A View from My Piano - a word from our Director
We at Chimes Music pride ourselves on our history and know that our knowledge and personal service set us apart from competitive conglomorates such as Amazon and Ebay. We’ve spoken to our director, Tony Shepping, to fill us in a bit on our history and what he feels sets us apart from the other shops.
Tell me the history of Chimes Music Shop
Chimes Music Shop was first opened in Marylebone High Street, by Ann Knight. In 1974, I opened the music shop in the basement of my father’s newsagent at 36 Harrington Road. Within three years, it had outgrown the premises and we moved to 7 Harrington Road. Then, two years later, it was doing well and so we moved next door and at that time it was called Kensington Music Shop.
In 1977, we got a phone call from Mrs Knight who had been at Chimes Music Shop since 1951. She had decided to retire and she invited me to take over her shop. My father at the time was retiring from being a newsagent proprietor and he wanted to continue working but with a change of direction. He managed Chimes Music Shop whilst I ran Kensington Music Shop. We were then invited to run the Festival Hall shops in 1983, and we ran the music book shop, record shop and gift shop, which was called Festival Music and Books. We ran the Festival Hall shops for five years, under the auspices of the GLC and right at the beginning of commercial expansion on the South Bank. It was a fascinating and colourful few years, with many celebrity book signings including Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, James Galway, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Don Mclean, Clive James, Gerald Scarfe and Ken Livingstone, to name but a few. Whilst working at the Festival Hall, I met Eric Hollis who was Head of the Junior Department of the Guildhall School of Music and in 1985, we opened the Barbican shop together, which unsurprisingly, we called Barbican Music Shop.
The shop in Marylebone High Street had to close because of high rent in 2000 and when the Royal Academy of Music heard of this, they personally asked the landlord if the rent could be reduced. The landlord eventually said yes, but at this stage it was too late because staff had been given their redundancy notices. It took a few years but in 2006, the Royal Academy offered some space within their premises and we opened Academy Chimes, within the museum of the Royal Academy of Museum.
We didn’t want the name ‘Chimes’ to vanish into obscurity, which is why each shop has the ‘Chimes’ name; ‘Kensington Chimes’, ‘Academy Chimes’ and ‘Barbican Chimes’.
How has the business grown since then?
Today we have the three shops still running (Kensington, Academy and Barbican) with the addition more recently of the online facility. This is a growth area and customers have the opportunity to purchase everything they would want to in the shop, but from the comfort of their own home, except for rental of instruments, for which they would need to call the shops or pop in.
In the early days, until about the late 1970s, we had no rental of instruments. This is now an important part of the business, alongside musical gifts. When we opened the shops, there were no manufacturers of music gifts and we were one of the first companies to offer this. We launched the Music Gift Company in partnership with my brother, Ron, in the 1980s and we sold things like mugs, keyrings, pencils, erasers and sharpeners. It was very successful and we sold the company on in 2000. We still continue to sell music-related gifts in all three shops and online and they remain popular. In the Academy shop, we also sell Royal Academy of Music related gifts.
What do you consider are the main challenges today in retail and in particular for a small business like Chimes Music?
Reflecting on it, the highs outweigh the lows by far. But, the growth of the online world and internet sales is a challenge. There is competition with Amazon, Ebay and other music shops of course. One of the biggest challenges is the huge growth of Amazon. However, Amazon offer neither the expertise, nor the knowledge as well as not being able to advise on what editions, instruments, or accessories, would most suit the customer.
We all know the increase of online shopping and the internet ‘era’ has brought about a decline for small businesses. There are plenty of places to buy music and instruments from. What do you think are the main strengths that Chimes Music Shop has that sets it apart from distributors like Amazon and other key competitors?
All the staff working in the shops are musicians and have great knowledge of the editions and of instruments.
We have many dedicated staff who have been working for the company for many years and they therefore get to know and can establish good working relationships with regular customers. This builds trust and confidence in our customers and our knowledge of the printed music industry is second to none. We currently have well over 500,000 titles available to customers.
We have a long established tradition of providing excellent service to musicians, teachers and students. We are very well known by all the music colleges in the UK and abroad, as well as the major opera houses, choral societies and most of the prominent schools in the UK. Unfortunately, there seems to be little budget set aside in the state sector for music, although we do work with many state schools as well.
The rental of instruments to children at schools is a big part of the business and has been ever since it began. We rent out string, wind and brass instruments, which enables them to ‘try before they buy’, and often they will end up purchasing the instrument after trying it for a while. The rentals work particularly well for the string instruments as children will work through the different sizes and, once they reach ‘full size’, they can then decide to purchase the instrument. Otherwise, parents would need to buy several different string instruments as the child needs a bigger size, each time. There are not many other trades where there is the ‘try before you buy’ approach.
We are still doing well as we offer things that the internet just can’t replace. Things like expert advice on all different editions of printed music, rentals, instruments, and repairs, as well as a delivery service to schools three times a week to London schools, and to many further afield which we have been doing for over 30 years. There is definitely still a place for independent music shops like ours for as long as people want to learn and continue to pursue music.
Have you always enjoyed your job?
I’ve always loved my job and particularly enjoyed meeting people, the musicians, people from all walks of life as well as providing an excellent service which we pride ourselves on. In the early days, I would work six days a week at least but I didn’t mind because I was doing something I was passionate about, so it didn’t always feel like work. The shop is part of my DNA as I have been doing it for so long and seen it grow from a bookstall in a basement to where we are now. There’s a quote by Simon Sinek, which resonates with me when I think of the business:
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called STRESS. Working hard for something we love is called PASSION”
Do you have a lot of long-standing customers?
Yes, we do! We have many long-standing customers, some of whom have been with us since their student days and are now world famous musicians. We regularly see faces from the past resurfacing to come and visit and support the music shop they went to when they were teenagers!
What do you play? Where did you study?
I play the piano, I’ve played since I was five years old. I studied at the Royal Academy of Music. When I left the Academy, I thought I would be a professional musician but life had other things in store for me! I still love to play now though and always practise for an hour every day.
Do you think anyone can learn to play an instrument?
I think anyone can learn to play for enjoyment, as long as they have patience, enthusiasm and the time to practise regularly. For those who are aiming to have a career in music, they will generally have natural ability and talent, in addition to an immense and extraordinary capacity for hard work and determination.
Why do you love music?
There is so much I could say about this topic but I will keep it brief; music nourishes the soul and it would be impossible to think of living a life without music.
In another life, what would you have been, if not a business owner/musician?
I’d often thought, I’d like to have been a songwriter or a footballer. I guess the footballer thing is every young man’s dream!
What are your values as a company director?
The most important thing for me is to be honest and open in all dealings with staff and customers. I try to ensure my staff are motivated and rewarded adequately for their skills, expertise, application and hard work, as far as possible. A good company culture creates balance and a proactive workforce.
What is your proudest achievement with regards to the business?
There have been many moments throughout my career which have given me great pride.
- I was awarded an ARAM (Associate of the Royal Academy of Music). This is an honorary degree from the Royal Academy of Music, in recognition of what I had achieved in my service to the music industry.
- Being invited to open a shop in the Royal Festival Hall and in the Academy
- My manager Lara was awarded the Retailer of the Year by the music industries association.
- I am very proud of retaining such dedicated and loyal staff for so many years.
- The customers who have frequented the shops and whom I personally dealt with, have given me immense pleasure and pride. To name a few; Bernard Haitink, John Ogden (he very humbly shook my hand when we met), Mitsuko Uchida, Steven Isserlis, Nicola Benedetti, George Shearing (he signed all my LPs) and Julian Lloyd Webber.
What are your hopes for the future of Chimes Music?
We live in a growing digital culture which all businesses are adapting to and I hope that Chimes Music will continue to prosper and thrive in this climate, providing a much needed service to musicians, students and teachers. Chimes Music has also been a family business from the outset, which I hope will carry on and move from strength to strength.