PROFILE: Piano Solutions Inc.: Shop singing piano’s praises Shop owners want to give community an arts education

Piano Solutions Inc. Shop singing piano’s praises Shop owners want to give community an arts education

Piano Solutions Inc. owners Greg Durthaler and Brian Hostetler like to think they’re in tune with the music industry-all the better to help their clients.

The key (so to speak) is to offer a full range of products and services.

“Today, we offer tuning, moving and storage of pianos while carrying an array of method books, print music and piano accessories,” Durthaler said. “We also support piano students and teachers by hosting events and educational workshops.”

The company got its start in 1994, when Michael Sowka began working from his home servicing pianos. The next year, he brought in Hostetler, who had worked almost 20 years at the Wilking Music Co.- the retail outlet for Steinway pianos. They moved the shop to a Carmel storefront.

Durthaler joined them in 2000, when the partners were looking to expand the business and build its retail inventory. He had worked in his family’s piano and organ business in Columbus, Ohio.

Sowka started out with a passion for pianos, but little in the way of a formal business plan. He invested $7,500 in the business, but struggled to find additional funding early on. Most banks didn’t know much about piano rebuilding and restoration, Durthaler said, but they came on board as the business attracted clients like the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

Still, it wasn’t easy. The owners experienced typical startup issues such as not having enough time or money to implement their ideas. Over time, though, they were able to prioritize their objectives.

Sowka left the partnership in 2002 to become a full-time piano technician for the ISO, but still has a service company that has space in the shop.

Durthaler said what sets Piano Solutions apart is its diverse products and services. Over the years, the owners have learned to ask for help when necessary, rather than take on too much themselves.

“We are experiencing growth in all areas of our business today,” Durthaler said. “The local market needed a comprehensive store that offered great pianos and great prices. Our business continues to thrive, although the industry itself has been sluggish.”

Competition comes mainly from consumer electronics stores that offer more immediate satisfaction for customers who may not have the patience or time to learn to play piano. Durthaler said a big challenge is fostering an interest in the arts. He said parents have to make decisions about their children’s activities and must decide how learning piano may fit into their family.

Marketing comes from old-fashioned word of mouth, but Piano Solutions also does some newspaper and radio advertising and showcases its products at special events.

“We believe that everyone is a potential client,” he said. “We market to individuals, families, schools, churches and restaurants. The pool of potential piano owners is larger than most people might imagine.”

University of Indianapolis Professor Rebecca Sorley is among the shop’s satisfied customers.

“It seems that whatever we need, he can arrange to get it for us,” she said. “We bought a piano lab from [Piano Solutions].”

Matt Rund, the performing arts director and music department chairman at Fishers High School, agreed. Piano Solutions has respected the school’s limitations, he said.

“The difference between them and the other guys in town is that they understand we have a budget and they could work with that,” Rund said. “They got us the pianos we wanted, at the price we needed.”

Durthaler said that his advice for other entrepreneurs is to be prepared to work hard.

“Running a business is time-consuming and there are always issues that require immediate attention,” he said, “but at the same time you can’t ignore the importance of planning and reviewing to keep the business moving forward.”

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