Sponsored by Brooks LTD.
By Melanie Brooks
If you’re at a point in your career where you are already doing in-home repair and set up to do action regulation in your own home or small shop, action rebuilding is a great way to diversify and expand your services. As an independent technician, you have a portfolio of technical skills, quality parts, and services available on the market to produce the best outcome for each piano you encounter. Putting your skill as a technician together with vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers will cultivate and expand your business in ways you may not have anticipated.
Know When an Action Rebuild is the Right Decision
It is important that you truly feel that the action replacement is good for the piano and the client. There are often times that even with a rebuilt action, the piano will not satisfy the needs of your client. There are several questions you should ask before selling an action job. The most important question to ask is, is the piano meeting your client’s needs? If not, can you meet your client’s needs by refurbishing the existing action parts, or is the cost/benefit of new parts a better option?
Is the client unhappy with the tone? Does the action play too heavy or too light? Is it hard to control? Is the action unable to play loud, soft, or to repeat? If the answer to these questions is yes, then a rebuild may be in order. However, if the piano is not tunable or serviceable, then is it practical to invest in the piano? In this case, rebuilding an action is not an appropriate choice.
Know Your Own Skill Set
You need to be honest with yourself. Do you have the experience to do an action rebuild? If not, do you have a colleague or mentor you can talk to for advice? Is there a supplier you can farm it out to? You should also know your shop limitations. The reality is that you only need a space the size of a regulation bench or dining table to do this work. Do you have the right tools and space to do a neat and thorough job? Can you do a complete regulation? What is your skillset of voicing techniques? If you are not completely proficient in these areas, it doesn’t mean that you cannot take on the job, but it does mean that you will need to reassess the time that it will take to do it or that you may need to find a supplier to collaborate with or seek a mentor to learn from.
Investigate what services are available from suppliers. There may be some parts of the rebuild that you are capable of performing, however, there may be some that you should consider sending to a supplier to handle. The cost of tools and the amount of time to set up your shop (as well as the learning curve involved in certain skills) may make it cost-effective for both you and your client to pay a supplier to perform certain services.
For example: At Brooks LTD, we provide custom hammer duplication for both grands and verticals, and pre-hung hammers on shanks and flanges. Most recently, we have been working out how to hang upright hammers out of the piano. If custom wippens are needed, we are able to pre-assemble them.
Know Your Products
Research suppliers and collect information before you sell the job to a client. You will want to ensure parts are available and investigate options of manufacture in cost and quality as well as understanding the time frame for supply.
On the manufacturing level, tolerances within products may need to be broader than those of the individual technician due to their constraints. It is important for technicians to be practical when it comes to the desires of the client and to be realistic about what can be achieved with parts that are available on the market.
Technicians also need to be resourceful to meet their desire for quality work while utilizing parts that may not be customized to their specific needs and understanding of the constraints of manufacturing.
Manufacturers are tied to mass production and consistency. Suppliers want to meet the needs of the technician in both the quality and usability of parts while keeping in mind the constraints set by the manufacturers. Technicians want to meet the needs of their customers, keeping the quality of the piano in mind. Each player in the supply chain is trying to meet one another’s needs. Yet, we are tied to certain constraints by availability, skill, budgets etc. If you break down each link in the supply chain and determine which parts will satisfy your client’s desires for their piano, you will end up with the best result.
Know How to Set a Budget
Be sure to allow an appropriate amount of time in your estimate to cover the costs of unanticipated complications and for doing the job to the best of your ability. Your customer will also want to know the amount of time you anticipate the piano will be out of use. If it’s your first job, you need to already have a general idea of the time needed to do the work. It is better to overestimate the time needed and return the project early than it is to go over your timeline and be delayed. Calculate the time for installation and be prepared to do a full action regulation in the shop and fine regulation once you are at the piano. You’ll also need to make sure that the hammers are mating to the strings. In addition, there may be other items to be aware of, you may need back-rail cloth, or replace backchecks, or let-off buttons, polish pins, punchings for regulation etc. Try to consider all possibilities when you are pricing the job. Again, it is better to overestimate your costs than under.
When writing an estimate, prioritize the issues you are seeing in the piano. Provide options depending on what your client is willing to spend. Perhaps you should allow them to pick and choose services if they cannot afford the entire job. Or, you could prioritize what you think will provide maximum enhancement for a minimal cost. It is likely that it will take much longer to do your first few action jobs, but to be competitive, you will need to charge the going price. You cannot charge your clients for your learning curve. Your profits will increase as you become more proficient.
Give a price range. You do not want to lock yourself into a set price as things often change along the way. Be sure you include parts and labor in your estimate and anticipate the cost of shipping of those parts. It is standard practice to double the cost of parts and add your labor.
Melanie Brooks is uniquely qualified to speak about the amount of care and attention to detail technicians should invest in delivering the best products and services to meet high standards in action rebuilding. Brooks LTD has the experience and knowledge to guide technicians and provide custom parts for every aspect of action rebuilding. As the fourth generation in a family of long-standing suppliers in the industry, Melanie is someone you should definitely talk to about your action rebuild before you make any concrete plans. The Brooks LTD team is happy to share their decades of experience with you!