In September, 2014, Jay Jay French began writing a bi-weekly column for Inc. Magazine’s web site. This is an idea that nearly took root on an early version of TwistedSister.com, but due to the band’s reunion and subsequent performance schedule, it never came about. But every good idea eventually sees the light of day, and the inc. column is the result. Here are all of the columns in one spot. We’ll be adding to this archive as each new column is published, so keep checking back for the latest installment.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat. How constant repetition–especially with a start-up–can make the difference between success and failure
How constant repetition–especially with a start-up–can make the difference between success and failure
Originally published on June 6, 2018
This past Memorial Day weekend marked the 45th anniversary of Twisted Sister’s first year residency as the house band (a band that by virtue of the exclusivity and dependable performance times, becomes synonymous with the club where you’re playing) at the Mad Hatter in the Hamptons on Long Island. In those days, most of the summer bars in the Hamptons already had a house band and it was a very coveted position for us. We beat out several other bands for that privilege in the summer of 1973, which was our first time playing on Long Island since forming in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, in January just six months prior.
This anniversary matters to me for a number of reasons, but mostly because it allows me to share the genesis of our work ethic. Among the many ingredients of any successful business, the slow evolution of the lessons one learns in the process is repetition. Every day can bring with it new challenges and hopefully new answers and small victories that can propel you toward the next day.
There we were, a bunch of 20 year-old kids, dressed in drag, playing rock ‘n roll for 15 weeks in a row (Memorial Day to Labor Day), four 50-minute shows, five nights a week. Over the years I’ve had many, many conversations with current 20 year-old musicians who ask me for advice.
The conversations go something like this:
Musician: “Hey Jay Jay, you gotta come and see my band.”
Me: “How long have you been together as a band?”
Musician: “About two years.”
Me: “How many shows have you played over that two-year period?”
Musician: “A lot! About 50 shows!”
Me: “How long are your performances?”
Musician: “Twenty to forty-five minutes, depending on our time slot.”
Me: “Tell me when you get to 500 shows; then I’ll come down and see your band.”
Musician: “Five hundred shows? That will take years!”
Me: “Well then, I probably won’t be seeing your band!”
I’ve compiled some very interesting statistics because it illustrates what a business, or in my particular case, a band, needs to do to be good. A band, like a CEO, needs to work all the time and not just twice a month.
Twisted Sister became great. Twisted Sister became bullet proof because we were constantly working.
This is how Twisted Sister spent 1973 and 1974 (our first two years):
Total nights performing at a nightclub: 396
Total performances: 1,972 (mostly five forty-minute shows each night; with only a couple of single one-hour performances)
Total performance hours: 5,916 with an average of three hours of actual performances each night
Rehearsal days: Approximately 150
Rehearsal hours: Approximately 750
Total hours performing, plus rehearsals: Approximately 6,600
Many people think that a band makes it because of having some kind of fairy dust sprinkled upon the tops of their heads. The real truth of it is that in the first two years, with so much daily interaction among the band members, I learned everything I needed to know to build the very (solid) foundation of what it takes to really succeed in business.
We worked hard every hour of every day in an unrelenting quest to be the best. Under all the pressure, none of the guys in the first iteration of Twisted Sister could ultimately stand it except for me. I carried this discipline with me and eventually, found the right guys who could handle it–Dee, Eddie and Mark, with AJ joining us just before the record deal in 1982.
The lessons I gleaned from the discipline we practiced as a band can be applied to any genre of business. It forces you to:
1. Decide whether you want a partnership with equal equity or have sole proprietorship, i.e. individual risk with capital investment. (I chose a partnership.)
2. Survive the challenges, crisis and catastrophes that arise. (Like nearly murdering one band member. True story, but I overcame this and so much more!)
3. Face down each and every problem or allow the problems to crush you
If you believe so much in what you do, the only conclusion is to keep moving toward your goal. That’s what I did, giving myself no fall-back position whatsoever.
How the Gibson CEO Is Trying to Save the Legendary 116-Year-Old Guitar Company
In a rare one-on-one conversation, Henry Juszkiewicz talks about Les Paul, bankruptcy, John Travolta, and more.
Originally published on February 27, 2018
Amid rumors of an impending Gibson Guitar Corp. bankruptcy. I wanted to see if I could get behind the headlines and connect you, the Inc.com reader, with Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman & CEO of the Gibson Guitar Corp.
I have been a Gibson Guitar devotee and collector and, as an artist, had my own guitar line through Epiphone guitars, a Gibson owned guitar company, for several years.
But first some important background information:
The Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co., Ltd. was established in 1902. The guitars carrying the Gibson brand have been and currently are all manufactured in the United States. In 1952, after partnering with jazz guitar legend Les Paul, Gibson started to manufacture the Les Paul model guitar which has become one of the most legendary and iconic guitar models in the history of recorded popular music.
In 1986, after a period of what is considered a dark decade of poor quality control and mismanagement, Henry Juszkiewicz, Dave Berryman and Gary A. Zebrowski bought the Gibson company three months short of closing its doors permanently and have, since then, brought the quality of the Gibson, and Epiphone guitar brands specifically, back to their former glory.
Over the last several years, Gibson–through Juszkiewicz’s entrepreneurial guidance–has moved beyond the acquisition of musical instrument companies by acquiring several Japanese consumer electronics companies such as TEAC Corporation (Teac and Esoteric brands), Phillips, Cerwin Vega, Stanton, as well as professional audio equipment from KRK Systems and TEAC Corporation/TASCAM.
What follows is an excerpt of my exclusive interview with Henry Juszkiewicz that took place in February 2018.
Jay Jay French
Henry, how close is the Gibson guitar company to filing for bankruptcy?
Gibson is not going to file for bankruptcy. It’s not our intention.
We’re in compliance with all the bonds. We’ve paid interest, and it is our intention to refinance these bonds. We have a very good investment bank called Jefferies that has been working on refinancing for well over a year. They’re very confident that we’re going to refinance the business. That’s normally what happens, because bonds always expire, and there’s an effort to find new investors and to refinance the business.
We’ve talked to lots of people already who are potential investors. Gibson guitars are doing really well. Our sales have grown. Our profitability has increased in the guitar business and we expect to have an even better year. We’re just going through our 2019 model year. Guitar Center (the nationwide retail chain) is back in a big way and our numbers with Guitar Center are spectacular for the last few months, well above the last year. And, things are going generally well with the MI (musical Instrument) business. Our KRK studio monitors are doing really well. We’re still number one with Yamaha and others. The consumer electronics side (Onkyo, Pioneer, TEAC, Esoteric, Cerwin-Vega) has been challenged since we bought it in 2013.
Does that cover the TEAC, Esoteric and Philips lines, or do each one of these companies have their own particular issues?
Yeah. TEAC is really independent. I mean, they’re a publicly traded company in Japan. You know, they are what they are. I can’t say they’re spectacular, but they’re doing okay.
When you originally used the financial tools to infuse the company with capital, did you ever think this was possible?
Was this a scenario that you even could have imagined where you are now?
You know, sure. I’ve been in trouble for 30 years. I think I have a very difficult business assignment, and I knew that the CE (consumer electronics) business was going to be a lot of work. While it wasn’t as bad as Gibson was when we took it on, it wasn’t a company that was really solid. It needed a lot of work and the only difference is that I thought management had some time.
The currency crisis that was caused in the first year really kind of derailed that plan. And it ended up being a whole lot more work than anticipated. I’m an entrepreneur, so disaster can always come. That’s the nature of risk. If you knew what the disaster would look like, then it wouldn’t be risk. Any time you do something that is challenging, it’s always possible for something to happen.
What is the price point of guitar sales that is the most effective, and is the premium, high-end market pretty much over?
When we bought Gibson, everybody said the guitar was dead and keyboards would take over. Do you remember that?
Yes, it was the early, early ’80s.
Yep. You know, it was all electronics. The Japanese electronics companies were making these MIDI [Music Instrument Digital Interface] guitars. Everything was electronic and it would take over all acoustic instruments. It would be dead. And every [guitar] store [in the U.S.] was underwater with guitars. I started with that.
But the death of guitar sales didn’t happen. I did really well with guitars. They didn’t die. They actually did really well. And then there was John Travolta and disco music, and that was all the rage. Everybody was saying, “Guitars are going to die.” And they didn’t die. They did really well through that period. People are still playing the Beatles. In fact, the kids are listening to older music [produced] before they were born than ever before. Music is, because of streaming, much more eclectic.
So the guitar business and the music instrument business, in general, is a plus or minus 3 percent growth business since the 1900s. It’s a very stable business. It continues to be. Our industry is up 3 percent, which is a big growth for our business. Guitar sales are up.
What is the hottest price point for a guitar, in your estimation?
Based on what I’m seeing, over 3,000 bucks. The second thing is, high-end [electric] guitars are hot. It’s just that there aren’t a lot of them in terms of units.
I play Epiphone guitars exclusively live. I’ve been playing them for over 15 years. And I happen to think they’re amazing guitars, and they’re priced at some unbelievable street prices for the quality, which are about $499. I would think, numerically, you must sell boatloads of that stuff. Am I correct?
Oh, yeah. We probably sell three or four to one. Epiphone to Gibson brand. But we make more money on the Gibson side. We are priced effective. The whole point is we want to give really great value to the consumer, right? And we do. Dave [Berryman, president of the Gibson Guitar Corp. and head of the Epiphone duitar division of Gibson] is just doing a bang up job and the guitars keep getting better.
Henry, is that era of the six, seven, eight, nine thousand Collector’s Choice Les Paul model [a super-premium, Gibson custom-shop recreation of legendary Les Paul 1950’s models] pretty much done or do you think there’s room in that era still?
If Jerry Seinfeld buys a guitar, it’s not going to be a $500 Epiphone, right? He’s going to buy high-end stuff. The point being, there’s a lot of high end–it’s a beautiful piece of art and it has history to it. That connection is forever.
If you hold on, is the future about acquiring more companies outside of the music instrument business?
Right now I’m focused on making this company really perform well so we can do best in the field. I’m not even thinking about that. I am focused on today.
You saved this company [Gibson] from the Norlin era once already. Is there a future for Henry Juszkiewicz at Gibson?
Yeah, I think there is. I have to pass it on to another generation of people to do cool things with. I’m going to die being in the guitar world, but if I do the brand justice, I have to bring up fresh young management with their own aggressive ideas.
That’s what I want to do. As long as I can be in there, I’m going to be in there. But for the company, I got to bring in new blood. And that’s my intention.
6 Insanely Priced Items for the Serious (and Seriously Rich) Music Lovers
When investing in a piece of static art makes less sense than investing in an ass-kicking stereo system.
Originally published on February 6, 2018
According to Forbes, there are currently 2,043 billionaires in the world with about 250 new ones joining the list every year.
Show me someone with a billion dollars and I’ll show you someone or some company that will design a product to sell in support of separating billionaires from their money, like showcasing private homes ($250M) or yachts ($200M). But how about items that used to be geared more toward people like us, like home stereo equipment–record players, amplifiers, CD players, speakers and speaker wire (cable).
Full disclosure: I own a fairly exotic home audio system that while south of a mil, still retails for about $70K, so I know from where I speak.
1. Record players (turntables)
You’ve read the news. Vinyl is back, big time. Putting aside for the moment that roughly 40 percent of vinyl buyers never even play the record, instead they’re used more like pieces of art to look at. Several companies make perfectly good turntables in the $200 to $400 range.
But, if you really got the itch (and the green) you can buy a VPI Titan turntable for about $40K. And, if you don’t think that’s too expensive, there’s Clearaudio Statement Turntable for a mere $150K. All just to play a piece of vinyl that costs about $.99 to manufacture!
2. Phono Cartridges (needles)
A needle (cartridge) can be bought for as little as $50, but not to be used for this kind of super high-end turntable. Instead the Goldfinger Statement will put you back about $15K.
3. You say you need a pair of speakers…
You can buy a Sonos setup for your home for about $1K, which can provide sound for four or five rooms. But if you really want the best, there is the Wilson Audio WAMM Master Chronosonic. A pair of these babies will set you back a mere $685K! Of course you will then need an amplifier to power them.
Many fine amplifiers start at around $750, but for Wilson speakers you’d best look into Swissmade darTZeel NHB-458 monoblock amplifiers. They come in at around $145K.
5. CD Players
CDs are dead. Best Buy’s recent departure from selling them is indicative that now it’s all about streaming. Or vinyl… (Talk about the dead coming back to life.)
For kicks and giggles, let’s just say you come into a couple hundred million bucks and had a great collection of CD’s. What would you do? You probably would buy a DCS Vivaldi One SACD Player which only costs about $55K (in black or silver), or if you really want to up the bling, $66K for 24-carat gold plating.
6. Speaker Wire (my favorite level of insanity)
I’ll start by saying that if you owned a Rolls Royce, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t buy your spark plugs at Walmart. That logic extends to the technology of speaker wire (cable). Of course the wire is not made of gold, but the information it carries from the $145K amplifiers you just bought to your $685K speakers really makes a difference.
Over the past 30 years, exotic and the ever-more expensive speaker wire has been developed to complete this insane audio system. Yes, you could easily connect the amps and speakers with wire from your local hardware store that costs about $.10 a foot, but you could also consider Nordost Odin 2 Supreme Reference Speaker Cable that will run you only about $38K for a 12-foot pair.
If this isn’t enough and you still feel the need to spend a little bit more try the MIT ACC 268, which will only set you back about $80K!
Of course, once you purchase all of this insanely priced stuff you’d need to build the right sound room in your mansion. Me? I’ll just stick with my own home audio system for the time being and wait for a winning lottery ticket.
Enjoy the music folks!