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View Full Version : Is the Fad Tapering Off (Again)?



lindydanny
08-08-2011, 04:54 AM
I was talking to a buddy of mine who owns a local shop about when he was likely to start carrying a brand of strings I wanted to buy from him. He responded by saying he had the paperwork ready to become a dealer, but he had ukuleles way low on his priority list. So, I asked why.

The market is dying. I'm not selling near as many as I was this time last year.

One could argue very quickly from points such as the shops marketing of ukes, the economy, and even the shops sales ethic. I'd argue against all of those very plainly knowing that the shop's sales are near twice what they were last year (mostly guitar), I've seen their sales ethic with ukuleles, and the economy (unbeknownst to the news media) is actually recovering on these types of goods.

So, I ask you for your input and observations: Is the "Fad" or "Market" on ukuleles still growing at the rate it once was? Or is it tapering off (or at least hit a plateau)?

~DB

hoosierhiver
08-08-2011, 05:06 AM
Maybe in his local area, but overall I'd say no, it's not receding yet.

After the holidays and before tax returns, things slow down.
Maybe he misjudged the uke market based on something like this and quit ordering them, then once you don't have good stock, people won't buy more.

ukeeku
08-08-2011, 05:34 AM
Also keep in mind that many people who buy their first uke are from local dealers, and they tend to be the cheap ones. Once they find they love the ukulele and want a better one then they go looking. If the shop does not have any (And seems like they only carry the cheaper ukes) then they go else where. So it may not be dead, it is just that those who would buy a uke have and are now moving on to other sellers.
IMHO that is :)

Sir
08-08-2011, 05:55 AM
Dunno, but I had a chat in late June with my supplier here in the UK about getting another 30 Makala dolphins ready in time for the Autumn term. not a chance!
Apparently the factory can't make enough to meet demands.

He also told me that he's not been able to get any of some sizes of Uke made by Makala THIS YEAR!

Somebody's buying them obviously:D

SailingUke
08-08-2011, 06:16 AM
My experience is also all the factories seem to be behind in production.
The demand for ukuleles is out there, but a lot of retailers are not stocked properly.

lindydanny
08-08-2011, 06:22 AM
He was having similar problems with another brand like the Makala Dolphins, but he has plenty of them in stock now. As for his stock, he has the low end ($40), lower middle ($100 to $200), middle ($200 to $300), and some $300+ stuff hanging on the wall. (Much of what is there has been there for more than two months.)

As for him being a local dealer, he does more than half of his stuff online and this is where he is suffering the most. You could say it is a competition thing considering how many other sellers are out there promoting ukuleles online now...

I'm not trying to call out the panic button. I'm more interested in what is actually happening. I would wager that if the fad is not actually receding, then it is at least starting to slow if only a small amount. Of course, as Hoosierhiver said, things definitely change during this buying season compared to black Friday and beyond. But, his estimates were based on this time last year. Maybe it is just a bump...

~DB

P.S.: If it sounds like I know a lot about this guys business, it is because I spend way more time there than I should and I've gotten to know the owner pretty darn well.

hoosierhiver
08-08-2011, 06:31 AM
There is alot more available online these days.

bazmaz
08-08-2011, 06:54 AM
The pointers available to me suggest the opposite is true. My blog hits grow on a weekly basis, my book is selling more, the ukulele for dummies book by Al Wood is topping music book charts, and beginner ukes are in such high demand that stores are struggling to get them (particularly Makala dolphins!)

Add to that the increase in general uke chatter on social networking and it seems to me to be on an upward spike

Pippin
08-08-2011, 12:12 PM
Also keep in mind that many people who buy their first uke are from local dealers, and they tend to be the cheap ones. Once they find they love the ukulele and want a better one then they go looking. If the shop does not have any (And seems like they only carry the cheaper ukes) then they go else where. So it may not be dead, it is just that those who would buy a uke have and are now moving on to other sellers.
IMHO that is :)

Yep. Then there are the shops that really don't know much about ukulele and just assume that ral quality comes from Ibanez, Fender, Oscar Schmidt and Mitchell. Of those four, perhaps the most popular among the guitar shops, Oscar Schmidt has some very high-quality (yet over-built) ukes. The others are plagued with QC issues. Now, though, Sam Ash has Kala Ukes, so things are looking up. They have Ovation (better quality than most of the others). They have Riptide... hit and miss. They have Martin. They have Flukes and Fleas.

crowsby
08-08-2011, 02:51 PM
One problem that I've seen is that there aren't a lot of options for higher-end ukuleles in most local markets. So when people go to a music store to check them out, it gives the impression that the uke is a shoddy gimmick instrument. Portland, for example, doesn't have anywhere I know of that carries any K-brand instruments, and we're about as ukeish as cities come these days.

I strongly prefer to buy local, but if no dealers are going to carry the instruments and strings I'm interested in, then I'll buy off the Internet. The problem with that is local shops lose all the higher-end customers, and chalk it off to diminishing demand.

Derry
08-08-2011, 02:57 PM
I was planning on placing an order to have a custom one made this week but today's market swing told me to hold off awhile,,

have seen many brick and mortar music stores fade away over the last five years,, they cannot compete with the internet,,

Derry

delray48209
08-08-2011, 03:26 PM
Mainland Ukes....were sold out. Just recently replenished. Ohana's are starting to trickle in. In many cases, the lower end Martins are on back order. By the scarcity of some manufactures, I'd have to say the craze is still in full bloom.

itsme
08-08-2011, 03:35 PM
The other day someone posted this CS Monitor article:

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Music/2011/0804/Ukulele-The-little-guitar-that-could


Ukulele sales are skyrocketing on track to jump nearly 100 percent this year from the last, according to figures from the Lanikai brand, a division of Hohner Inc.

"We're in the infancy of this," says Drew Lewis, fretted division product manager at Hohner. "First we had the influencers. Now everybody is picking it up."
Now, that may not apply to every uke maker/seller, but if Lanikai's sales are double over last year, surely others are still seeing a surge as well.

Papa Tom
08-08-2011, 04:05 PM
>>>So it may not be dead, it is just that those who would buy a uke have and are now moving on to other sellers.<<<<<

I'd agree with this comment. Here in NY, the major music retailers carry pretty much only Lanikai and Martin. It seems like most of you guys who really know your stuff look for brands most non-uke people have never heard of. Thus, the sales at Sam Ash and Guitar Center may very well have slowed down, but the online sales of other brands might still be cranking away.

For me, the uke was a huge obsession when it seemed OK to be just "good" at it. Now that my bar has been raised fifty-fold by all the super-human ukulele YouTube videos, I find I'm discouraged and not as quick to pull out the instrument at parties anymore.

syrynx
08-08-2011, 04:31 PM
I think it may be useful to distinguish between 'ukuleles being sold and 'ukuleles being played.

Given the instrument's widespread exposure in recent years, thanks to Iz, Jake, Eddie, Julia, etc. and YouTube, a lot of people bought a lot of 'ukuleles. Dare I say that many enthusiasts now own as many as they can justify to themselves? Instead of going under the bed or into the closet, 'ukuleles no longer being played now go on craigslist, so sales of used instruments now have a more immediate impact upon sales of new instruments than they did in the last century, when a newspaper classified ad cost an appreciable fraction of what a used 'ukulele could bring. So I wouldn't be surprised to learn that sales of new ones may be tapering off a bit.

But my suspicion is that the number of people actually playing the instrument is actually growing, thanks to YouTube and other Internet exposure. And my suspicion is that, this time around, it isn't a fad. Perhaps "fad" was the appropriate word for the Hawai'ian music-fueled 'ukulele boom of the early 20th century, and the Arthur Godfrey-fueled sales spike in the '50s. But, based upon the incredible variety of music in which I see and hear 'ukuleles on YouTube, my strong impression is that the 'ukulele has transitioned from a fad instrument to a mainstream instrument.

As the late, great jazz guitarist Howard Roberts observed, "People don't know what they like; they like what they know." Through the 20th century, people's tastes were determined almost exclusively by the push media (such as record labels, radio, television, and movies). When these tastemakers determined that 'ukuleles (or accordions, or banjos, or steel guitars, etc.) were presented as cool, interest (and sales) waxed; when they were decreed to be no longer fashionable, interest waned.

Today, though, thanks to the Internet, we're all free to determine our own tastes. I'm sure that only a small minority of us are taking advantage of the opportunity so far, but the percentage is surely growing, and will continue to grow. People who can't stand what they're hearing on the radio will find genres or individual artists who inspire them, say to themselves, "I can do that!", and do it.

I see the same thing happening with steel guitars, thanks largely to Ben Harper. Long relegated to Hawai'ian music, country music, and bluegrass, both acoustic and electric non-pedal steel guitars are flying out of the stores as people discover that their uses are limited only by imagination.

I expect it's only a matter of time before a 21st century Bryan Bowers (or maybe even the 20th century original) catches enough attention to light the same kind of fire under the autoharp.

mds725
08-08-2011, 04:40 PM
ZI think it would be a mistake to measure the continuing popularity of the ukulele ONLY using sales figures. Sales of even the most popular items are likely to slow down as the market become saturated. In light of the high sales figures from the last few years, it may be fair to assume that the population of people who do not have an ukulele but want one is smaller than it was two years ago. And while many people own mutliple ukkuleles, there's probably a large population of ukulele owners for whom one or two is enough. For example, I only own one bike. I ride it more now than I did two years ago (i.e., cycling is more popular for me), but that's not reflected in recent sales figures (I haven't bought a bike recently). Actually, bicycling has boomed in San Francisco in the last few years, but it's not clear that this is reflected in sales figures -- many people merely began using bikes they already had.

I imagine that sales figures are only one of several types of data that together provide a more accurate picture of trends in the ukulele's popularity. Are there more ukulele clubs and meetup groups than there were last year at this time? Is attendance up from last year for existing ukulele clubs and meetup groups? Is the rate at which ukulele-themed videos are being posted on YouTube higher than last year's rate? Are ukulele internet sdearches up from last year? And as barry suggested, are there more ukulele blogs now than a year ago, and has the number of hits at existing ukulele blogs increased from last year?

lindydanny
08-09-2011, 04:23 AM
I like that the conversation has evolved to include this idea of popularity does not equal sales figures. Big business seems to never figure that out and it permeates our own opinions since we all seem to watch too much TV (speaking generally about the average American).

Saturation was mentioned. So, for the individual seller, this (possibly) saturated market combined with more people playing but not necessarily buying ukuleles would mean that an individual store's numbers may show a downward swing.

I would be concerned that stores (like my buddy's shop) would see this as "the end" (like my buddy seems to) and start shifting inventory towards other, more profitable items (and services).

Perhaps we as educated customers should speak a little more with the person behind the register at our local shops about what products we want to shop and buy from them. Demand is a difficult thing for small businesses to define when no one is asking.

~DB

dezer
08-09-2011, 02:01 PM
Based on google trends (http://www.google.com/trends?q=ukulele&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0) shows a pretty interesting chart on searches for ukulele.
It's interesting the big spike towards the end of the year, I wonder what happens around that time of the year?

RichM
08-09-2011, 02:13 PM
Based on google trends (http://www.google.com/trends?q=ukulele&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0) shows a pretty interesting chart on searches for ukulele.
It's interesting the big spike towards the end of the year, I wonder what happens around that time of the year?

Festivus!!

delray48209
08-09-2011, 02:27 PM
For the rest of us!

lindydanny
08-10-2011, 04:51 AM
That's just a fluke!
26659

Sir
08-10-2011, 06:20 AM
D'you see that spike towards the end of 2009?

That was me, that was!!!:drool:

pdxuke
08-10-2011, 12:07 PM
One problem that I've seen is that there aren't a lot of options for higher-end ukuleles in most local markets. So when people go to a music store to check them out, it gives the impression that the uke is a shoddy gimmick instrument. Portland, for example, doesn't have anywhere I know of that carries any K-brand instruments, and we're about as ukeish as cities come these days.

I strongly prefer to buy local, but if no dealers are going to carry the instruments and strings I'm interested in, then I'll buy off the Internet. The problem with that is local shops lose all the higher-end customers, and chalk it off to diminishing demand.

'll second this. I could buy my Ohanas and my Flea in PDX, but forget buying a Kamaka. I had to go to Gryphon strings and to MGM for those. So the high end goes to a bigger market, which is probably just business.

23skidoo
08-10-2011, 01:16 PM
When I went looking for a uke here in Atlanta back in the spring, I didn't find anything in stock at any of the small to large scale music stores I checked. Granted, as a guitarist, I was expecting something with more sustain and a richer tone, but I just didn't find a great selection. Danny, the OP, actually helped me out on a jazz guitar forum we both frequent with a recommendation for a specific Kala from MGM.... which has worked out great! (Thanks again....) My favored music store for guitar stuff is kind of a hole in the wall - they have a couple of cheap, off-brand ukes. After talking to them, they have no interest in stocking anything more - no demand.

I think a lot of folks do what I did - go to someone online -like this forum- and figure out what a good starter uke is.... which in most markets, isn't available in stock. Although growing in popularity, I think it's still a pretty niche market and online is the best option for most people. I'm not sure there will ever be enough demand in most parts of the U.S. for general music retailers to invest in a really good selection of ukes. You folks that live in parts of the country where you get a more dedicated uke retail environment are lucky.....

Hippie Dribble
08-11-2011, 12:41 AM
One problem that I've seen is that there aren't a lot of options for higher-end ukuleles in most local markets. So when people go to a music store to check them out, it gives the impression that the uke is a shoddy gimmick instrument. Portland, for example, doesn't have anywhere I know of that carries any K-brand instruments, and we're about as ukeish as cities come these days.

I strongly prefer to buy local, but if no dealers are going to carry the instruments and strings I'm interested in, then I'll buy off the Internet. The problem with that is local shops lose all the higher-end customers, and chalk it off to diminishing demand.
Exactly the same prob in my neck of the woods. Local shops carry ukuleles, but only inferior quality brands that certainly don't do anything to promote the ukulele as a serious instrument.

By default, online buying is the only option.

SuzukHammer
08-11-2011, 12:56 AM
Ukes need to be the choice of music classes for elementary schools. Period.

But as before, they send those cheapy ukes with bad friction tuners. And music teachers apparently don't want to be tuning ukes for the first 20 minutes even though its great fundamentals.

Teens are gonna go where its cool. There likely is a whole market not being addressed here.

Musician types seem to tanscend the ages but they can't seem to afford more than a 1 or 2 high end products in their 20s and 30s.

Grownups seem to only change at midlife crisis age. And these are typically high end buyers cause they seem to know value.

lindydanny
08-11-2011, 05:01 AM
Some further discussions with my buddy... Basically, with the economy the way it is, a lot of the suppliers (such as Hohner which supplies Lanikai's brand) have been reluctant to follow the fad for fear that they will end up with a large overstock of instruments should it die off. Funny how this can make the supply limited and frustrate some so much that they give up and stop pursuing (thus killing the fad). A little self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maybe as things start to level out (which would have happened in 2009 if we would stop watching terrorist organizations such as CNN, MSNBC, ABC, USA Today, and FoxNews) those companies will get the products out to the shops a little quicker to keep their mid-range stock up.

~DB

Nuprin
08-12-2011, 02:17 PM
After reading this thread I decided to take a look at the uke numbers the store I work at has sold comparing last year to this year. It should be noted that we are not a ukulele-strong store...we carry the Lanikai LU-21 series (can't get any others through our distributor), Fender, Oscar Schmidt, Ibanez, and, most recently, Martin (only the OXK and S1) but we easily do more business in guitars, basses, and drums.

Last year (from 01/01 to 08/12) we had sold 38 ukuleles totaling $3574.98.
This year (from 01/01 to 08/12) we have sold 58 ukuleles totaling $6976.77.

So, at least in VT, seems like the fad hasn't tapered off yet.

UkeNukem
08-12-2011, 02:28 PM
There are differences in how an experienced guitar or bass player and a total noobie look at instruments in the average music store. The experienced players will notice things like intonation and setup and perhaps look elsewhere for Ukulele information (Like the UU), so local music store sales levels may better reflect the new folks entering our ranks.

Being a librarian by trade, I looked for some hard facts and found this.

http://www.google.com/trends?q=ukulele

Still an upward trend with a variety of volume per country.

syrynx
08-12-2011, 05:34 PM
Being a librarian by trade, I looked for some hard facts and found this.

http://www.google.com/trends?q=ukulele
Most useful post in this thread so far; thank you very much! :)

Interesting to see the pre-Christmas spikes.

ukulefty
08-13-2011, 07:38 AM
Interesting to see the pre-Christmas spikes.


I guess the ukulele makes a wonderful Christmas pressie!! :D