This is Robert Estrin at LivingPianos.com Your Online Piano Store, with groundbreaking news about the future of the piano industry in the United States! I’m so pleased to have Michael Stilwell of Stilwell Pianos in Arizona and the head of the Piano Technicians Academy here with us today. Welcome Michael.
Michael: Thank you so much for having me.
Robert: You’re here today not just for this video, and not just to talk about the future of the piano industry, but how we are impacting the future of the piano industry together. The big news is that we are partnering to bring more pianos to more people throughout the United States and beyond! It’s so important because of how the piano industry has declined in this country. But before we go any further, just to introduce people to you, I want everybody to know how you got into the piano business to begin with.
Michael: I’m a third generation piano technician. My grandfather, Ralph Stilwell, started Stilwell Pianos in 1956 in Decatur, Illinois as an in-home service business. So we would tune pianos in people’s homes. We did rebuilds, regulation, new hammers, strings and things like that. I got into the business when I was 18 and I went to piano tuning school. My grandfather was in Decatur, Illinois and I was in Arizona. So, I needed help! Luckily, my grandfather was very well known in our industry. He was the head technician for Yamaha North America, for all of the United States. He developed awesome relationships with some big wig technicians. And when I wanted to get into the industry, he asked some of them to take me under their wing. So I trained with some of those guys and eventually took over the family business.
I spent the first seven years of my career tuning, regulating, voicing and stuff like that. And then while I was on my way to dinner with a friend I was hit by a car. It broke my right wrist; my tuning wrist. I was married and I needed to make money. So, I started buying pianos and selling them out of my house. I also started developing a course on piano technology.
That is the starting point of the Piano Technician Academy, which is the largest online piano tuning school in the world.
We were the first to go online and pioneered that using videography, web development, and e-learning. That’s been a really fun part of what I do, absorbing the tech side. I’m able to use my technician background in the sales process and buying process, making sure that we’re buying good pianos and, most importantly, that we’re selling good pianos. That knowledge allows me to make sure our pianos are dialed in perfectly every single day!
Robert: That’s what’s great about having a store full of piano technicians! What I find interesting is our parallel development. You grew up with piano technicians in your family going back generations. For me, it’s musicians. My father was a concert pianist, my sister is a pianist, my whole extended family are musicians!
The way I got into the piano business was from teaching piano lessons.
I started teaching piano in high school as an assistant to my father, as my sister had done before me. When I was teaching, people would call me for lessons. The first question I would always ask is, “Do you have a piano?” If they didn’t have a piano, they wouldn’t be able to learn. So, I ended up finding pianos for people and realized what a need there was for that.
I’m very excited about us helping to mitigate the decline of the piano industry in the United States.
I would venture to say that both of our missions are to revitalize the piano industry in this country. And we do this by offering pianos online that have never been available before, and in much greater numbers with the power that we bring to bear combining our companies.
This is the only industry that sells high ticket items that doesn’t do it online.
There is this idea that you have to play the piano first, you want to touch it and see it. But both of us have ventured into online sales, especially Living Pianos, and the amount of pianos that we sell on the internet is a sign of the times.
I’m married and I have four kids under seven. My wife buys groceries online. I’ll talk to her at 10 in the morning and ask, “What’s for dinner tonight?” She will respond, “I don’t know. I’ll call up Whoe Foods and it’ll just get delivered.” But for some reason the piano industry hasn’t gotten to that point. So, what Living Pianos has done with their video studio, filming all of the pianos and demonstrating the true tone, describing the real feel, helps people appreciate how these pianos sound and play. This is opening up opportunities for people to buy pianos this industry just hasn’t seen before. I’m super excited about it!
Robert: It’s a great opportunity for us to be working together and I’m looking forward to it. Thanks so much for joining us today. I’ve been talking with Michael Stilwell of Stilwell Pianos in Arizona and the Piano Technicians Academy. I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.