An interview with Bonnie Reidel, owner of Fix This! Musical Instrument Repair Inc. and DBA Horn Stash in Palatine.
Q: Describe your business. What do you do?
Fix This! Musical Instrument Repair Inc. DBA Horn StashAddress: 746 E. Northwest Hwy (and 744 and now 742) Palatine, IL 60074
Owner: Bonnie Reidel
Year business started: The retail location on Northwest Highway opened in September of 2009
Web address: FixThisInstrumentRepair.com and FixThisMusic.com for repairs
HornStash.com and HornStashOnline.com for sales
A: We repair, rent, and sell high-quality used and new band instruments -- from flutes and clarinets, to tubas and sousaphones.
Q: What made you start your business?
A: I started out as a woodwind repair technician and flute specialist. I worked for a variety of music stores and repair shops in the Chicago area and none of them seemed to be quite what I felt a professional repair shop and retail store should or could be. I also have some of the classic entrepreneur personality issues about not wanting to work for someone else, wanting to be my own boss, and all the cliché stuff like that.
Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle in running or starting a small business?
A: Paperwork (or at least, the computerized version of paperwork in most cases nowadays ...) There's so much to running a business that seems to have nothing to do with the actual business itself. It can be so frustrating sometimes to have to deal with accounting issues, sales tax reporting, payroll tax returns, etc. rather than doing actual work in the business such as instrument repair, customer interaction, and selling instruments.
Q: What do you enjoy most about operating your business?
A: The variety. With both repair and sales, there is a huge variety of experience needed on both sides. Although it might seem kind of strange, there is an extraordinary variety in the number of ways an instrument can break or need repair. Every repair is completely different from the last one. That is compounded with the number of different kinds of instruments we work on, the different brands that are all distinct in their own ways, the great number of potential issues an instrument can have, and of course, the customers. We have to be problem solvers, guesstimate's, creative builders, and musicians. On the sales side, we have to be good listeners, product specialists, negotiators, web gurus, photographers, and musicians.
On the business side, I have to be all that and then patient enough to deal with the paperwork stuff and management issues. No day is ever boring, and no days are ever the same.
Q: Tell us about the growth of the business.
A: We started out with one repair tech (me) in the front half of 746 E. Northwest Hwy., combining a repair setup with a tiny showroom that doubled as our lobby area. We later expanded to add a second repair technician about a year later, and then took over the back half of the 746 space. We then added a part time customer service/retail position, followed by additional repair techs. In 2011 we expanded the retail area and took over the store next to us (unit 744) and made the old, small retail space into a recital hall and storage area. We host free recitals and events about once a month or so, but we couldn't have any events during the summer because our recital space was crammed full of instruments awaiting summer repairs. Just recently we expanded over into the next store again, to unit 742, and we are setting that space up to be a permanent recital hall. We have also added more retail staff, so that we now have four full-time repair technicians, one full time retail manager, and a part-time retail salesperson.
Q: Is this what you pictured yourself doing when you were young?
A: I always wanted to be involved in music ever since I was young, but I didn't exactly expect to be a music store owner. When I went to repair school I decided I wanted to have my own shop someday, but I didn't really envision having such a large-scale music store with all the instruments and accessories for sale in addition to repair. I
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: Property taxes. It's unbelievable to me how our property taxes can go up over 60 percent in 5 years, and we are still supposed to be able to grow and be able to put money back into the business. When estimating future expenses when we started, we had no idea how out of line the tax bill would get in such a relatively short time. How can business owners be successful and create jobs when we have to keep paying these unreasonably huge increases of property taxes each year?
Cash flow is at times another sleep-depriver and that always seems to be a recurring theme for most business owners I've met. Our industry is very cyclical and during the slow months it feels like the world is coming to a stop. Then the cycles change and things pick up again to uncomfortably busy and we are stressed about getting enough work done in time. Now that I'm learning the patterns are pretty set in stone, I can sleep a little better knowing that the cycles are consistent, just like the sun rising. I'm learning to tailor my time off during specific months of the year so that I still get a break, but it has taken awhile to become comfortable with the full cycle.
Q: If you could give one tip to a rookie business owner, what would it be?
A: Just one tip is really hard. I have two tips that I wish someone would have told me right away, and it's difficult for me to choose just one of them. My first big tip would be: Learn accounting. Of course, knowing your product or service is important, advertising is important, customer service is important, referrals, growth, hiring, budgeting, social media, inventory, and all that stuff is extremely important. But if you don't get a good handle on the accounting aspect of your business, it's not going to be pleasant.
My second big tip would be: Get a mentor. Join a business owner's group or forum of some sort. Get free business counseling from SCORE or Harper's Small Business Development Center, or any number of private groups or coaching forums.
For a long time I felt like I was reinventing the wheel in many aspects of my business. I figured surely there had to be other business with similar issues, so I started looking into some of these option. I was surprised how much help is out there for business owners, but you have to look for it and for the organization that suits you and your business best. Once I started getting mentoring sessions and business advice, I learned a lot about how other businesses handle similar challenges, what I was doing wrong, and what I could do better at. I wished I had started sooner with getting business mentoring since running a business in your industry is quite a bit different from knowing your industry.
Q: What are you most proud of in your business?
A: Even though I had dreamed of owning a shop one day, that still seems like a rather self-centered vision. What I am truly most proud of in my business is its impact on others. I am providing jobs for people; while it can often be extremely stressful to have someone's livelihood dependent on my business, it's also extremely gratifying to be providing employment opportunities for others. I am providing professional service for my customers; we strive to perform the best repairs as well as provide the best instrument brands available for sale. I am providing performing opportunities for local musicians; we regularly host recitals for local musicians, and we are introducing a new series this fall to promote more of those opportunities for a wider range of performers. I'm proud of all of that! I'm glad to do it and to be taking on the challenges of growing and expanding, and I hope to keep at it for quite some time.
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