Bill Scharbrough R.P.T.
Stephen Scharbrough
Marlene Scharbrough

Home An Unauthorized History of Piano Retail
A History of Piano Retail

Having worked the majority of my adult life in piano retail and piano service has caused me to have many observations about this industry.  While the consumer typically sees this industry through the eyes of a child in toyland a retailer is driven by profit.  Profit, therefore, being the primary motive, the piano sales business is therefore structured in a manner designed to persuade the customer to pay the highest possible price for a piano.  This is done by hiring professional salespeople. Their job is to sell as many pianos as possible for a high price. This arrangement is very advantageous to a good salesman because for little or no investment in a business he can reap very high rewards.  It is very common for successful salesmen to average 10 to 14% commissions on the pianos they sell.  This is very advantageous to the dealer as well because this type of salesman invariably will sell at a higher price than someone less experienced.  The dealer benefits because he is more profitable, the salesman benefits, because he makes more money on each individual sale. The customer who doesn’t do his homework will lose because he pays more than he should for the piano.
You may be thinking at this point, “What about my part in all this as a customer? Does what I think and want have anything to do with this sale?”  It does if you are working with an ethical salesperson and dealership. It doesn’t if you are dealing with a salesperson or dealership that is bound and determined to make a sale at all costs.  It is important to determine the difference. If you are not sure, read on.
For being a product about which people know so little, why then, does the typical customer not do even a modicum of research before taking at face value all the claims he hears about pianos? This has always been a mystery to me but it never seems to change!  This is something that has greatly puzzled and outraged me over the years.  It is fascinating to me how a less than ethical piano salesman will so blatantly lie to and deceive potential customers about the products they are selling.  In the 30 years I have been tuning, servicing, and selling pianos I have found this practice of deception still happens.  Some dealers look the other way because it leads to more profit for their company.  Even more disturbing to me though, is how this practice leads to an atmosphere of disdain for the customer and for the needs of the customer. Shop carefully to find a dealer and salesperson that employs ethical selling practices.
Were I to offer advice to a piano buyer it would be to start with as much independent information as I could find and take nothing at face value. I believe it is the responsibility of the customer to become self educated.  In order to become knowledgeable one must first become educated.  Always remember, salesmen are not paid to educate, they are paid to sell. A salesman’s purpose is to sell you what they have to sell at a high profit margin. Not to allow you to buy what their competitor is selling. Education means finding third party price information, third party evaluations of quality, and third party compilations of materials and specifications, in order to become knowledgeable before rather than after you buy.
Education requires learning to listen based on tone quality and dynamic range, not based on the name found on the soundboard. Education also requires enough understanding of the mechanical process of the piano to be able to check out for one’s self the touch and response of the piano. Education means opening one’s mind and taking an active role in learning what really matters in pianos rather than being blindly led around by your salesmen.