Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Keys to success

Pianos sold at discount after use by arts community

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

Frank Seta is having a public sale at Seta Piano Warehouse to sell pianos used by the Cincinnati Ballet and Opera, the Aronoff Center, Memorial Hall and Music Hall.
The Enquirer / MEGGAN BOOKER

KENWOOD - Frank Seta believes he has found the key to doing well in business while doing good for the arts community.

Seta, owner of Seta Music, offers new, professional-quality pianos to the Cincinnati Ballet, the Cincinnati Arts Association and the Cincinnati Opera.

After a year or two, he replaces them and sells the slightly used pianos at a discount to retail customers. This year's sale, at his Silverton warehouse, begins Thursday.

"The program recognizes the fact that many performing arts organizations and performance halls don't have the budget necessary to purchase pianos on an as-needed basis," he explained. "A number of these venues may not have the budgets to maintain the instruments properly. But this way, these organizations get new pianos every year or two - pianos that don't need maintenance."

"This program means a tremendous amount to not-for-profit organizations," said Janet Taylor, vice president and general manager of the arts association, which manages the Aronoff Center, Music Hall and Memorial Hall.

"Many of the smaller groups who perform in these spaces could not begin to afford to rent a piano. It's a benefit you just can't quantify."

Seta implemented this program when he was an executive with Baldwin Piano Co. After launching his own piano dealership in Kenwood in May 2002, he was eager to continue it. This is Seta Music's second sale of used pianos and the first in which it's selling pianos used by all its partner organizations.

Seta said the strategy creates good value for customers, too. The pianos are sold when they are still in good shape and still under manufacturer warranty. In addition to bearing a tempting price tag, these instruments have real cachet: many have been played by musical celebrities. "The piano has been in the dressing room of an opera star, or on stage, where it was played by a famous musician," Seta said.

Broken in

In the market for a Baldwin piano, business owner Tim Wilson of London, Ohio, drove to Seta Music two years ago on the recommendation of a friend. He arrived at the end of Seta's first sale of arts organization pianos and sat down at the keyboard of a 5-foot, 8-inch ebony grand that had been used by the Cincinnati Ballet.

"It sounded better than the brand-new piano sitting next to it," Wilson said. "It was nicely broken in, and there wasn't a mark on it."

Cincinnati Ballet orchestra conductor Carmon DeLeone signed the piano for Wilson, and it was delivered to his London home the next day.

A bonus for Seta Music: Its name appears in marketing and advertising materials for concerts.

"We benefit by the exposure of our products and our brands," Seta said. "Performance programs will indicate that a particular piano brand is the official brand of that organization. It has a halo effect and builds brand equity."

Seta hopes that the excellent reputations of Cincinnati performing arts organizations and the region's substantial arts-loving population will make his program work.

"We have to keep the inventory turning," he explained. "We are obligated when I buy these pianos for loan. I may spend my cash or may borrow it from a lender, which means I pay interest. Then there is the prep cost, the freight cost, the administrative cost.

"We hope to be able to sell enough pianos during the four-day sale period to make up, with volume, for the lower profit margin. We also discount everything we have on display in the store, new and used. It helps to widen the selection we can offer the general public.

"Each purchase helps to ensure that the program can continue. The success of this program comes down to the marketplace."

Mix of pianos

Seta's inventory includes a mix of grand pianos and uprights.

"At each venue it's a little different," Seta said.

Taylor says the Aronoff has been borrowing pianos, first from Baldwin, then from Seta, since it opened in 1995. Seta, she says, has been instrumental to the program.

"It's an astonishing level of commitment. This year he traveled around the country, personally selecting pianos for the various arts organizations. The piano he chose for the Aronoff Center is a 7-foot American-made Mason & Hamlin concert grand. It was played just this past week by the accompanist for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme."

"Frank is absolutely wonderful," said Wilson. "If people are in the market for a wonderful pre-owned piano, they should definitely take advantage of this sale," Wilson said. "My piano is a dream come true for me."


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