A liv­ing leg­end

Stein­way pianos are key­ing in on the China mar­ket

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at hez­i­jiang@chi­nadai­lyusa. com

We have steady growth in China, even though it’s not very big on a yearon-year ba­sis.” Wei Wei, pres­i­dent of Stein­way’s China divi­sion

When Yu ZhangKoslovsky first came to Man­hat­tan School of Mu­sic in 2000 to pur­sue her bach­e­lor’s de­gree in pi­ano, she felt com­pletely spoiled. “I got to prac­tice on a Stein­way pi­ano ev­ery day!” she said.

Back then at the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic in Bei­jing (where Zhang stud­ied along­side a class­mate by the name of Lang Lang), stu­dents were only al­lowed to prac­tice on a Stein­way for a few hours — if the teach­ers were nice enough to let them sneak in the con­cert hall — be­fore a com­pe­ti­tion or recital.

Th­ese days, all stu­dents at the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory get to be spoiled, as it has be­come one of the sev­eral “All Stein­way” schools in China.

Stein­way & Sons, the sto­ried 163-year-old New Yorkand Ham­burg-based pi­ano brand, is see­ing op­por­tu­nity in this dis­tant land, where the govern­ment is en­cour­ag­ing mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion, the af­flu­ent are look­ing for a lux­ury life­style items beyond Her­mès bags and par­ents are anx­ious to pro­vide their chil­dren with the things they didn’t have but only dreamed of grow­ing up — things like beau­ti­ful West­ern mu­si­cal in­stru­ments.

Beyond push­ing for sales in con­ser­va­to­ries and schools, Stein­way is mak­ing a big mar­ket­ing ef­fort to put their high­end pianos in Chi­nese homes.

Stein­way en­tered the Chi­nese mar­ket in 1999. In those early years, more than 90 per­cent of their sales were to mu­sic con­ser­va­to­ries and con­cert halls.

“Very sel­dom were there any pri­vate or­ders, sim­ply be­cause in­di­vid­u­als couldn’t af­ford it at the time,” said Wei Wei, pres­i­dent of Stein­way’s China divi­sion, who has been with the com­pany since it opened its first China of­fice in 2004.

Start­ing in 2007, they started to see more and more pri­vate or­ders. “In 2009, for the first time, our sales to pri­vate con­sumers and in­sti­tu­tional con­sumers were roughly half and half,” said Wei. “More and more peo­ple can af­ford a Stein­way and more and more peo­ple are pay­ing at­ten­tion to their qual­ity of life.”

Today, Stein­way pianos are sold in 62 dealer stores in 39 Chi­nese cities.

Stein­way makes four prod­uct lines avail­able to Chi­nese cus­tomers: the tra­di­tional Stein­way & Sons line made in Ham­burg, Ger­many, with grand pianos start­ing at 700,000 yuan ($116,000) and up­rights from 400,000 yuan ($67,000).

Two bud­get brands man­u­fac­tured in Asia by OEMs (orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­turer): Boston grand pianos start­ing at from 178,000 yuan ($29,000) and up­rights from 90,000 yuan ($15,000) and the Es­sex grand pi­ano start from 85,000 yuan ($14,000) and up­rights from 36,000 yuan.

By con­trast, a Stein­way grand pi­ano starts from $63,100 in the US, and a up­right starts from $31,700, which are only a lit­tle more than half of the Chi­nese price. The ra­tio also ap­plies to Boston pi­ano, which are man­u­fac­tured in Ja­pan. The prices for Es­sex are about the same due to that Es­sex pianos sold in China are man­u­fac­tured in the coun­try.

A fourth bud­get brand, slightly more ex­pen­sive than the Es­sex, was specif­i­cally de­signed for the Chi­nese mar­ket. Called Lang Lang pianos after China’s house­hold name celebrity pi­anist and idol of the 40 mil­lion Chi­nese chil­dren who are learn­ing pi­ano, the line was launched in 2007 as a ma­jor ef­fort to build brand aware­ness.

Stein­way doesn’t give out its sales num­bers, but Wang Yi, a for­mer Stein­way con­cert pi­ano tech­ni­cian, es­ti­mated that about 6,000 Boston pianos are sold in China each year.

Wei Wei said that more than 2,000 Stein­way & Sons pianos, ex­clud­ing the three bud­get lines, have been sold in China

since day one in 1880. The num­ber is not in­signif­i­cant con­sid­er­ing that only about 2,000 pianos are made each year at the Ham­burg fac­tory, which sup­plies the Chi­nese mar­ket. Stein­way’s US-based op­er­a­tion in Queens, New York, also pro­duces about 2,000 pianos a year to sup­ply North and South Amer­ica.

The Chi­nese sales team has to pass a train­ing pro­gram that fa­mil­iar­izes them with the brand’s history, pi­anomak­ing tech­niques and the po­ten­tial “in­vest­ment” re­turn on a Stein­way.

On its Chi­nese-lan­guage web­site, Stein­way of­fers not only a typ­i­cal buyer’s guide but also a “Stein­way pi­ano in­vest­ment brochure”.

“The best time to in­vest in a Stein­way pi­ano is now,” the brochure reads. “Stein­way pianos on av­er­age ap­pre­ci­ate 4 per­cent each year. A 50-yearold Stein­way is worth nine times its orig­i­nal price.”

The Chi­nese op­er­a­tion has flown cus­tomers to Ham­burg for a tour of the fac­tory and an up-close look at how the hand­made in­stru­ments are put to­gether.

Next year, the com­pany will move to a new 60,000-square­foot Asia head­quar­ters in Shang­hai, com­plete with a recital hall.

Be­sides tar­get­ing the Chi­nese in China, Stein­way has a global plan.

Yu Zhang-Koslovsky, who earned a Doc­tor­ate of Mu­si­cal Arts at Jul­liard, was hired by the New York head­quar­ters to help re­ceive walk-in Chi­nese cus­tomers at the com­pany’s re­cently opened head­quar­ters at the cor­ner of Av­enue of the Amer­i­cas and West 43rd Street in New York City.

Zhang-Koslovsky was kept quite busy this sum­mer with many Chi­nese tourists com­ing into the hall, mostly par­ents bring­ing their kids in to bang on the largest as­sort­ment of Stein­way pianos any of them has ever seen.

“The kids are so happy, they get to try all the Stein­ways, and the par­ents are so proud to see their kids play­ing here,” she said. Though th­ese vis­its rarely lead to im­me­di­ate sales, Zhang be­lieves it’s this kind of brand con­nec­tion that will lead to Stein­way’s broader suc­cess in China.

“Chi­nese par­ents are a very ded­i­cated group,” said Zhang, whose own fa­ther bought her a 2000 yuan ($333) pi­ano back in 1985 when she was 4 after he heard one played for the first time while on a busi­ness trip to the south.

“Back then, the only elec­tronic ap­pli­ance we had was a tube TV. 2000 yuan was a lot for us,” she said, adding that many in the fam­ily thought her fa­ther was wast­ing his money. Her pi­ano ca­reer si­lenced that.

Today, more and more Chi­nese par­ents are will­ing to make a sim­i­lar in­vest­ment. They pay for ex­pen­sive pi­ano classes and lessons and often buy the most ex­pen­sive pianos they can af­ford.

A Chi­nese mother who was in the process of re­lo­cat­ing to New York re­cently came into Stein­way Hall want­ing to buy a pi­ano for her daugh­ter. Even though she was still apart­ment-hunt­ing, she asked how soon the pi­ano could be de­liv­ered — she wanted her daugh­ter to start prac­tic­ing as soon as pos­si­ble.

On the menu bar of Stein­way Hall’s web­site, the Chi­nese char­ac­ters zhong wen (mean­ing Chi­nese) are promi­nently placed. Clicking on it pre­sents the com­pany’s Man­darin ser­vices, ex­plain­ing that for no charge a Stein­way tech­ni­cian will visit the cus­tomer’s home and help de­ter­mine the best size and model for the space.

To build the bond with par­ents and their chil­dren, since 2002 Stein­way has been hold­ing the Stein­way & Sons In­ter­na­tional Youth Pi­ano Com­pe­ti­tion ev­ery two years in China. Last De­cem­ber, 16,000 con­tes­tants took part, each get­ting a chance to play a topof-the-line, 9-foot Stein­way con­cert grand, even though many can’t reach the ped­als.

“The Chi­nese have a thing for brand names. Of course they love Stein­way,” said Wang, a for­mer Stein­way con­cert pi­ano tech­ni­cian who is now a tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor to Cana­dian pi­ano man­u­fac­turer Heintz­man and Chi­nese brand Xing­hai.

Wang Yi has had taken apart many old Stein­ways to study the crafts­man­ship of the founder Henry Stein­way and his sons. “Through each part you can see their de­vo­tion and pas­sion for pi­ano-mak­ing,” he said. “Some­times the 88 keys can touch your heart 88 times.”

“Stein­way and Sons is the golden stan­dard of pi­ano-mak­ing,” said Wang.

For oth­ers, it’s also the sym­bol of lux­ury and love.

One of Zhang-Koslovsky’s Chi­nese clients bought a Stein­way for her Long Is­land home even though she doesn’t know how to play. The pi­ano will sit promi­nently as a beau­ti­ful piece of fur­ni­ture for when her niece vis­its from Hong Kong. “A nice aun­tie,” she said.

An­other cus­tomer flew in from China and bought a lim­ited edi­tion grand pi­ano as a gift for $160,000, with an ad­di­tional $5,000 air de­liv­ery fee to China.

In re­cent years, Chi­nese cus­tomers have also bought some of Stein­way’s most ex­pen­sive pianos, in­clud­ing the $1.3 mil­lion “China First”, which was in­spired by the first Stein­way pi­ano brought to China in 1880 and took two years to cre­ate.

The most ex­pen­sive yet, the $1.63 mil­lion “Sound of Charm”, was spe­cially built and cus­tom­ized for Guo Qingx­i­ang, head of Wanda Group’s art col­lec­tion. Three years in the mak­ing, its logo is painted with crys­tal­lized gold.

Un­der­neath it all, it’s the heart of a leg­end that still sings through.


Above: Scenes from Stein­way’s fac­tory in Queens, New York. Be­low: Wang Keyi, 8, plays at the 7th Stein­way & Sons In­ter­na­tional Youth Pi­ano Com­pe­ti­tion in China last De­cem­ber. She took home top prize.

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