Selling as a Customer: The Birth of an Unexpected Business Plan

By Mauricio Ramirez, Partituras MX

When I first started working with the Hal catalog, back in 2013, as the manager of the recently founded section for printed music at Klavier, a piano store in Guadalajara, Mexico, I asked myself the obvious question for a first order: “What would sell the most and the fastest?”

In Guadalajara, for as long as I could remember, you couldn’t find much print music. All bookshelves around the city offered the same couple titles, mostly methods for beginners and a couple songbooks:  the “easy sellers” of a neglected market. Even the “best sellers” were difficult to find, as there were very few copies and they sold fast. It would take months before you saw the titles in bookshelves again.

And there I was, a recent piano major graduate working at a piano store with a 200,000 title catalog in my hands, deciding what to bring in on our first stock order. At first, the answer seemed obvious: “Every piano student needs Czerny, Lemoine, Beethoven, Mozart. You cannot find any of them in any store. LET’S BRING ETUDES AND SONATAS”.  And so we did.

These books were well received and sold modestly, but at a good rhythm. When a couple of titles sold out, we placed a new order to restock. Soon we found out why printed music had been generally unavailable:  to import books in a small-scale increases costs to a tremendous percentage. We had to order more books than we sold in order to lower costs and keep our chosen titles available. As a result, our stock was getting bigger and bigger. It was a problem that could grow like a snowball.

At first, this was not so hard to manage. My close friends and I wanted books for ourselves, and every restock order was an opportunity to get them. The first little seed of my current business model was created: every time I needed to restock, I would promote special orders among Guadalajara’s musical community. I started selling what people wanted to buy, instead of what I thought they would.  This led, by the second quarter of 2014, to the creation of a side project: Partituras GDL (“Guadalajara Sheet Music”). Customers would order online and pick up their books later.

Timing couldn’t be better: I was starting Academia Moncayo, my own lesson studio, with many students in need of books, so now I was buying for my studio the very same books I was selling to everyone else. As a lesson studio, I became both a seller and a customer, creating both supply and demand.

Things were running smoothly. I had now two stocks to keep,  Klavier’s (mostly Schirmer books) and Moncayo’s (mostly Faber Piano Adventures books). Every time we needed to restock, promoting a few special orders via Partituras GDL would be enough to keep our costs low. But this would not last long…

By 2015 word started to spread about Partituras GDL. Although USA online stores would ship to Mexico, shipping costs were too expensive, so it was amazing for people to be able to order the printed music of their choosing from a local store and picking them up with no additional shipping cost. Problem was, we started getting special orders way sooner than we needed to restock. The shadow of our briefly forgotten problem came back bigger than ever. For Partituras GDL to survive, we had to place orders soon after we started receiving special orders; otherwise, clients would cease buying from us. But there was no way the demand of books in Moncayo and Klavier was going to grow enough to compensate the new accelerated frequency of special orders.

There was a missing piece in the picture, and if we couldn’t find it, the whole project would collapse. I realized I needed to both create further demand for our stock and expand the promotion of special orders so they would come in bigger numbers. A risky move, as both things needed to grow at the same rate at the same time.

By then I had been using Faber books in Moncayo for a year and a half and I was loving each page of them. I made sure to write to Faber and let them know I felt that way. By late 2015 this lead to a visit from Isabel Bowen, Faber’s Production Editor, as part of a promotion tour in Mexico. After this visit, I started collaborating with Faber as an editor, clinician and promotor.

Soon after Isabel’s tour, a teacher from Mexico City contacted Faber. He loved the methods and was eager to buy copies for his new students. But, as is also usual in Mexico City, local retailers had Faber sold out and it would be months before they would order more copies. “Where can I buy them?” he asked. This was an important issue for Faber, the publisher. If the promotion of the books works and then teachers can’t buy them, all efforts would be futile. There was only one way he was going to get the books soon, I had to send him copies from Moncayo’s stock. And then it hit me:

Partituras GDL needed an anchor line of products, so I could keep a small stock that would sell constantly; and Faber needed a reliable retailer to fulfill the demand for their methods. I was already in charge of promoting the methods, and already had a distribution system. The solution to my snowball was in front of me.

If I successfully promoted Faber among music studios nationwide, while also making sure they were able to buy the books from me at the same price they would pay in any local store, soon the demand for Faber books would be enough to keep up with Partituras GDL special orders.

And so I did. In early 2016, Partituras GDL, (formerly just a side project) transformed into my main project: Partituras MX (short for Mexico). I started shipping nationwide. Faber products I ship for free and keep in permanent stock; it now takes under a week for clients to receive books, and although shipping for free leaves me with a lower profit margin with Faber products, I now have a bigger need for restock orders. I can now continuously promote and receive special orders for which I have a larger profit margin, and eventually, if all goes as planned, special orders will be enough to be self-sustaining.

The next step was to find the right strategy to catch a neglected market’s eye. And that subject I leave for a future article.