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Meet Bill Lazar of Lazar’s Early Music

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bill Lazar.

Bill, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started Lazar’s Early Music in my home, as a side business, in 1994. I was a research molecular biologist and protein biochemist for many years. I ordered a bunch of instruments for some friends and myself from a maker in Germany. He asked me if I wanted to be a distributor for his instruments in the U.S. I said, “Sure.”

I kept adding different lines. Then I got downsized at work one too many times and in 2004 decided to see if I could make a go of this full time. To my surprise, the business grew exponentially. When I started carrying violas da gamba and Baroque strings, and filling up our dining room and guest bedroom with instruments, my wife told me that either the instruments had to go or she would. So I found a small shop space, quickly outgrew it, and then outgrew my second space. When looking for a larger space, my realtor found a very nice new space for sale at a price I couldn’t refuse.

I sell mostly new (with a large stock of used) instruments modeled after old instruments. I buy them from the makers. There are two big makers of recorders in Germany and one in Switzerland. I get the violas da gamba from a company in China for whom I’m the sole U.S. distributor. I also sell Baroque flutes and other early winds.

My customers are mostly in the US, but I sell to customers all around the world. Ninety five percent of my sales are e-mail or phone orders.

Financially, I’m doing a lot better than I was doing in research. It’s just amazing to me. And the stress level is a lot less: I don’t have to worry where the next research grant is coming from I believe that I’m the largest early-music shop outside of Europe. There are a couple of other major US dealers, but the longest-running shops don’t have as large a stock or the wide array of instruments that I carry and sell.

I like to have happy customers, and I figure if I succeed at that, the business will succeed. I’ll send out half a dozen instruments to somebody on approval, and they’ll pick one and send back the rest. Yes, it’s a leap of faith and I’ve gotten burned small-time a couple of times. But the early-music community overall is small and trustworthy.

I get a great deal of satisfaction in outfitting customers with a musical instrument that they are happy with. I know how satisfying it is to have and play a good instrument myself, so this is important to me. I try to give my customers good prices as well as excellent service. Because of this, I get many customer referrals, as well as new customers from my advertising.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
When I started this business part-time, my wife and I were both working at other jobs, so I could afford to reinvest the early music shop profits into building up inventory. Once I started working full-time at this, the shop grew very fast, so there were really no financial struggles in building the business. I did have to learn a lot about running a business, using business software, importing and exporting instruments, taking care of instruments, making instrument modifications, etc. But this all came gradually and was fairly straightforward and relatively stress-free. All in all, I could not have envisioned an easier transition into a business.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Lazar’s Early Music – what should we know?
I sell Baroque and Renaissance instruments, mostly copies of originals, made by manufacturers and individual makers from around the world (Germany, Switzerland, China, Japan, Latvia, Czech Republic, etc.). I don’t sell modern versions of these instruments, so my business is in a very small niche market, with very little competition. I’m know for carrying a wide variety and large stock of these instruments, and the customer service I provide. I’m proud that I can go to an early music performance workshop and have customers come up to me, introduce themselves and tell me how happy they are with the instrument I sold them. I believe that my company provides a unique combination of a wide variety of instruments to choose from, low prices and excellent customer service.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I would say that my wife’s acceptance and support of my venture into this business at a time when neither of us were sure it could make it was instrumental in my getting the chance to succeed.

Vendors’ willingness to accept me, an unknown in the early music business, as a distributor let me expand the lines of instruments that I carry. Early Music Workshops have welcomed my store as a vendor at week-long summer workshops over the years, allowing me to display and sell my instruments, and get myself known to avid amateur players around the country. But, of course, I wouldn’t have a business without all the loyal customers that I now have.

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Bill Lazar

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