NEWS | Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Time to make some music

Joe Piscopo, the managing director of Olimpus Music, talks to Bianca Caruana about and the joy of a challenge, and what it was like to run a business in the 1980s

Would you agree that Olimpus Music is the biggest supplier of musical instruments and equipment in Malta?
Yes, we are the biggest importers but we specialise mainly in Professional Audio equipment, which includes mixers, speakers, and microphones, to name a few. Professional Audio equipment is usually used by the entertainment industry including clubs, concerts, and radio stations. We also supply equipment for recording studios, which can either be analogue or digital depending on the specific requirements. Home studios are becoming quite popular now, since the trend is an inclination towards mixing and recording one’s own music. Although we do not cater for home music equipment, which can be bought from hi-fi shops, we do provide appropriate equipment for those wanting to set up home studios.

How did you decide to go into this business? Are you musically inclined?
I guess you can say that, I used to play guitar but I do not really find the time to play now. I pick up a guitar to relax but it is not very often any more. In 1986, there was a big gap in the supply of instruments and equipment, so I felt it was a good idea to open a shop, which could supply what the entertainment industry needed. I am very pleased with the outcome but I would not say it is easy by any means to run a business in Malta, at least in comparison to bigger countries. In places such as Germany or the UK, the turnover is bigger due to a wider market, which means prices can be more competitive. In Malta, the turnover is not as big and the expenses remain the same. Because the market is so small, the prices cannot be reduced to the same degree. However, we still have to be careful to keep our prices competitive; otherwise we would lose our customers to online shopping. We have to face facts that the Internet can be found in almost every home, so ordering from abroad is easy but the shipping costs are still expensive.

How important is it to be knowledgeable in music when in this line of business?
It is incredibly important to be knowledgeable and professional. Customers are demanding, so we have to know as much as possible about the products to answer any questions they may ask. We have to be up to date with all the technology and know everything there is to know about what we sell; but obviously no one person could be capable of this. This is why the business is split into categories, for example, piano, guitar, and Pro Audio. Each employee has expert knowledge in one of these categories, so if a guitarist needs advice on something to do with guitars, he could ask the person in charge of the guitar category. This way we have professional advice in all the areas.

What does Olimpus Music offer customers?
I place a lot of emphasis on customer service. When we have first-time buyers come into our shop, we have noticed a tendency for them to buy expensive equipment, which may be unsuitable for his or her needs. In these cases, what we do is discuss the needs of the customer to find the right equipment for them. We also have “after-sales” services for any difficulties the customer might have, or advice they may need. We like to think we are there for the customers, to make their life that little bit easier. This is one of the differences between local suppliers and Internet dealers. We can offer back-up services and technical advice whereas it is hardly, if ever, available from online-suppliers.

Would you say the majority of your customers are of a particular music scene? What is your opinion on the local music scene?
I cannot really pinpoint any one scene since we have a little bit of everything. The music scene in Malta is growing and Malta is producing many good and professional musicians. However, I do not feel they are appreciated by the industry. They are not paid adequately and do not receive much support from the government. The only music school in Malta is the Johann Strauss and it has been badly maintained. It is in very bad condition and something needs to be done about it, because it seriously needs refurbishing.

Which item is the most popular with customers?
I have to say the electric guitar, so it does tend to get very loud in the shop when they come to try out the instruments. The rock scene, and I do not mean metal music in particular, is on the increase and I try to support the scene as much as possible. I give them good competitive prices, and I try to go to all the concerts I am told about, although it is not always possible.

Have you ever had any popular names order equipment here?
Well, we have not had any foreign names yet, since most international stars already have all the stuff they need. We do have local stars that are customers, for example Ira Losco and Wintermoods, to name a couple. I feel the popular local names help the business because customers want to buy the same equipment they use. The same applies to all the international musicians because customers try to purchase the same equipment as long as they can afford it, such as pedals, strings, and amplifiers.

Is running a business involved in music different from other businesses? What is the competition like?
I have never been in any other business so I cannot really say. What I do know is, that like any other business, you cannot take it lightly in Malta. The competition is huge, and not just locally. We have to battle online shopping which is one market available everywhere. I work hard and take the work home with me most of the time to keep up with the competition.

Have you ever encountered any problems with maintaining sales or meeting the demand?
I cannot say I have encountered any major problems in meeting demand but the biggest problem in this business is importing. It has become very expensive to import small amounts, and this reflects the price of instruments and equipment. Ordering big quantities would backfire because the Maltese market is too small. Sales are not plausible and we do try to keep good prices all year round. I also think sales would be unfair on our customers, especially those customers who bought the items at full price. Prices do reduce once a new model comes out to replace the older one, so one might say this could be considered a way of replacing the concept of a sale.

Are you satisfied with how far the business has come?
I am very satisfied but I must say that I could never have achieved this alone. One person can never achieve anything on his own and I have a very dedicated staff and owe part of my success to them. I am very pleased with how well they have done. My wife, Marlene, does not work in the business but backs me in everything I do and helps me in many ways including emotional support. It is a stressful way of life and I must admit, it was easier in the 1980s because competition was non-existent. Nowadays, the competition is a lot larger, but I must say it gives me more energy to fight against it and succeed. I must also add my appreciation to my customers and I believe they feel it. The feedback we receive is good and the best and most important form of advertisement is through word-of-mouth so customers should always be kept happy.

26 September 2007

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