Zeswitz Music honored for turning a business around
Founded more than 90 years ago, company goes back to its roots
How do you change the identity of a 90-year-old business that has seen multiple identities over its history?
“It isn’t easy,” according to Randy Shayler, who acquired Zeswitz Music from its corporate owners four years ago, restoring it as an independent small business.
“The biggest challenge has been helping customers understand what we really are — that we have a strong commitment to teachers,” he said.
It’s not about inventing a totally new company, but rather, restoring its heritage, Shayler said.
“We’re bringing it back to what it used to be. It feels more genuine for us bringing it back to the founder’s principles. I think it is something he would be proud of,” he added.
The “he” Shayler is referring to is William “Bill” Zeswitz Sr., a master luthier and maker of violins. According to a history on its website, Zeswitz founded the Exeter-based company to serve the Reading Symphony Orchestra and musicians in the area.
Zeswitz Music’s school services and rental department was one of the first of its kind in the nation, starting instrument rentals with accordions and organs in the 1920s and 1930s.
Today, the company serves nearly 12,000 students a year, in 55 school districts across 14 counties.
In recognition of Shayler’s efforts since acquiring the company
in 2013, Zeswitz Music has been recognized with a Best Store Turnaround Award from the National Association of Music Merchants.
In addition to the turnaround award, Zeswitz Music was named a Top 100 Dealer by the industry organization for the second consecutive year in 2017.
“At the heart of every music store, there is a story of inspiration, dedication and a pursuit to create a more musical world,” National Association of Music Merchants President and CEO Joe Lamond said in a press release. “Zeswitz Music exemplifies that commitment — to their community, their staff, and the industry to create a space which welcomes and inspires music makers through their products and services.”
With an MBA from Harvard Business School, Shayler had no connection to Zeswitz Music when he acquired the company in 2013 at the age of 28. At the time, he was looking to purchase a company — and said he was actually looking for an equipment rental company.
But then he met an investment banker that was representing the former owner of Zeswitz Music, who was looking to sell the business. Shayler said he doesn’t have a musical background, but the property fit his investment criteria.
“I play the radio,” he joked during a recent interview, but added that he did play clarinet from fourth through ninth grades. “Then I got here, and realized the history.”
Under Shayler’s leadership over the last four years, Zeswitz has improved the quality of instruments the company rents, reduced the time it takes to fix broken instruments, improved the reliability of repairs and increased responsiveness to parents.
In addition, Shayler tracks data on reliability and how quickly repairs are made, and shares them with the schools they serve.
“Delivering at less than100 percent isn’t good enough. If we deliver 99 out of 100 instruments promised on-time, that means there is one student sitting there not ready to play,” he said.
Shayler said not unlike the idea of equipment rental — Zeswitz is providing tools.
“While what we do is musical and artistic — we have started to think about it as being about reliability and service,” Shayler said. “Thinking about it as a service — it has been one of the major sources of growth and turnaround.”
He added that the mission of the Zeswitz school music program is to take some of the stresses of instruments off of the teachers — so they can focus on their students.
“We talk about how we enable all the goodness of a music program. We have so much respect for what a teacher can do,” he said. “Some of our clients only have six or eight 20-minute lessons before their first performance. It’s unbelievable what the teachers can achieve.”
Shayler said if they can help save five minutes that a teacher might otherwise have to spend on an instrument issue, “that’s a really valuable five minutes.”
The company has grown
“We’re bringing it back to what it used to be. It feels more genuine for us bringing it back to the founder’s principals. Ithinkitis something he would be proud of.” — Randy Shayler, owner, Zeswitz Music
over the last four years. Shayler said rentals have grown by 40 percent and adds that he has been able to grow the payroll. The company currently has 32 employees.
Four years in to the experience, Shayler said it was absolutely the right decision to acquire the company — and he would make the same decision again.
“I am thrilled with where we are and where we have come over the last four years. We have a ton of growth potential left,” he said, adding that there are schools the company isn’t serving within school districts and room to add additional school districts.
“Supporting music educators and their students is meaningful and important work, and we’re proud to have been awarded Best Store Turnaround from NAMM,” Shayler said in a press release. “I’m even prouder of each of our 32 employees and how much we’ve all grown together. Bringing the company back to its roots has been a team effort in every possible way.”
After the sale Shayler, now 32, relocated from Boston to Conshohocken with his wife Elizabeth. The couple now lives in Bethlehem, and are expecting their first child in early October.
Zeswitz Music is located at 100 Gibraltar Road, just off Route 422 in Exeter. For more information visit www.zeswitzmusic.com . For more information about the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) visit www.namm.org.
The National Association of Music Merchants has recognized Exeter-based Zeswitz Music with its Best Store Turnaround Award. Shown here, Zeswitz employee Dane Mountain works on a trombone. Owner Randy Shayler said in the four years since he acquired the company, Zeswitz Music has improved the reliability of repairs, improved the quality of its instruments and reduced the time to complete a repair.
Current Zeswitz Music owner Randy Shayler took over the business in 2013.