VOL. 127 | NO. 59 | Monday, March 26, 2012
Memphis Small Business Spotlight
Amro Still Strikes Chord In Music Retail Business
By CLAY WILSON
When customers walk into Amro Music, they are greeted first by two mannequins in marching band uniforms.
C. J. Averwater with father Chip Averwater at Amro Music, a fourth-generation Memphis music store.
(Photo: Dennis Copeland)
Next, they are greeted by one of the business’s employees.
The most recent addition to the longtime music store’s welcoming committee is an exquisitely crafted Steinway piano.
Each of these greeters exemplifies a key component of the business that began with a piano teacher in 1921 and has grown into one of the nation’s largest music retailers.
“Our promise is to provide the most knowledgeable and qualified … staff, as well as the largest selection of quality band instruments, pianos, church organs, accessories, and print music anywhere around,” says Amro’s website, www.amromusic.com.
In one building at 2918 Poplar Ave., Amro has about 180 instruments on display for sale or rent. The other building, which houses the Used Piano Warehouse and Church Organs of Memphis, holds organs and refurbished pianos.
Amro employs 69 full-time and three part-time employees, a much larger operation than it was in 1921, when Cincinnati businessmen Mil Averwater and Frank Moorman opened a piano lesson studio at 166 S. Main St.
Named from a combination of its founders’ surnames, Amro Music grew and expanded to selling instruments. As the popularity of school bands increased, Amro introduced an instrument rental program.
Today, Amro “still rents the majority of the instruments in the Mid-South,” its website says. Seven educational representatives travel the region, working with music educators and students.
Backing them is a “Band Directors’ Resource Center” at Amro, with a helpline and a repair shop that last year serviced some 14,000 instruments.
Amro moved to its current location on Poplar in 1981. The Used Piano Warehouse opened in 1986.
Keyboard instruments remain an integral part of Amro’s business. Among the brands it sells, the company is one of only 65 retail outlets in the world for Steinway pianos.
Each year, Steinway commissions a one-of-a-kind piano from a famous designer.
Amro has brokered the sale of two of these (including the six-figure-priced “North Star” on display up front) – a coup for a hometown music store.
Mil Averwater passed the business to his children Ron, Bob and Joy. Bob’s sons Chip and Pat are now the chairman and president of the company, respectively. Chip’s son C.J. is the general manager, and Pat’s son Nick is set to start working there after graduating from college this year.
According to a press release promoting Chip Averwater’s recently published book, “Retail Truths: The Unconventional Wisdom of Retailing,” Amro’s revenue increased to $14 million from $1 million during his tenure.
The store is ranked 30th in size out of some 7,000 U.S. music retailers by Music Trades magazine, Averwater said.
But the Averwater brothers said they haven’t consciously striven to grow Amro so much.
“You grow up in the business. It’s all you’ve ever known,” Pat Averwater said. “You get up and come to work. Good things have happened. We’ve been fortunate.”
The Averwaters do strive to run Amro according to successful business principles. Many of these, gleaned over 40 years of experience, are set down in Chip’s book.
Among them is the importance of having good employees. Amro has a voluntary certification program that allows staff members to complete various levels of training.
“We want our people knowing what they’re talking about – to be experts,” Pat Averwater said. “That’s why they come here.”
And it may be one of the reasons they stay. One of Amro’s instrument technicians has worked there since 1945, when he was hired by Mil Averwater.
Many of the techs, said the brothers, have played with big musical acts. Amro’s website lists musical celebrities whose careers the store has contributed to in some way. Among the many are Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and John Mayer, who recently stopped in the store to get a saxophone.
The Averwater brothers said Amro is glad to have a part in Memphis’ musical heritage – and that the business has benefited from growing in a musical hotbed.
“We’re very proud of the music that’s made here and have enjoyed our small role,” Chip Averwater said. “People in the Mid-South appreciate music – it’s part of our culture, heritage and daily lives.”
He also said he thinks his grandfather would be pleasantly surprised at how the company he started has grown.
“I can hear him saying, ‘How many instruments? How many employees?’” he said. “But Mil worked hard on this company all his life, so I know he’d be proud of it today.”