Zeswitz Mu­sic hon­ored for turn­ing a busi­ness around

Founded more than 90 years ago, com­pany goes back to its roots

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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.

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