The first thing every flutist always asks me is “How did you come up with Fluterscooter bags?” Then, the conversation usually leads to “You’re so entrepreneurial! I could NEVER do something like that…I just play flute.” And that’s where they’re wrong! Anyone can build their own brand, especially in our fast paced, technologically advanced, DIY world.
I've used the term “flutrepreneur” in a past article. What is a flutrepreneur? Someone like Susanna Loewy, who started the Pikes Falls Chamber Music Festival…someone like Jodi Bortz, owner of Flute Hoot flute stands…someone like Niall O’Rourdin, who recently founded Whole Musician with some of his flute colleagues…the list goes on.
Everyone’s process and learning curve is different, but I will share my story and then give some of my pointers as well as some sound business advice I have been given from non-flutists.
Flash back to 2010 in NYC. I was tired of bringing my basic Cavallaro black case to every gig. Everyone seemed to have the same one, so I wanted something different. I had a friend who knew a fashion designer, so I told him what I’d like, which at the time was a metallic silver with a red messenger type strap. He said he’d make a sample for me in exchange for me playing flute at one of his events. I didn’t hesitate. The first sample took a few months as fabric needed to be bought, a local factory and seamstress needed to be found, and unfortunately it was way too tight to fit my flute! We worked through some of the problems, and he was generous enough to make a new one for me. This one fit perfectly, and I was excited to show at off at the upcoming New York Flute Fair.
However, before I entered the building, 2 high school flutists from Long Island stopped me to ask about my case cover and where they could buy one. BUY ONE? I explained to them that this was made just for me. After many more inquiries inside the event, I started thinking…what if this could be available for other flutists to buy? At this point, I had never done anything remotely entrepreneurial, so I wasn’t sure how to structure this at all. I thought of my network of non-musicians (I always get business cards of everyone I meet because you just never know..), and I contacted someone who helps with startup businesses. I paid him a small fee to meet a few times for advice and then write a business plan that I would eventually present to potential business partners and investors.
Now, to find an investor….this was a more difficult task, and I wasn’t really sure who to approach, as I needed someone who knew about flutes and flutists as well as the flute business. Jason Blank, a colleague and friend from back in our youth orchestra and music school days in Philadelphia, had told me he’d be in NYC and that we should meet up for a drink. At the time he did not know about my idea, and I actually didn’t even think we would talk about it, as I hadn’t seen him in years and didn’t know he was doing flute sales now. But by the end of the night after a few drinks, I had a business partner and investor!
We then found a factory to make the first batch of bags for a decent price and ordered 50 silver bags to start. Now, you may ask, how were we going to sell these bags? We built a basic website, but at the time, social media was about 10% of what it is now, so we were a lot more limited in the beginning with our reach. Flute World became our first dealer, as well as some smaller regional flute pro shops, so we had to rely on those dealers and their current customers to take notice. We then decided to exhibit at our first NFA convention in Charlotte.
In Charlotte, we wanted maximum exposure. I, being the creative side of the business (Jason, being the much needed business side…as crunching numbers isn’t really my thing), thought of something that would definitely draw attention. It was summer, and it was hot. Flutists needed a break from the convention center, and everyone loves ice cream. So, I rented an ice cream truck from a local garage, stocked it with ice cream, and parked outside the convention center. I gave out coupons for bags if people bought ice cream, and I made sure to add everyone to our mailing list.
Fast forward to now: 2 more conventions and many more dealers, from Japan to France to the biggest domestic band dealer and distributor, the Woodwind and Brasswind, Fluterscooter is an expanding business, and we even had the honor of making customized bags for Powell Flutes’ anniversary of Sonare Flutes.
Here are some helpful steps in building your brand, whether it is a product like Fluterscooter bags, or something else (like The Flute View!):
1. Identify your audience: we’re all flutists, right? Easy.
2. If you’re not great with business, partner up with someone who is…better if the person is already familiar with the industry you choose.
3. Social media: this is a big one. How many facebook fans and friends, twitter and instagram followers, etc..do you have? Add them up: that’s your reach. I have 3500 facebook friends, 1800 facebook fans, 1400 twitter followers, and 450 Instagram followers. So, roughly my reach is 7,200 people. Make sure to target each and every one of them, and post as much as possible in ways that can always go back to your brand. A good email list is important, too.
4. Be CREATIVE with your marketing. You don’t need to get an ice cream truck like I did to make an impression, but think of your own creative way to get people talking about your product and brand!