Apples to Apples, Violin to Violin - The Rental Credit and "sale" Ball and Chain

What do you remember about the last time you visited a grocery store?  When I look down an aisle at some stores and see 60% of the items with a "sale" price tag, I laugh to myself.  

Earlier this morning I saw a beautiful cello painting by Paul Gauguin within a Strings Magazine article.  I started looking for more information about the painting and saw a company that actually does oil painting recreations of art.  They just happened to be running a sitewide 50% off sale and also had free shipping.  

In the "box craze" a few years ago, one membership sent you a box of samples each month, and you earned points on purchases of the full size versions. Some of the brands were unique, while others were widely available. You could redeem the points you had earned on purchases, but sometimes other sites had the same product for significantly less. It wasn't always clear if it was a better value to get a product on the membership site using the points or at a different store that sold the same product at a lower price or had other sales/coupons.  

I could go on and with other examples of inconsistent or misleading pricing.  Bed Bath and Beyond comes to mind, where it seems everyone always has their 20% off coupon, or Banana Republic - where it's surprising not to see that they're running a Friends and Family 40% off promotion.  Even truck companies will highlight $7,000 below sticker!

MSRP, SRP, RRP, List, Compare At, MAP- these are all various names and acronyms for what a company thinks their product is "worth." We all know about psychological pricing, and it's obvious it works based on the ubiquity of these tactics. However, one should think twice or thrice when it comes to four-figure instrument investments, not which bottle of tomato sauce or pair of pants to purchase.

sale chalkboard sign

There are two types of violin shops - "general music store" type places, and those that are focused more on instrument sales alone. You'll find more accessories, sheet music, and many genres of instruments at the former. Their foundation is renting, and most of their renters do so for years.  If a school starts in 4th or 5th grade, it's easy for a family to build up $1,000 or more in rental credit by high school when most people would look at purchasing. StringWorks is in the latter category, where we only have instruments, bows, and cases for the bowed string family of instruments, in partciular. Our primary focus is on selling the instruments and their bows/cases, but we also have a rental/repair component.

The violin shop industry has had a number of blemishes on its reputation over the years. Teacher Kickbacks is one of the biggest, but that is largely in the past. The other more enduring problem is that of negotiating or haggling on price. We recently had a customer consign a violin with us after it hand't found a home at another shop.  They told him they were listing it at close to $10,000 so there was "room."  We have it listed at $6,000 which is where we know it will sell and what the violin is worth.  That is the point of price, isn't it, communicating the value of  a given service or product. Selling instruments online in addition to Brick and Mortar locations means that we are by default much more transparent. Our prices and instruments are easily researched and out there in the open for any family and teacher to see and compare. This also translates well into our focus on instrument sales, rather than rental empires. We know what our instruments are worth, and that is what we sell them for. We don't have to plan for 10% teacher commission, haggling over price, or whether someone has rented for 6 months or 6 years. We have a rental program for those unsure of their determination, but encourage families to purchase and take advantage of our generous trade-in policy once that commitment has been established.

We also have complete confidence that we are providing the best value in an instrument. The most tonal, wood, and workmanship quality for our family's hard-earned dollar. Period. We see prices and promotions at various industry events for the larger instrument workshops and manufacturers, so we know what some of them cost and what they are being sold for. When one shop sells a violin for $2,500 before your rental credit, while another most have it listed for $1,500, it's pretty obvious what is going on. If you've rented for 5 years at $30/month, it's hard to give up that credit, but you also were paying for a service, the option to borrow an instrument and not worry about damage that might occur.  The "sunk cost" of your rental is in the past, and it's time to compare the instruments objectively.  It's possible that Shop A's $2,500 cello will sound better than Shop B's $4,000 cello where you happen to have $1,000 in rental credit.  

We use the "Compare at" price on our site to convey the true value, and very conservatively so. Look over our reviews, and you'll see many players talk about their teacher's shock at the sound quality for what they paid. If you're in a large or high cost area, our instruments are typically 1/2 or less of what you might expect to pay. The maker or shop carving an instrument has an idea of what that instrument should be sold for. That "List" price might be published or it might not be. There might also be a required "MAP" price, the "minimum advertised price," which protects players and shops alike from those shady players online that would create a race to the lowest price, sacrificing quality and service along the way. Again, if most shops have an instrument listed at a similar price, while one has it listed for hundreds more but is running some kind of promotion or you have credit, where is the true value?

This all assumes you can research the name and background for an instrument. When that is removed from the equation, just know that the same variables apply. Find the "net budget" you have for an instrument and get one from whichever shops you have access to. Work with your teacher to compare them "blind" and see which is preferred. 

Whatever the situation might be, we just hope you'll be open and honest with yourself and the shop. I would have to be crazy to buy a pair of $100 pants without that 40% off coupon at Banana Republic. If everyone trying instruments has $1,000 rental credit, then the store is probably using a similar smoke screen for their instruments' pricing. Don't fall for it!  That discounted, inflated price might not sound like such a great deal in the end, literally.  

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A.F., Phillippines