View Full Version : Anyone need marketing help?

01-03-2009, 05:27 PM
I hope it's ok to post this thread. My name is Mike Johnson and I am new to ukuleles and to the UU. I have spent many hours today looking through all the threads on building and am just amazed at all the help available on building a ukulele. I feel like a shmuck getting all this info. for free by all the sharing people here. I was thinking I might have a few things to offer some of the folks having trouble marketing their product. I have owned a few businesses over the years that were all very successful and come from a family of people who own and operate manufacturing companies. I have a bussiness and marketing degree and have helped quite a number of friends in marketing there business or even starting one. Marketing is alot of fun for me and I can't promise to be able to know everything but I would be happy to try and help. If not thats ok also. Mike J

E-Lo Roberts
01-04-2009, 04:25 AM
Mike, appreciate the offer. I'm hoping you are offering this help in the same spirit as Pete, Chuck and other members offer their advice. Free. That's how these forums work. If so...welcome to UU, dude. Thanks, e.lo....

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
01-04-2009, 07:09 AM
FREE? Oh, maybe that's the reason your check hasn't arrived yet............

E-Lo Roberts
01-04-2009, 07:31 AM
FREE? Oh, maybe that's the reason your check hasn't arrived yet............
Chuck, you do accept food stamps??? :) e.lo...

01-04-2009, 11:12 AM
For sure its free, helping others is what makes forums fun! I just thought I could help. Selling a product you make is not only fun but easy once you have a plan of attack. I have made enough mistakes and have dealt with so many marketing professionals over the years that it's just built into me now. If I can be of help to anyone just fire away, I will respond. It's the least I can offer if you fellas don't mind helping me with questions on my first ukulele build. Mike J

E-Lo Roberts
01-04-2009, 01:10 PM
Mike, count me in. I could use a "plan of attack"... and a lot more koa wood! These prices are killing me! :) ...thanks for joining UU! e.lo...

01-04-2009, 03:38 PM
E.Lo, have you sold many ukulele's or are you just starting out? What have you been doing so far? Come on, challenge me...........................Mike J

01-04-2009, 04:26 PM
What's the deal with Koa, is that what customers demand? Have any of you folks who are in the business of selling your wares got together and figured out what types of combinations people want? Are most of you guys building whatever people ask for????? The reason why I ask is because early on in my bow business I did a transition in what I produced that led me to more than double my sales and tripple my prices. Let me explain.
Like ukuleles and the magical Koa wood, I too had to deal with outlandish prices of tropical hardwoods. It was a real problem because in the first few years of production I had to stock thousands of dollars worth of exotic wood in all types of sizes because I never knew what customers wanted. I was so sick of it,so I just did a little marketing.

The first thing I did was create 3 limited edition recurves made with a certain pattern and inlay etc. Limited editions are great because it creates urgency and when they are gone they are gone. I promised customers these specific patterns will never be made again. Then I started to call on past customers and each one I called said to put them on the list. Three editions at 25 bows per edition all of the same material.

OK, this was great because they were limited and numbered I was able to get alot more money for them. Selling is a piece of cake because everyone who bought them were already customers and they loved my bows. The bows were also only available to them so now I forced them to be collectors of my bows. From here on out every time I came up with a new limited edition bow they made dam sure I put them on the list. I think you know where I am going with this.

All 75 bows were listed in a notebook and then I could shop for raw material and get the best prices possible. All material for the first run of 25 was ordered and planned for production.

OK, this is the best part. I knew I would be very busy and unable to make bows for strangers who called up and wanted a bow because I had massive amounts of bows to make for CURRENT customers. This made them WANT TO BE A CUSTOMER and they would beg me to put them on a list when the three runs of bows were finished. Now I had strangers who wanted to COLLECT my bows and they have never even bought one from me yet. Once a month I would go to the printers and have them print out full color post cards with a picture on the cover of the bows I was working on and to let them know I didn't forget about them. This keeps enthusiasm high and lets them start saving money to avoid sticker shock in the months to come.

Now back to the crazy cost of Koa. When I did this Cocobolo was the big rage and it to was expensive and hard to get AAA material. No problem, the first bows I made were built from walnut and Maple. I marketed it as an old school guide series bow that had a shape that was popular in the 1940's, problem solved. I was able to choose my own materials because the demand was high, a good place to be in.
So you see E.Lo, sometimes you just got to rethink things and look at them from a different perspective. If Koa is a problem use Mahogany and create a marketing plan for it. Didn't Martin produce a bunch of Mahogany uk's back in the day? Just a thought. This is just one of many things I have done. Give me a little input here and I would be glade to help you. Mike J

E-Lo Roberts
01-05-2009, 03:18 AM
Mike, thanks for starting this very interesting marketing topic thread. Your experience with long bows is outstanding. And your marketing techniques are slick and well thought out.

To answer your questions, I am just starting out with the building and marketing of my ukuleles. In additional, I’m still in the process of developing my own signature stamp on the custom uke world. I currently have two commissioned ukes I am working on, which I plan on finishing this month, and one I plan to keep. And I have several other concept ukes ideas using different materials that are waiting in the wings that I would like to get to in February. At this time though, some on my tools and jigs are in need of upgrading, so I’ll be focusing on that too in the near future. Doing so, will help speed up some laborious tasks that is, at present, interrupting the creative flow of my builds.

Chuck, Pete, and the Dominator, along with a few others on the web, have been an invaluable source of knowledge and inspiration along the way. They have also opened my eyes up to the reality of the time involved and the $$ return to expect when jumping into the custom build market.

You asked about koa. “…What’s the big deal?” Well, to me, koa is synonymous with Hawaiian ukuleles. There is a great thread here on UU about tone woods in general and the mystic of koa and the benefits therein as far as tone, beauty, etc. I compare the use of koa with ukes to the use of spruce with acoustic guitars. It’s just a great marriage of tone, looks, cultural history, and what a lot of people define as part of a ukulele’s makeup. I personally find koa a very beautiful wood visually and a pleasure to work with. But, having said that, the price of koa is getting ridiculous compared to the actual visual and tonal benefits. I am not opposed to working with mahogany, spruce, walnut, cedar, or other tone woods on my ukuleles (and I have), but it smacks a little bit to me of a mini guitar material when I’m in the process of the build. But hey, Koa is not going to get any cheaper and alternative woods should be considered.

I love your concept of limited editions. Sounds great, but I believe it worked for you due to your reputation and the quality of your builds and that you had already established yourself as a great craftsman in the long bow market. In my situation, I would like to continue to build and perfect my craft while slowing developing a small cliental along the way (other than peolpe I happen to know).

So my marketing question to you is this: Anyway to move some less than perfect product before waiting for perfection from a marketing point of view? Or should I hold up in my workshop for another 10 years before offering my wares? Thanks, e.lo…

01-05-2009, 07:23 AM
E.Lo, I'ts obviouse when reading your posts you havel a very level headed thinking mentality, thumbs up, you reside in the top 10% of the population. :) Before I respond with some marketing tips for you let me address a few things if I may.
First, and this is important, be darn carfull selling a product that is less than perfect. This can make or break your reputation in a heartbeat. The first bow I sold went for $375 my cost was about $5,000. Sounds crazy but that is what I spent building and destroying product before going to market. Keep in mind bow building was supposed to be just a hobby, but you know how it goes. I made bows and borrowed them to friends to use and abuse, then brought them back in the shop for destructive testing. Back when I started the internet was just a dream and other bowmakers kept secrets to themselves, so you can imagine how tough it was for me to start out. Now days things are a bit different. I would build a couple of ukuleles and send them to builders with a good reputation and let them give you feedback. As crazy as it sounds, you should do some type of destructive testing after beating up on a ukulele for a while.

Second, I would be a bit shy about building any concept ukuleles until I have the process and fundamentals down perfect. Odds are the more concentrated your effort is in fundamentals, the chances for success increase ten fold.

OK, lets get to the meat and potatos. The fact that you are just starting on your journey as a craftsman is great and in the world of marketing there are only a couple of things to keep in mind from the start. So here we go.

MIKE'S MARKETING RULE ( there is only one rule )

Keep records of everything! If you fail to do this nothing else matters. In business we have three groups of people we market to.


When a billboard is up next to a road that everyone drives by they are advertising to strangers. NO exceptions.

When one ,out of the thousands that see it, call, they are now a PROSPECT. No exceptions.

PROSPECTS create CUSTOMERS. No exceptions.

OK, its a bit booring but very important. So lets figure out what all this means to you. The best way to explain this is by example.

Go to the De Silva ukulele website and what do you notice? A newsletter???? AH! thats because he understands marketing. He knows the rules about STRANGERS, PROSPECTS, CUSTOMERS.

He knows the billboard next to the road very well. X quantity of people go to the site and then X quantity of people sign up for a newsletter. Now as a good marketer he should concentrate his efforts turning a prospect into a customer. The one thing he probably knows is once you have a customer you can sell to him for life. He now does marketing for you ( word of mouth ). Thats it E. Lo. sounds simple.........thats because it is.

Lets put some real life examples into play. From my experience, I bet that the ukulele builders out there spend coutless hours returning e-mails and phone calls. I know its true because its the law of marketing. It's what you do with the e-mails and phone calls that matter most.

Want to know what the toughest thing as a bow builder was for me? It's understanding that customers have a choice and my bows, as much as I loved them, were no different than anyone else who was building bows, in the eyes of the stranger. Thats where marketing comes into play. When a stranger calls what do you tell them????? If you have no plan of attack you will answer calls and e-mails for the rest of your life and like rolling the dice once in a while someone will decide to buy one from you. This is not how a smart business operates. Everyone you come in contact with falls into a category. NO EXCEPTIONS.

People in business who don't keep records of prospect and customers are doomed to the law of averages. If I have a notebook or a spread sheet of prospects ( people who have expressed interest ) it's like gold in your pocket. As a proper business you have an obligation to do the best you can to give the customer exactly what he wants.

Once you understand this concept, NOW you can begin to design a website, logo, etc. Remember this for sure.
Fancy artistic logos do NOT sell product
Fancy artistic websites do NOT sell product
Fancy artistic advertising does NOTHING for a customer

Fancy and artistic things in the world of marketing is foolish and does nothing for a customer in helping him make a choice. Keep the fancy and artistic things on the ukulele only. :)

Does any of this make sense? This is a good place to stop for now. If you don't understand this with absolute clarity we cannot go any further. Any questions by you or anyone else, let er rip. Mike J

E-Lo Roberts
01-05-2009, 08:02 AM
Mike, yes I was sort of expecting the "wait for perfection" part. Restaurants are subject to this rule also. I have played many that opened their doors without a less than stellar menu and they never did recover once word got out about their sub par entrées, even though the quality of their food had improved later on. I have a BS in Computer Degree from way back when from the University of KY. There were bunches of marketing classes, accounting classes, etc. required for that degree. So the concepts you are promoting are familiar to me but a bit fuzzy at the moment. I will need to absorb your commentary a bit more to reach "absolute clarity” on the marketing approach you have generously offered to share. Perhaps I should just make some no-name freebees for right now until I’m ready to market these little gems. Can’t see hanging on to a few hundred ukes waiting for perfection! Hahaha. I’ll be curious to see how your personal approach to selling plays out with ukes once you start cranking out a few. See ya in the shop. E.lo…

PS: I do have some background as a craftsman, but more with a hammer than a Fox Bender! :)

01-05-2009, 08:42 AM
E.Lo. Let me say I have no intention to sell ukuleles. I am just a fella who wants to build one with my kids and have a little fun.:) I own a plumbing company and have my hands full with that. I see you are from Lex. KY. My wife and I just love that city. One of our favorite places in the USA for sure. My daughter loves horses so you can imagine how much she loves it.

Just a quick note.

If you plan to sell your ukuleles right away make sure you have a very simple logo on it and keep track of the people you sell them to. Give them a call once in a while and ask how they like it. This will help you be a better maker and chances are the next time they want to buy a ukulele to add to their collection they would rather buy it from you than a total stranger.

Make sure you come up with a simple logo that is clean and easy for customers to identify with. Remember that customer has friends and when they hold it up and look at the ukulele, what they see as the logo will burn an image in their brain. If it's complicated they will forget it.

Thats why a simple logo like a clover or an apple has such good results, people remember it. When its a goofy complicated graphic it almost never has any marketing value. If you sell your ukuleles even though you are still perfecting your craft, always put your logo of some sort on it. Good luck and if you want some help with a logo let me know. Mike J

E-Lo Roberts
01-05-2009, 09:40 AM
Mike, I've been thinking. Help me with this concept. How about I create an "E.Lo’s Quest For Perfection” ukulele giveaway contest? That is, get UU involved to help me promote a: Once a month uke giveaway (by me), which would document a two-year quest for me to create a perfect custom ukulele. Only active members of UU would be eligible. So that’s 24 custom ukes (short of perfection of course along the way) over the next 2 years, free for anyone who enters the contest. UU could create some new members wanting a free ukulele, and I would be put under the gun to reach this personal goal of mine. What you think? Too simplicity? Over-the-top? Career-killer? Or just plain stupid… hahaha… let me know… thanks, e.lo….

01-05-2009, 11:21 AM
E.Lo................Now your thinking..............Ok I need a bit more info. Lets brainstorm and see if others will follow. Tell me what is your goal, short term long term, etc. Mike J

Pete Howlett
01-05-2009, 11:49 AM
All very interesting but you have missed one thing - people buy ukulele on a whim very often and also there is the 'flavor of the month' mentaility for bespoke ukulele. In the 14 years I have been building for one off makers it has gone like this:


Now there are those who don't fit in this category like DaSilva (who has given away a lot to be where he is now which suggest financial underpinning in his business plan or another job) and Crossett. Also people like Mark Schoenberg and Tony Grazziano. Makers who have patrons like Dave Talsma and those who have been in it so long they don't bother any more - Bob Gleason and the Hawaiian bunvh..

Marketing is important and chasing business is also vital. but this business - it works on whim and that is why, against all that I do, I have designed a slotted headstock. This is known as the Jake effect. If he went onto play 5 string tenors with fender style headstocks I'd be being asked for them by the countless enthusiasts who want the next 'thing'...

E-Lo Roberts
01-05-2009, 01:24 PM
Pete, I think your slotted head stock is very cool and is a great "flavor of the month" addition to your popular kit ukuleles. It's a great side line to help pay some bills that will allow you to keep building those impressive custom ukes!...e.lo...

Pete Howlett
01-05-2009, 02:44 PM
I wish the work was as flawless as you suspect it to be. This thread is curious since I had a conversation with a good friend this evening about ukulele popularity... There is a real surge here in the UK. Last time this happened there was a depression. See any similarities with today?

01-05-2009, 03:15 PM
Pete, I would like to respond to this but it's a little tough for me. I don't know much about ukulele's except for what I am reading online. I have been looking at the uk's you make and they are a real testiment to your ability as a craftsman.
I am confused here, do you make ukulele's for other makers? If so that requires another type of marketing approach. The people you mentioned I do not know, again I am still learning about ukulele's so you have to excuse me here.

Let me address your comment about De Silva ukulele. I have know idea what the financial condition of De Silva is nore do I want to know. The idea that he is giving away ukulele's does in know way mean he is out of money.

The number one tool in marketing is the word FREE! Tis a fact, not just my opinion. Coupons are used by grocery stores daily because they know the value of free, in fact most businesses use this because thousands of years of marketing tells us this always works when used correctly. " buy one get one free" is something we see everyday. When it doesn't work thats because it was done poorly and with no thought to marketing. Let me give you a good example.

I started my plumbing company 9 months ago. Keep in mind the economy is not in my favor. You want to know what I did? I went to my friend the printer and had him print up $ 50,000 worth of gift cards. ( 1000 cards each with a value of $50 ) I then went around door to door until they were all gone. I looked each customer in the eye and said " I want to be your plumber and here is $50 off if you give me a try" Most of them looked at me like I was crazy. And it may seem crazy, but I know the power of free and how to use it to my advantage.

On the gift card it also says " All service calls $24.99". This is important because the other plumbers in the area charge $80.00 for a service call. It took three days before I got a call from a local plumbing business screaming at me because of my low service call rate. When he called I never bothered to tell him why I charge only $24 because he has no clue about marketing, in fact he is almost out of business. I will tell you however. The power of free is amazing, if I go to fix a toilet my price is the same as if the customer were to call anyone in the area. The $ 56 dollar difference in the service call rate is part of the grand total. The reality is I just make the customer feel better so they call me. The best part is once I have a customer I will do everything in my power to keep them because over the lifespan of my business he will spend thousands of dollars with me. So enough about plumbing.

How about ukulele's? Lets use the power of free in this area. Well, let me go back to when I owned a bow company. I was famous in certain circles for one reason only. Let me explain.

I am like the energizer bunny. When I went to my first archery show I realized I was like everyone else. People would walk by my booth just like every other bow maker that was there. Being the type of person that I am was not going to settle for random people walking around in a sea of bows. I like to have more controll over my own situation.
About 3 hours into the show I grabbed the best looking bow I had, jumped up on a platform so everyone could see me. I held the bow up and screamed. "Any person that can shoot this bow with the most accuracy can keep this $1,200 bow and a case for free". So, how powerfull is free? Well, people were out of control, everyone that day shot all of my bows. The other bow makers where all in their booths wishing people would at least grab there bows and pick them up. The archery range was packed full and everyone was shooting my bows. Every bow I brought that day was sold! I left that day with a notebook full of sales and orders for custom bows. Before this show I had only sold THREE bows. That is how powerful FREE is if done right. I became famous at the archery show circuit from here on out. People wanted my autograph, now thats just crazy.

My bows were not built by people calling me on a whim, I turned them down. I had certain models and that was it. Beyond theese models I did limited edition bows and all were sold before they were built.

I understand what you mean by people calling on a whim, for me it is just too much stress and unpredictable. Once I had my models figured out I now had time to do proper marketing.

The one big advantage behind having certain core models is because customers like it. When they go to a well done website they are able to quickly see what is available and how much it costs. The same can be said for ukulele's. I tended to stay away from coming up with all sorts of designs because that would mean spending time away from my core business, building and selling bows.

It sounds like you have a great business that works well for you. I just love reading your post and I thank you for the clarity. You have been a big help to me so far in trying to figure out how to build one of these things for my daughter. Thanks again Pete. Mike J

Pete Howlett
01-05-2009, 03:42 PM
In this business there is not much money to be made. If you are successful in a 'craft' based industry it's because there is money behind the business and you have no significant debt- straight and simple. I will be working for the next 5 years simply to pay the bills and finance a spate of essential wood buying while the GBP was strong. With the credit crunch this is going to be difficult. I have 'significant' and worrying debt out of necessity :uhoh:

I have a number of aspects to my business of which bespoke building is one. I no longer make for retailers on a regular basis, neither do I sell seconds or undertake work that I am not comfortable with. Time has taught me a lot and building a reputation as an international builder here in the UK I have hit that glass ceiling so many times because I am British and my ukulele are made in Britain.

I was once offered a workshop set-up in Hawaii but getting a visa would be impossible. It was suggested I work in 3 month cycles... after being interrogated by immigration at Newark one time I thoguht against the idea. At the time, Ko'Aloha didn't exist, neither did many of the other small batch workshops who now produce in Hawaii. My sponsor however was confident that I would have cleaned up because of the quality of my output and interest in it fom the buying public and tourists ... but hey, that's another story along with the Japanese client who said, "If it had 'Made in USA' stamped on it we could sell everything you produce. Pity..."

I suppose it would have been different if instead of giving the world the international language of communication, Britain had given the world the ukulele :rofl:

01-05-2009, 03:55 PM
Pete, I find that interesting. I had know idea what you folks over in your country have to deal with. My respect for you just got even higher. It is a tough wold out there indeed. I put in 18 hour days 7 days a week to have what I have. I only hope someday I can look back and say I made the best of it. Can I ask you something? What is the least favorite part of what you do, and what part of this business would you like to do or be. Respectfully, Mike J

01-05-2009, 04:05 PM
Hey Pete I just read the last part of you post again and showed my wife. That is funny, well said.

Pete said the following:
I suppose it would have been different if instead of giving the world the international language of communication, Britain had given the world the ukulele.

Funny, Dam funny. Mike J

Pete Howlett
01-05-2009, 04:57 PM

I dislike finishing and enjoy banking :D However I am getting more comfortable with finishing and then it will be every aspect of it I like. I guess in manufacturing terms it is doing what i have done over the last few days - jig making and getting the design right. these headstocks look really fine even without the logo. The first attempt was too slim so by the time v3 was on the scene I knew what I had to do to make it look right. Now that is real satisfaction!

01-05-2009, 05:22 PM
Hey Pete, This is my last post for the evening, I have customer information to log ito a spread sheet but I keep reading all the threads on this forum and it's like a darn disease.

Finishing really is a pain. ugg! I know what you mean by building jigs and dreaming up ways to do something better and having it actually work out with perfection. It's those days that make everything worth while. When I was building bows all equipment and jigs I made myself and it is quite a feat.

I remember when I built a profile sander to be used with patterns etc, it tooks me months to machine the parts and get it just right. It was about 11 at night when I plugged it in for the first time and boy did it run smooth. I left it running and ran into the house to get my wife and she took her time getting to the shop because to her it was no big deal. When she got there she saw me covered in sawdust with a big smile while the machine was spinning the custom made sanding belt round and round. She asked me " is this what you have been working on all this time, oh, looks nice." Just then the belt started to track wrong and flew off the sander and kicked saw dust everywhere. My wife then said " Back to the drawing board hey!" It's hard for others to gain the satisfaction we gain when trying to figure out things like you new headstock design. :) have a good one Pete, see ya on the flipside, Mike J