1. How did you get into the flute industry, and how many years have you worked for J.L. Smith & Co.?
I first started in the flute business in 2007. Having finished a Bachelors degree in Flute Performance at the North Carolina School of the Arts a few years earlier, I was freelancing, teaching lessons, and working part time at Barnes & Noble. (A familiar story to many musicians!) You can imagine my excitement when an email from J.L. Smith & Co. popped into my inbox announcing an opening for a Flute Specialist to assist in their Flute Department. I was fortunate enough to be chosen for that spot and right away I fell in love with the combination of flutes and business. What better gig? – Surrounded by new flutes all day, helping flutists of all ages and levels choose the perfect instrument.
As much as I enjoyed my job at J.L. Smith, I had an itch to go back to school for a Masters degree. So, in 2009 I left the business to attend graduate school at the University of Miami, Frost School of Music. Completing that degree was a goal that I needed to achieve and my time in Miami was priceless. I had the enormous honor of studying with professor Trudy Kane.
While pursuing that degree, I found myself missing the flute business, and did some part time work for Altus Handmade Flutes assisting at trade shows and events. After completing my Masters and spending some time on the audition circuit, I decided that my ideal career was in the flute industry, and that I would find ways to also incorporate teaching and performing into my life. I contacted Jeff Smith and asked him to let me know of any positions available in the industry. Coincidentally he was looking for someone to lead the Flute Division of J.L. Smith! I was hired (or re-hired I should say) shortly there after and rejoined the J.L. Smith team as Director of Flute Sales in 2012.
In June of 2015, J.L. Smith & Co. purchased Flute World, and I now have the privilege of leading two teams of wonderful people all working to enhance the lives of flutists around the world.
2. Describe a typical day at J.L. Smith & Co.
Many musicians don’t realize that J.L. Smith is a multi-faceted company. Not only are we a dealer of fine flutes, piccolos, and headjoints, we have an industry leading repair shop with technicians specifically trained in expert flute repair. Our technicians spend hours setting up our inventory to the highest standards. Once you find your dream flute, they keep it performing at its greatest potential for years to come.
The other side of our business is in manufacturing. Jeff Smith designs tools and parts that are used in the manufacturing and repairing of musical instruments – mostly woodwinds. Those tools and parts are made in house in our machine shop. We also own Valentino and make Valentino pads and accessories in our facility. Let’s not forget that we are also the new distributor for Flutescooter bags!
So, a typical day at J.L. Smith depends on your role! In the Flute Division we typically start the day by reviewing the list of instruments that are out on trial, as well as the list of pending trials that need to be shipped. We check email for new inquiries and take calls throughout the day from clients looking for a new flute, piccolo, or headjoint. In short, we talk to people about flutes all day! Our flute show room is reserved for flutists who come to our shop to audition instruments. Here you get our undivided attention as we help you choose the instrument that suits you best.
3. How do you help a customer find the perfect instrument?
Helping a flutist find the perfect instrument is all about listening, asking the right questions, and then listening some more. I always want to know what flute you are currently playing on, what you like and dislike about that instrument, and what you’re looking to gain from a new one. We start by establishing some parameters – price range being the first. It’s not all about the price tag, but let’s face it, we’ve all got a budget! We also find out if there are particular brands that interest you (maybe teacher recommendations) or particular features that are must-haves. I like to spend some time talking about sound. Sound is sometimes difficult to describe and everyone puts their ideal sound into words in different ways. Some people use colors to describe sound, others use the terms ‘bright’ or ‘dark.’ My favorites are food descriptors like a ‘creamy chocolate’ sound, or ‘spicy’ sound!
If we’re shipping you flutes for an in home trial, we use this information to narrow the selection down to 2-3 instruments. Once you receive the instruments we offer consultation via phone and Skype or FaceTime to help you make your selection.
If you visit our shop, we pull a selection of 8-12 instruments and work with you to formulate preferences until we find a winner!
Trying multiple flutes and sometimes several headjoint options is key to finding the perfect match. Each flute responds differently to every flute player. I could give the same flute to 10 people – some would love it and some would hate it, some would sound fantastic, and others not so much! We match the performer with their best instrument, no matter their price range or experience level.
4. How does a typical flute trial work?
For many flutists, the idea of shipping their flute is terrifying! For us, we ship instruments all over the country every day. This is the best way for us to reach our clients no matter where they live. After going through the initial consultation process described above, we pull the instruments that are being sent for trial, have them prepped by our technicians, and off they go to shipping. They are packaged in a special foam padded box unique to J.L. Smith, complete with a copy of our “Complete Flute Buyer’s Guide” and a trial packet to get you started. Our trial process is very simple – we want you to focus on the instruments, not on the details!
5. What are any trends you see in the flute market today?
Each flute player has his or her own needs and preferences, but I do see some trends in the marketplace. Gone are the days when inline G was considered the more ‘professional’ option over offset. Most flute players are opting for the ergonomic and mechanical advantages of the offset G. The C# trill key is also a very popular feature, facilitating some otherwise very awkward trills and tremolos. This option is even available on many intermediate models now!
In terms of sound, many flutists are looking for what they describe as a big, full, dark sound. Projection is key for many players as they strive to reach the back of the orchestral hall or perform solo recitals with challenging new repertoire.
6. Explain the recent JL Smith/Flute World merger, and how that works for the customer.
Earlier this year, J.L. Smith & Co. had the exciting opportunity to purchase Flute World. Established in 1983, Flute World is the largest flute retailer in America, and an all-inclusive resource for flutes, sheet music, recordings, and accessories.
For the customer, not much has or will change. Flute World is considered a sister company, and will continue to offer the same breadth of product and excellent customer experience that it always has. We are working to expand the repair services offered at Flute World, and are also looking for a new facility (in the Detroit Metro area) for the business.
You may have noticed - Flute World does have a new logo! I had a terrific time working with a graphic artist on the design for the new logo, and we’ve been getting very positive feedback since its release at the NFA convention in Washington, D.C. The Flute World website is also in the process of getting a makeover and should be complete by the first of the year.
In short, Flute World has been handed over to a company that is dedicated to continue to build on the Flute World tradition and is always looking for ways to enhance the flutist’s experience.
7. How has the flute market changed from when you started until today, and how do you adapt to change? How has social media influenced the flute industry? What's the difference between buying from JL/FW than on the web?
Like anything, the music industry is certainly evolving. The introduction of social media continues to have a huge impact, and has opened up a whole new world of marketing opportunities. The younger generation of flutists look to social media and peer to peer information when researching new flutes. More than ever it is important for us to stay connected to our clients in these ways.
Both J.L. Smith and Flute World have e-commerce web stores – flutists can buy from us on the web! The important question is why they should buy from us instead of one of the many other retailers out there. The answer is simple – we are the flute experts. I spoke earlier about our dedication to setting up our instruments to the highest level possible. We do not sell flutes “out of the box.” A great deal of time and attention goes into ensuring that your new flute is one of a kind. We are also committed to offering our clients a flute experience that they cannot receive anywhere else. Our Flute Specialists, Print Music and Accessory Experts, our highly skilled Technicians and our Customer Services Specialists are all committed to helping flutists more fully experience the joy of making music.
8. What events do you have coming up?
I will be making appearances at the Midwest Clinic in a few weeks and the NAMM show in January. We will not have exhibits at these events, but it is a great opportunity for me to visit with manufacturers and see what’s new in flutes for 2016!
Both J.L. Smith and Flute World will be exhibiting at the Florida Flute Convention January 29th-31st in Orlando, and from there show season really takes off. There is a flute festival, college visit, or Road Show pretty much every week until May! Check our our Facebook pages for more information on upcoming events.
9. 3-5 holiday gift ideas?
Available at J.L Smith and/or Flute World:
Fluterscooter Bags, of course!
Valentino Flute and Piccolo Wands
Valentino Flute Stand with Flute & Piccolo Pegs
Not sure what to buy the flutist in your life? Purchase a Flute World Gift Certificate!
-Sarah Hollandsworth of Flute World & JL Smith