StringWorks Blog

  • Teacher Kickbacks - the Unbeatable Foe

    "My teacher is receiving a commission when I buy this instrument?"

    Not if you are buying from StringWorks, but this unethical practice has found to be not only commonplace, but continues to grow, and at StringWorks - where we do NOT pay teacher commissions, ever - it becomes our unbeatable foe.

    String teachers are deservedly well respected for their guidance and mentoring of young string players.  All of us who have grown up playing violin, viola, or cello hold a special place in our heart for one or more of our private teachers.  Many times, because of the close professional relationship, the private string teacher's opinion is one that becomes nearly infallible, and in the case of teacher kickbacks (commissions paid by instrument dealers/shops TO the teachers when their student buys an instrument from them), this can be problematic.

    Over the years, we've been approached by teachers who simply ask us, in no uncertain terms, how much we 'pay' them when their students buy from us.  We politely explain our stance on teacher commissions, and - unfortunately - never hear from those teachers' students ever again.  

    The core of StringWorks' belief in not paying commissions stems from both the unethical aspect of it as well as the need for full disclosure, which is seldom practiced.  Teachers receiving kickbacks/commissions from an instrument shop or dealer most often do not inform the student or student's parents of the financial gain, and thus their preference and bias in choosing one particular instrument.  Some do, however, and we applaud them, for disclosing such an apparent bias is fair to the student, and a teacher should ALWAYS have the student's best interest in mind.

    Our hope is that this practice, which was wonderfully exposed by Strings Magazine in 2004, declines nationwide, and that even teachers who might be receiving kickbacks from instrument dealers both reveal their financial interest in the transaction, and allow for blind play testing between instruments of various shops, so the decision to buy an instrument is not based on the unfair bias of a financial benefit.  Also, while our business decision NOT to pay commissions to teachers has caused literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost business to StringWorks, our best option is to continue with this practice, and invite other violin shops to follow suit, rather than play the easy way.

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