Apr
11

LA Times – Sunday, September 7, 1998
by Tamara Hunt

Flamenco and classical guitar music and the Internet would seem to have about as much in common as Shakespearetapping out his sonnets on computer, but at Guitar Salon International, marketing 100-year-old instruments on 20th-century technology translates into big business.

The Santa Monica-based business founded in 1983 by owner and President Tim Miklaucic, deals in new, used and vintage fine classical and flamenco guitars. It wasn’t until the company launched its website – www.guitarsalon.com – in February 1996 that its fortunes soared.

The staff has expanded from two to ten, and 80% of the company’s business is now generated directly or indirectly through the Internet.

Miklaucic began casually buying guitars on summer trips to Europe with his family. Later, as a student with a love for traveling, dealing in guitars became the means by which he supported himself.

“In 1977 I became a student rep for (world-renowned Spanish guitar maker) Jose Ramirez,” said Miklaucic. “I sold three to four a year to students at 50% profit. It paid for tuition.”

The company recently became the Ramirez family’s exclusive U.S. distributor. Today the company’s client base is much broader, ranging from world-renowned classical and flamenco guitarists, such as Pepe and Celin Romero, to collectors, students and wholesalers. The price tags have also expanded, with guitars selling for $500 to $150,000.

Ashley Aull, a fifteen-year-old student and San Gabriel Valley resident, bought her guitar off the website.

“For the longest time I didn’t know where to look,” said Aull, a classical and flamenco player for the last three and a half years. “I was just kind of going around the Internet and I ran into it a couple of times. It was the only local supplier and it was really helpful. The guitars were sorted by price, there were pictures all over the place, as well as descriptions.”

Some clients prefer more traditional methods of communication.”My computer is still a yellow pad with pencil,” said Russell Cleveland, a Dallas resident and guitar collector. “I don’t use computers, I rely on relationships and phone calls.” But, as competitors like San Francisco-based Guitar Solo say it’s only a matter of time before the Internet becomes an additional selling arm.

“Well, obviously it’s encroaching upon us,” said sales representative Ross Thompson. “We know very well that we can’t hold out much longer (without a website). It’s a matter of time and money.

Other retailers disagree.

“We don’t have a website, but we advertise in a magazine called Vintage Guitars,” said Rob Woodruff, manager of Jimmy’s Guitars, a Los Angeles-based used and vintage guitar retailer. “Serious buyers know to look there. In a lot of senses, having a website would open us up to the world. It can equate to more sales but, in the long run, it also equates to a heck of a lot of work to field off guys who are casually surfing the Net.”

For Miklaucic, cyber space has brought clients from around the world. “A metal worker in New Zealand called us up, he had found a Spanish guitar he likes (which led to a sale) and a guy from Japan called to say he had seen a Velazquez on the Internet and it was still for sale,” he said. “We have sold a few dozen expensive $5,000 to $20,000 guitars to people who we have never seen, who simply looked us up.”

Miklaucic plans to expand the site in the future, adding more audio and possibly even video images of guitarists playing. The company does not relay on the Internet alone, though. It also sells wholesale to guitar outlets. As for guitar collectors, Miklaucic said word of mouth also plays a strong role.

“But the web is the future.” he said.

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