like to play the, like the sound of a wooden flute.
So some I would, so. I hope that answers your question.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So it really [00:14:00] depends. You know what, I guess it’s not about the instrument, it’s, it’s about the, the, the sound or the music that someone is trying to compose. I guess that’s probably
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: it. It, it’s, it has to do with the way that a PA player connects with that instrument.
It’s the connection that the player makes. You know, for instance, we had, as I mentioned before, an Israeli guy in today, actually. He was here all day yesterday and all day today. He played many, many instruments and he finally found one that he connected with. Hmm. Um, and after playing probably a dozen instruments and he connected with this flute and he said, okay, this is gonna be my voice for the next, maybe for the rest of my life.
And that’s the flu he bought. So, So that’s what it’s about. And, and that’s really who we are at the Flute Center of New York, which is the name of my business. Uh, [00:15:00] it’s not so much about selling flutes as it is about making connections between the player and the voice that they want, and the flute is by its very nature, the closest instrument to the human voice.
Because there’s nothing that stands in the way of your breath and the sound of the instrument. It’s your breath is the sound of the instrument. There’s no read, there’s no mouthpiece, there’s, there’s nothing. There’s only ellipse and a small hole. So the flute, by its very nature, is an extension of your voice, like an opera singer.
So it’s, it’s a. Personal and, um, nuanced connection that, uh, our customers way make with their, their instrument. [00:16:00] And
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: you mentioned that something, uh, that the community around food or the FU food community is, uh, more unique than maybe other instruments and so forth. Can you share a little bit about. The culture of flute playing around the world, the community.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: I can, um, yes, I, I, I can, uh, I can speak to that. It’s, uh, I’m part of a very special community. Uh, really it’s a unique and, uh, inclusive, the thing that I’ll say about a flutist and their instrument, and it’s hard to. Put it into words for your audience. Exactly. But the connection that a flues has with their instrument, I believe is somehow different from all other musicians and their instruments.
I may be wrong in this and or, or [00:17:00] with exceptions, but the connection between a, a flute player and their instrument is, um, Not much different than the connection between a mother and her child. Um mm-hmm. That’s really the way they, they, they love their flute, they take it with them everywhere. They pamper it, they take care of it.
They make sure it’s performing to its best ability all the time. And there’s a very special relationship between the player and the instrument, which I think is different. Other instruments. Um, so in that, so maybe that’s the basis of, of, of their connection to their instrument. Then you build in the community, so you know.
Musicians are always trying for maybe a better [00:18:00] job or trying to get into this orchestra or maybe get a professorship at this university or this conservatory. This music conservatory, and especially with the advent of social media, they talk about it and there’s many, many forums on the internet just for flutists.
Hmm. And many of these forms have, you know, tens of thousands of, um, subscribers. So in this way we’re connected to each other. And then we also have, um, masterclass that travel around the world, you know, for, for that famous flu to skive. Um, you know, we, this is something that we do, as a matter of fact, just last week, just a few days ago, we had the principal flutist of the New York Phil Harmonic.
You have a masterclass in, in our shop, uh, just [00:19:00] last week. Um, so this is a way that brings the community together. You know, he may do a masterclass in another country, maybe in in Asia or some other place soon. And, and, um, We find ourselves connected. And if somebody wins a job with an orchestra, they post it for all to see and everybody goes, congratulations, we’re so happy for you.
Or somebody doesn’t win the position, they post about that too and everybody goes, someone’s so sorry, you know, but I’m sure you’ll do better next time. So we have, um, a very close knit community international. Of players that, um, actually makes our job in my business much easier because we have a built-in audience, so to speak.
Hmm. So when we, if we, [00:20:00] if we post something, uh, within minutes, hours, days, or weeks, Everyone in the world sees it. Every flutist, a lot of flutists in the world will see it. And no matter what anybody posts within minutes, hours, days, or weeks, the whole community knows about it. It’s really quite remarkable.
So when we do, uh, some sort of promotion, um, we have a, a very targeted audience that is easy to. And we don’t. So I’m assuming
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: that, so I’m assuming that like from a marketing perspective, you are marketing to the community first. You’re not, I’m assuming you’re not as worried about going out and recruiting the new, trying to get his or her first instrument.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: because they’re [00:21:00] probably, well, I mean, that’s probably where Shopify comes in or you know, the shopping part because. Those are people that are, many of them not yet part of the community because they’re just, you know, their parents are just getting their children, uh, involved in, in, in a music program.
So, you know, we reach them in different ways and we hope someday that those children, those kids will, you know, stick with it and also become part of this larger community that we have. Um, So
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: do you, like, do you do paid advertising or, um, we do. Can you share a little bit about your, your marketing and how do you, like what Yeah, I mean, what, what is the best way to bring in customer and I’m assuming a big part of your business?
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Well, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s multifaceted, but, you know, we do pay, uh, I, I guess, I guess [00:22:00] it’s Google for, you know, for, so that we, you know, we can come up and. You know, in a search and, uh, we, we reach out in community ways. We have, as I mentioned, masterclass and recitals that we do once or twice a month in-house with, um, you know, important players from around the world.
Um, we have a podcast series that we’re, I think we’re into our seventh or eighth season now. Much like what you’re doing. Um, and we’ve now switched over to, to video much like you’re doing here. Um, and uh, then we have other outreach programs. We have, um, a special club for teachers that has benefits for them.
Has benefits, uh, I mean for the [00:23:00] teacher has benefits for the student. Um, so we have a vast network of teachers that are part of this club, uh, called Club FC and y and, um, and we work with influencers in, in the industry. Um, and they, you know, create content for the flute center of new. So we’ve, uh, we’ve, we branch out in many different, um, areas.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: finding that as a, as a form of music, uh, flute people are adopting like, as a trend? Like is, are more people getting into flute playing or is this something that
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: is good? That’s a good question and it’s, it’s a question that I wish I had the answer. Um, I can say that our, [00:24:00] uh, our business model is growing year over year now, uh, is that because we’re taking more market share or is it because more people are, are starting to play the flute because of the pandemic or whatever?
And I honestly don’t have the answer to that. I don’t think we’re taking that much more market. Um, I do think that there’s more people playing and, you know, there’s a, you know, as we, um, we’re a great company. We’re, we’re a very special company. We’ve got, uh, about 20 full-time people and we’re like a family.
And to shop with us or to have any interaction with us, even if it’s just over the phone, is a special experience for our customers because, Everyone at the flute center is so nice and so knowledgeable, and we really help and the customer comes [00:25:00] first in all matters. So, uh, because of that and because of the experience that people have, I mean, if you were to go look at our, our Google reviews, which I encourage all your listeners to do, uh, I, you’ll find that we have just about all five star reviews.
People love us, love working with us, love shopping with us. So, you know, I’ve been doing this for, I think about 42 years now. So, you know, if you’re honest, ethical, and transparent in your business practices, that word gets around and it spreads and. You know, it’s a, it’s a multiplier, so we’re doing the right thing, and it’s reflected in, um, the experience that our customers have and in our numbers.[00:26:00]
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: that’s awesome. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the reason I got curious about that is because, you know, in media, in, in popular media, when you think about like musical instrument, when someone is trying. Learn a musical instrument. You’re usually, you know, you come across piano like, uh, you come up across guitar and, you know, a lot of other instruments.
Um, and I would, I mean, I would say, I mean, I’m not really a music person, but I don’t really come across flute and flute playing, uh, that much. Um, I mean, I’m from India and I think there’s, there’s, there’s blue players in India. Yeah. The pond. But yeah. But it’s, yeah. Yeah. So it’s, it’s made off. Uh, soba is called that, uh, what is it called?
Um, bamboo. Bamboo, yeah. So it’s made out of bamboo. Uh, but yeah, it’s, it’s interesting that I don’t come across, like in [00:27:00] popular culture playing or flute player. It’s, it’s very rare to see. Uh, well, so, so I guess that,
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: I can only answer that, uh, by saying that you’re, you’re running in the wrong crowds. Okay.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Alright. That, that could be the case, you know, because I’m not focused on music. Maybe I’m not, uh, very aware of that. That’s okay. But I guess my question would be what, what, what makes a good or a great, good player? Um, and how does, like in this, in this
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: community, what makes a great I.
Uh, well, I guess it’s practice. Practice or practice. Practice. Okay. Yeah. And sometimes, uh, you know, an innate ability doesn’t hurt, but, uh, believe me, the, uh, everyone that works for me, uh, has either a master’s or a doctorate include [00:28:00] performance. They’re. Besides being the greatest people on earth, they’re all great players and um, but believe me, they didn’t get there by accident.
It requires a lifelong commitment to practicing five hours a day. Wow. That’s a lot. Sometimes.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So, so, so I guess my question would be like, is a a great flute player who can. Read a sheet of music and play that musicly? Or is it someone who can actually come up with new music? Like the, the, the people that, I mean maybe yourself and the people in your company.
Like is it, are they, are they coming up with new tunes and music and those kind of things?
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Also, I think you’re confusing. Um, Playing an instrument with composing music. Um, okay. You know, [00:29:00] they, they, you know, there are players that are classical players, there are players that are jazz players and there’s lots of world music that there are players that play those, those, uh, those genres of music.
Um, as a matter of fact, The guy that bought the flute today showed me a video. Uh, I, I, I, he travels the world and he was, uh, some, um, no, not Tanzania. He was someplace in Africa and he got to meet the, not the only player in his country, but one of the only players in his country. And he showed me a video that he took of the two of them.
They went to a lake somewhere in Africa, in, in this, in this man’s country, and they played duets and it was, um, mostly [00:30:00] improvisation and they were two great improvisers. Um, so, you know, there are different flutists that, uh, like to play different kinds of music. And sometimes they improvise, which is not exactly on the page what they’re playing, but for the most part, most musicians are playing notes that are written for them.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: so let’s talk a little bit about the e-commerce aspect of your business. Um, Because to me it seems like, you know, maybe you enjoy or, you know, part of your business definitely is about that in-person experience and giving the person the ability to touch and play the, the flute and make that connection with the instrument.
Um, can you share a little bit about, you know, what, how, um, what is the difference between like your, the people who come into your retail store to ShopWorks is like your e-commerce business.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: What is the. [00:31:00]
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: The, the number difference in terms of, you know, people who buy from your e-commerce business
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: versus like, well, I mean, you know, I, I can’t exactly define what the difference is because I don’t meet the e-commerce customers.
I imagine they’re, they’re not so, um, different from those that come into the store. Um, but those that come into the store live in proximity to our store. You know, we, we kind of serve as a, a tri-state region, you know, Connecticut, or I should say New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. You know, we do have a lot of people that come in constantly from, from those states and, and further, because, you know, everyone eventually travels to Manhattan.
Everyone wants to see Manhattan. More often than not, it’s, it’s really quite amazing. They’ll land in [00:32:00] one of our three airports and the first stop they make with their luggage is the flute center of New York. We are, we are, we are a destination sometimes call us the mecca. Uh, so anyway, um, so I don’t think those that buy flutes from us online are really any different.
They’re just. Too far away to come to the store. Um, so, you know, I think it’s the same audience.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I guess, I guess from a, from an experience perspective, what I’m asking is if somebody is like, do you see that people who buy e-commerce, are they, like, do you see more exchanges or returns or something like that where you have to accommodate that or you have to offer them like shipping labels, so, so that they can, oh, well exchange a return, you know?
Well, if they didn’t like
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: the, Yeah. Uh, good questions. We have very few returns. Um, we are, oh, uh, excuse me, just one moment if you [00:33:00] don’t mind. Okay.
Uh, I’ll, I’ll be right back. Okay. No worries. No worries.
I just, sorry, I just had. Switch chairs with, uh, with my wife, who’s a therapist, and I thank her of her flying. Saw her in a different chair. Okay, good. So anyway, um, so, uh, what was your question again? I’m sorry. Um,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: around returns and exchanges. Oh, yes, E-commerce.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: So we do have a return policy. It’s, it’s seldomly, uh, used.
Um, for a couple of reasons. One, we give our clients an opportunity to play test the flute before they buy it. So, and [00:34:00] you, you, you mentioned shipping. Our shipping is free, so, um, we’re we, we, how does someone
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: play test?
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: We ship the flutes out. We have, uh, okay. At any given time, hundreds of, of trials around the country.
And, um, so we give them the flute. They can try it in the, in the comfort of their home or, or their professors of their teacher’s home. Um, and so by the time they finally make the decision of which flute they wanna buy, they’ve pretty much honed in on that instrument. And so therefore there’s very few returns.
Um, and, um, So that’s kind of our business model. We let you try the instrument first before you
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: have to buy it. So d does that mean that like they have, they’ll buy it, they’ll actually pay for it, but then there’s a trial period one month or 15 days, whatever, [00:35:00] and then they have the opportunity to just return it back.
Like do you send the return label with the shipping?
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Yes. We, we, we, we work all that out. We, we send the, the return label? Yes. Okay. That’s, that’s great. Make it seem. We make it very, very easy for someone to buy a flute.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. And in terms of like your fulfillment and shipping, like do you do that in-house or is that something that’s outsourced?
Third part. It’s all done inhouse.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Okay. Okay.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, I’m going to ask you a little bit about your team. What does your team, I know you mentioned you have like 20 full-time staff, you know, um, can you share a little bit? What roles they have. What, what, uh, what is your role in the company right now and what, what are other?
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: No. Um, interestingly enough, I’m probably not exactly the person to talk to about that. I have a C e o Julian who, um, Who runs that part of the [00:36:00] business? You know, I’ve, I’ve delegated a lot of responsibilities to different teams. We have different teams that, that, that have different functions within the business.
Um, and uh, it really is run like a very well oiled machine. So I, I can’t exactly.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So what is your role, what is your role in the company right now? Like more of. Just vision, just, uh, just making sure. Yeah.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: I would say, um, myself, along with my c e o are the visionaries of the company and, um, and I, I, you know, honestly kind of stay out of the processes of the business.
You know, we, we are very advanced, uh, in our. In, in the processes that we bring into the company, um, all these third party companies that we use. Um, [00:37:00] and quite honestly, I don’t even know how much of that functions exactly because it isn’t my realm. I’ve, I’ve given that over to people that much better understand those worlds than I.
And, um, and I think it was, um, a smart decision on my part. You know, I, yeah. Doesn’t, yeah, the, the, the, the, the brand, our brand is I think unquestionably the number one flute brand in the world. And, um, so. It did, it didn’t happen by accident. It happened because I surround myself with, uh, a great, the best team of people that any owner could ask for.
And, uh, you know, there’s, we’re not competitive with, [00:38:00] with each other, with they, uh, I should say, they’re not competitive with you. They respect each other. They love each other. They support each other. They help each other. And we all have a common goal that we love working towards. And, um, quite honestly, I think it’s one of the greatest places, uh, work environments.
If you happen to play the flute, uh, it’s probably the greatest work environment you could ever ask for, you know, except for maybe sitting in a great orchestra. But, um, so. Uh, we, we, we’ve built something that we believe to be very special and unique in any industry, not just our industry. Very good.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, talking about vision, what, do you have a future vision for your business?
I mean, it seems like you’re already, um, you
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: certainly do doing pretty good. Not, not something I I’m gonna talk about with you now, but we [00:39:00] always, we always have, um, We’re always moving forward and, uh, we have always new ideas and, uh, you know, you, you throw them at the dart board and some stick and some don’t.
But, um, we we’re always thinking of new ways to reinvent ourselves.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: In every entrepreneur’s journey, there’s always mistakes made, lessons learned, failures. So to. Um,
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: what has been,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: um, you know, maybe talking specifically about the e-commerce business, what has been some, you know, one or two tough mistakes that you think, uh, or, or lessons learned that you think, you know, it was a learning experience for you that other, other entrepreneurs can learn
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: from you?
Well, you know, as far as e-commerce, I, I, I can’t really speak to that. I don’t think. Maybe in the [00:40:00] way that we’ve, that our spending, uh, has happened in the past, we’ve made adjustments to how our spend is, um, is, is implemented, um, because you know, it’s, anyway, uh, again, that isn’t exactly. My slice of the cake, but they constantly reevaluate, you know, what is the return on the money we spend, uh, with art, with e-commerce, you know, because the metrics are there.
You can look at the metrics and they tell you, uh, clicks and, and all that stuff that conversions. Yeah. But, uh, but I know click is a, is like an operative word there. And, um, so we’re always reinventing that, that, you know, or, or, or redefining [00:41:00] exactly how we do that. Um, and, uh, you know, we’ve made other mistakes along the way.
Um, we now, you know, over the past 10 years we’ve really focused in on. Never reusing a box. You know, always having a new box for everything we ship. Um, making sure the flutes pay, uh, passive very rigorous test before they go out so that nobody gets a flute that isn’t playing perfectly. You know, a lot of companies don’t have the manpower to make that happen and.
And, uh, you know, that’s something that we didn’t do as well in the past. And, uh, so we realized that that was a fo that that needed to be a focus of the company. Um, making sure that, uh, the [00:42:00] fluids are clean and fingerprint free and, um, Um, what do you call it? Uh, you know, we spray them down with a special, uh, alcohol system.
Disinfectant. Yeah. A disinfected. Yeah. Sorry, I couldn’t think of the word. Um, so, you know, we, we, we learn and we grow and we adapt. That’s good.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, before I move on to rapid fire segment, are you a flute player? Do you play flute? Uh,
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: regularly? I, no, I’m the, I’m just the only one in the company that does it. I mean, I can play the, I can blow a flute, but, uh, I’m not a player.
Uh, that wasn’t my, that wasn’t my instrument.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay. So could you not have gone like in a different instruments way, um, or you just realized that.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: I could have absolutely gone in in many different directions. Um, but I saw this opportunity and I, [00:43:00] you know, flutes are small, easily transportable, and they can be expensive and there’s a great community of people and, um, Of which I love and I’m very much a part of.
Um, and I now have, I can, I can pretty much travel anywhere in the world and have someone to share a meal with no matter where I go. And as a matter of fact, uh, uh, next week I’m having a, a guy come in from Vienna, he’s gonna spend a week with me in my house. Um, I have another guy coming from a, a very famous symphony orchestra.
He’s gonna spend a week in my house. Um, so, you know, this is the world I’ve created for myself. I mean, I, I made a decision early on that I wanted to make [00:44:00] this a very personal business. So when I had players come in from around the world, they didn’t just come in. Play a couple flutes and buy one and leave.
I said, let’s have dinner, let’s have lunch. Stay over my house next time you come. And in this way I built, uh, very intimate and long lasting relationships with, uh, flutists from all over the world. So it’s, it’s, that’s pretty clear. It’s given me a world, uh, far beyond what I ever. Dreamt of or hoped for it.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Awesome. So now I’m going to move on to our rapid fire segment. And in this segment I’m gonna ask you a few quick questions and you have to ask in a word or a sentence or so, so I’ll skip the book question. I’ll ask you, um, uh, any other product or idea in the current [00:45:00] e-commerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about?
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Yep. I can’t say anything more than that. Okay.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: No other, no other idea that you’re excited about right now? There are anything
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: in your business there, there, there are lots of ideas that I’m excited about right now, but I’m not gonna talk about them on your program, but yes,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: yes. Um, any productivity tool, software or a productivity tip.
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Uh, you know, we’re constantly, um, introducing. N new productivity, um, software and, and, and even hardware into our operat in, into the way we operate. I think we just started, uh, the e o s system. I hope I didn’t misspeak. Uh, I, that may not be the right acronym, but I think it is. Anyway, so yes, we’re constantly [00:46:00] introducing.
New ways of, of tracking our customers and, um, and just being more efficient, uh, and helping the team be more efficient. And these are all programs that are inside their computer that help us, you know. Okay. Third party vendor programs. Okay.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, any other startup or. An e-commerce, three tech that you think is currently doing great
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: things?
Oh, I, I’m sorry. I can’t answer that. I don’t know. I don’t really pay attention to other e-commerce businesses. I’m too busy. Okay.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, another entrepreneur or business person whom you are, you look up to or someone who inspires you?
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Yeah, there I had, um, early on, uh, when I first [00:47:00] came to New York, I had a mentor that kind of, I became a partner with him.
I didn’t become a partner in his business, but I moved my business into his business and we worked cooperatively, uh, in Manhattan out of that space. And, um, and he was a really smart. He, he owned some big music stores that are well known. Um, and, uh, I really respected him a lot and he, he, he showed me a lot of ways in which I wanted to be and other ways in which I didn’t want to be.
And, um, so he was a big influence in my life and, um, so I, I, I very much looked up to him.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Final question, uh, best business advice you ever received or you would give to other [00:48:00] entrepreneurs?
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: Um, I would say, you know, uh, for me it’s all about the customer. So don’t look for ways to say no. Always look for ways to say yes, you.
Figure out a solution that works for everyone with every problem. Um, I, I actually, you know, we had a problem just, uh, last week and um, and I immediately called our customer, even though they had agreed to this one solution, and I said, don’t worry, I will do whatever it takes to make you. And, uh, you know, we had to eat a little bit of the profit from that.
But in the end, she was [00:49:00] delighted. I was happy that their teacher was happy. We were all happy. So that would be my advice is to, uh, the customers always right. Uh,
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: yeah, I think that that probably goes a long way. Right? Cause in the long run, As you said, you know, this is a tight knit community and people are, know each other and talk about, it’s so if, if somebody, somebody has a great experience, you know, they’ll talk about it and they’ll probably come back, back to again.
They’ll recommend other people. So I think in the probably more beneficial, anything. Lower
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: reviews, yeah, that’s how you run a company. That’s all you have to do. Good for you. Any listeners out. Our Google reviews for the flute center of New York. That’s how you run a company.
Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Well, that’s, that’s awesome.
Well, so thank you so much for your time today. Thank you so much for sharing your story, uh, your business, uh, [00:50:00] strategies and tactics and, um, yeah, and, and, uh, sharing your, um, inspiring other entrepreneurs with your story. So yeah, thank you so much again for your time today. Really appreciated it. Thank you for joining me today at TrepTalks
Phil Unger of Flute Center Of New York: welcome. Thanks for inviting me in.
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