Rocky Mountain Music Repair Did – And The Stevensons Have Still Found An Awesome Way To Have Family Dinners.
The Stevensons: Brian, 35, and Deanna, 30,
Rocky Mountain Music Repair, a shop that fixes musical instruments for schools and individuals and sells used instruments, music lesson books and supplies.
Brian, yes, Deanna, no. Brian works with the instruments, and Deanna keeps the books and manages the retail inventory. They also hired their first part-time employee this year.
Half self-funded, half loaned from Deanna’s mom, a business partner who shares in Rocky Mountain Music Repair’s profits.
BEFORE BEING OWNERS, THEY:
Both went to college with the intention of becoming band directors. (They met when Deanna was in the Arizona State University marching band, and Brian assisted the drum majors.) Brian worked at an art museum and a restaurant before getting a job fixing instruments at a music shop. Deanna worked for a resort and spa and was a substitute music teacher.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
After working three years for another musical instrument repair shop, Brian had often thought about opening his own. (Actually, the idea first occurred to him as a child watching Mr. Rogers repair musical instruments.) In November 2012, the shop’s owner hinted that layoffs were coming, and Brian and Deanna, who had a 6-month-old daughter, “decided to take fate into their own hands.”
They planned to start their business out of their house. But they stumbled upon a storefront location they liked, signed a lease December 1, 2012 and moved in a month later. (They lovingly recall how they bought a laptop and checked out the library’s 23-DVD set of instructions for the accounting software QuickBooks. They watched the entire thing over Christmas break.)
HOW THEY DID — AND DIDN’T — SPEND THEIR MONEY
“We’re huge cheapskates,” Brian said. “My life is fixing old things and bringing them back to life, so we do that with everything.” They inherited their shop’s desks from the law firm that previously worked out of the space, and Brian refinished them up with reclaimed wood. Their cabinetry came from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
Because Brian always planned to have his own shop, he’d slowly been amassing in his own instrument repair tools. Still, the tools are so specialized, he had to invest $10,000 in new ones plus $10,000 in instrument parts and supplies to open the store. But he holds off buying new tools until they have a job that requires them. The $4,000 machine that removes dents from the bell of a French Horn, for example, wasn’t purchased until a customer walked in with a horn he’d run over with his car.
“The bell looked like a taco salad bowl,” Deanna remembers. To complete that job, Brian reached out to an industry network online and found someone in North Carolina who was willing to sell a used machine to him for only $850.
Brian says they also “look for ways to be creative about how you can get things done without cash.” One example – they give school music teachers store credit in exchange for old instruments “that have probably been sitting in their storage closets for 20 years.” Brian then repairs the instruments and sells them in the store.
BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OWNING AND WORKING FOR SOMEONE ELSE
The Stevensons have been able to tailor their business to meet their family’s needs. Their daughter Emily, now 4, is in the shop a few hours a week and even has her own “office” filled with toys, movies, a starter toolbox and broken trumpet so that she can “work” alongside her dad. When she was an infant, she and Deanna were in the shop full time, and now that Emily’s older, Deanna has been able to cut back her own hours in the office.
One more family member has a role in the shop – Rocky Mountain Music Repair’s official greeter, a yellow Lab named Sawyer. Deanna laughs thinking about how she would have never been able to bring him to her former job at the resort spa.
“My shop, my rules,” Brian added. “When we posted the job listing for our part-time employee, we said, ‘There’s a dog and a kid here. If that’s a problem, this might not be the job for you.’”
PROUDEST MOMENT SO FAR
Brian clearly remembers, about four months after opening the shop, he got the first phone call from a school asking him to repair their broken band instruments. It was proof that Rocky Mountain Music Repair was starting to build a reputation. Today, they work with all the elementary schools in their town, as well as several high school bands. They’re even starting to get the most coveted work – universities.
The Stevensons expected the vast majority of their revenue would come from repairing instruments people owned, but now, 40 percent of their business is selling instruments Brian’s refurbished.
“You’ve got to pivot to what people want,” he said. “We started with two [used] flutes and a clarinet. Now we have more than 300 instruments waiting to be repaired and sold.”
SOMETHING THEY’VE STRUGGLED WITH
Fall is the repair shop’s busy period. It’s back-to-school time and marching band season, so Brian and Deanna often work six days a week, well into the evenings. The first year, they had more than their share of fast-food family dinners. But this year, they planned ahead.
“Deanna bought 20 pounds of beef, 20 pounds of chicken and 20 pounds of pork, and made a ton of freezer meals,” Brian said. “We’d dump them in the crockpot here, have a family dinner in the shop and keep right on working. It saved our health, and it saved money.”
BEST ADVICE TO BUSINESS OWNERS JUST STARTING OUT
“Be part of the community, and show them you love what you do,” Brian says. He points to the times he and Deanna set up shop at high school band festivals, offering free repairs to students having trouble with their instruments before a performance. “If a kid drops his trumpet, you never want that to be the reason he can’t perform,” Brian said.
In this way, the Stevensons have met many grateful parents and band directors who later become the shop’s paying customers. “We want them to know we’re not just in it for the money,” Brian said. “We care about the community.”