Can COVID-19 save the piano industry? It may seem like an unlikely combination of events, but across North America, piano retailers are reporting a significant uptick in sales to many individuals and families looking for new skills to learn during the lockdown.
The boost in sales couldn’t come at a better time. Over the last decade or more, piano sales in North America have declined to a crisis point for retailers. With the COVID-19 lockdown sparking a major crisis in the music industry and the economy at large, many industry insiders were expecting the worst.
“I thought this was going to be the final nail.”
“I thought this was going to be the final nail,” Dallas retailer Hale Ryan of Metroplex Piano told The New York Times recently. However, the global pandemic lockdown seems to have spawned a mini-renaissance of piano sales instead. “It’s actually been the best three months that I’ve seen in retail.”
It’s worth noting that the golden days of piano sales in North America happened about a century ago. At that time, a piano was the focal point of entertainment at home, at school, and in every church and community centre. Times have changed, and entertainment expectations along with it. But, COVID seems to have initiated a return to our roots, and pianos are among the industries reaping the benefit.
Kim Lowry, of Robert Lowry Piano Experts in Toronto, couldn’t help but notice the NYT article. “We saw a lot of parallels,” she says. “We were careful, but we had so many inquiries.”
Robert Lowry Piano Experts closed up for the pandemic quarantine in late March. At that time, anyone landing on their website, or calling the business line, was directed to an email address. During the seven weeks they were physically closed, a sales person and Kim divided up the calls. “It was pretty overwhelming,” she notes. In fact, she reports that the surge actually began during the last week before they temporarily shuttered the store, as if people were suddenly panicking, and wondering what they’d be doing at home with everything closed.
“We were careful, but we had so many inquiries.”
Many pianos, both digital and acoustic, were sold without human contact — and even without prior piano contact — during those seven weeks. Since Lowry has cautiously reopened, a lot of their inventory of used acoustic pianos has been flying out the door. “We work by appointment only,” she explains, with masks, gloves, and social distancing in full force. The PPE doesn’t seem to be a deterrent.
The sentiment is echoed by companies in Philadelphia, and the NYT reporters found similar stories from piano dealers across the United States. Along with a boom in sales of home gym equipment and backyard pools, pianos are finding a niche in the pandemic world.
Digital pianos are also very popular, naturally, with their smaller footprint and portability, along with the ability to play with headphones that make them a good choice for multi-person households and tight quarters.
“The question in our industry is: Will this stick?”
Perhaps best of all, anecdotally, a representative from Yamaha Corporation of America noted that up to 25 percent of COVID sales were going to first-time piano buyers.
Tom Sumner, the president of Yamaha Corporation of America is quoted in the article as noting the company’s sales of digital pianos was up a whopping 60 percent in April 2020 over April 2019. Steinway reports an uptick in sales even of big ticket items like a limited edition concert grand worth $250K — with the sales completed 100 percent online.
Brian Majeski, the co-owner of Music Trades, a company that analyzes data about the musical instruments industry, is also quoted in the Times article. “The question in our industry is: Will this stick? Are you creating a new generation of players, or is it a momentary spike with people who have time on their hands looking for things to do?”
Will home pianos be part of the new normal? We can only hope.