Insider Tips On How To Sell Drums!

My name is Dave Moody, a grizzled music industry vet since 1976. I am not a drum builder by trade so you won’t read about any technical drum making skills in this article. You can get great advice through Brian’s featured articles on that subject along with a host of other high level builders in his forum. What I wish to convey to you are methods on how to sell drums and make money from your passion of building drums.

Homemade custom drum set by Jimmy Shand.

I owned and operated a retail music store and school for over 20 years and was awarded top southern California store of the year multiple times so it’s conceivable I know at least a little about the industry. One of my favorite claims to fame is being co founder of Rockschool with Yamaha in 1981. We had a great run from 1976 to 1999 and witnessed a lot of changes in the industry along with many constants.

What I learned in the drum and percussion area may be of help to some of you looking to sell your creations.

Back in the beginning during the mid 70’s, we carried Rogers, Slingerland, Ludwig and CB700. Basic 5 pc American made kits from the major companies retailed for about $1500 while the imported CB700 sold for around $500. Pearl became the next brand to come along and they looked and played pretty much like their American made counterparts for about half the price. We now had essentially three price point levels of drums to offer our customers. Pearl did quite well since the simple marketing rule was to offer, good, better and best. People like to buy “better” most often so Pearl became a big seller at that time.

Along came the 80’s with more brand options from Japan & Taiwan such as Yamaha & Tama while their American made counterparts began to go the way of the dinosaurs. Imports appeared to offer more bang for the buck. It now had been several years since the fair trade retail price fixing laws were gone and discounting began to become part of the fabric of retail and a method to differentiate and compete against growing competition.

USA made drums became more and more costly while imports grew rapidly in sales and popularity. Drums were doing pretty well in general with the big kits at the heyday of their popularity. Suddenly things changed around the mid 80’s when drums went dead in the water. We still sold tons of guitars, amps and everything else but drum sales were dismal.

Around this time, I received a visit from the president of Hoshino, the parent company of Tama who flew in from Japan to interview me about the drum industry. I still recall this venerable old Japanese man asking me very seriously, “is there a market for drums in America any longer?” That’s how bad the drum business was at that time. The only consolation I felt was from the old adage, “misery loves company” so I didn’t feel like the only store that could hardly give away drums at the time.

For those of you that have been around a while, you know that the drum industry did turn around but found it to be more cyclical with ups and downs since that era. Just five years ago, most of you saw that drums were booming again only to go flat to currently stagnant for virtually all drum companies. Couple this with the current bad economic situation and you have the perfect storm for less than stellar drum sales…this to shall pass but for the present moment, we need to get creative.

With all this doom and gloom said, it’s time to alter the game plan and look to the future as the innovators in down times become the leaders in good times.

Innovation doesn’t mean price cutting but we need to face the facts that money is tight out there for most and high end drums are generally a challenge to sell currently.
The marketing experts talk about finding niches.

Back when I started in the music biz, we had the general store concept that worked just fine. Today’s buyers want specialists and frankly, the general store type approach for marketing to the masses is virtually impossible for the little guys and why we have “big box” companies dominating retail today.

The total drum industry is less than a billion dollar a year business and drum sets comprise about $60 million last I checked. That’s not a huge market when you consider other industries so we must pick our spots or niches.

Considering that none of the major drum companies own more than 15% market share, the small drum companies comprise dozens of makers that don’t even crack 1% of the market. We aren’t selling fruits and vegetables and even though virtually everyone could be a drummer, the reality is we have a rather finite or limited market.

At the beginning of 2011, most of the major brands were selling their entry level 5pc kits in the $700-$900 retail range. By the end of the year, retailers were advertising these brands as low as $299. NAMM manufacturing members have referred to this phenomenon as “the race to the bottom”. In other words, there is no profit to be had in this arena. Conversely, drums listing over $1000 have slowed to a crawl. What to do?

Depending on your circumstances, I have a few ideas on how to sell drums. Presuming most of you builders are small companies, overhead may not be as much a concern as a company with several employees, payroll, rent, utilities, tooling, etc to cover. There are a lot of boutique drum makers out there and many of them are members of this forum. Volume sales may not be the objective however selling 2 sets a year is not going to necessarily keep the home fires burning.

Why should an end user buy Mr. Home Made Custom drums when they can get a DW kit?

You need to standout, differentiate, create and show the benefits to your prospects. Many of you engage prospects with a one on one approach and this differentiates you from the big guys. Others are offering non traditional features such as unique finishes and exotic woods. What else can you do?

Look into the ROP programs offered through the public school systems for an intern. You don’t need to pay for this service and you may be able to free some time up to actually market your company while your helper does some of the grunt work. We always had kids from the ROP program working and although they are far from ready to handle important duties, they save you a few hours a week.
Some builders are micro niching into snare drums, ethnic drums and simply customization of client’s existing sets.

Selling direct to the consumer is a method many of you employ to uphold profits since pricing structure needn’t incorporate the markup necessary to sell wholesale to stores. On the other hand, creating a niche product, branding it and selling to music stores is another option. There are a few thousand music stores still in the US and it may only take a dozen or so dealers to make you profitable with repeat business. Remember to factor in that retailers expect at least a 40% discount off suggested retail.

Consider becoming a member of NAMM. I think it’s around $120 per year and worth the inside info, retailer contact lists and free convention passes. They have NAMM University with a number of publications to educate you on the ins and outs of the business of selling and marketing your products. This will be my 35th year as a member and it has been well worth the price of admission.

Creating new and innovative products can be achieved in several ways. Attractive logos, trademarking a slogan, functional improvements, design or utility inventions can be the ticket to standing above the fray. Unusual shapes, sizes, color applications, unique lug systems, tuning apparatus, isolation mounts, setup configurations and shell materials are just a few more ideas.

We took an old concept from the 50’s and revived the cocktail drums around 2004 and sold hundreds of them.

Pearl had the traveler kits, nested kits and other variations have been offered on this theme. Remember Octobans? Ethnic drums, African drums, and even Aboriginal drums are possibilities. Try to solve a problem by creating an improvement and it is likely other drummers will appreciate your solution and buy into your new product. Your out of the box thinking just might create a new and popular niche that brings you fame and fortune!

If you want to seek more volume with lower priced offerings, consider contacting manufacturers in Taiwan and China directly. NAMM can help you with this or you can contact me for supplier leads. If money is tight, get together with some of this forum’s members to co-op a purchase. You may consider importing parts, heads, components or hardware for building and resale to create additional revenues that boost your bottom line. Currently Ebay, Amazon & Craigslist are reasonable outlets to resell these goods online.

My drum venture, HB Drums, began at the beginning of this millennium. I had the idea of branding a new drum company with my proprietary designs where I controlled the brand. I realized after selling and promoting all the other companies brands for years, there was nothing to show for all those advertising dollars except what we sold at the time. All future or residual benefits went to Pearl, Tama, DW, etc.

By creating and controlling your own brand with unique model names, colors, etc., nobody else can have the exact same product unless YOU want them to.

My company sold over 20,000 sets entirely online through our website and over $1.5 million in sales through Ebay within the first 5 years of opening.

There is a life cycle for most everything unless you own Coca Cola and awareness of trends and competition are key to keeping things fresh and also to know when to pull the plug. We have decided to implement a new idea currently and will be selling our substantial Colorado warehouse inventory of shells, drum hardware, parts, wrap, drum heads and cymbal. You can contact me if interested in purchasing and we can forward the details to you. You can create something new as I transition to my next chapter.

I want to have a little more time to devote to other projects and business and so the life cycle goes.

My new project is one simple yet unique idea. I have filed for a permanent utility patent on a design I thought of when working on upgrading our cocktail kit a couple years back and came up with the idea of a convertible drum set we call the “TranzFormer”. It is a cocktail set or a standard drum set all in one and can convert in just a few minutes with all parts built in. Pretty cool huh! I will be looking to license the design out and anyone that wishes to discuss, I would be happy to hear from you. HB will continue to build the TranzFormer along with other custom models on a limited basis.

Create a web presence, use the social networking, post to a blog and polish your brand to the public. Offer downloadable sound samples of your models. Post videos on YouTube. Get the word out about your brand. Image still means a lot to the consumer so do your best to look the part.

Remember to keep creating and have your ear to the ground for fresh new ideas. If you need a sounding board or help with your drum business, feel free to email me and I will be happy to discuss with you.

Best wishes and my sincere thanks to Brian for his wonderful Drum Building Secrets site!

Last time I posted looking for a builder, the response was amazing from literally all over the world and I didn’t need to look any further, thanks again.

Dave Moody
HB Drums


  1. Silvio Cultraro

    Hello Dave,

    I really appreciated your article which was sent my way through “Drum Builder Secrets”. Thank you very much for sharing your wealth of knowlege and experience.

    If you go into our site you will find that I have a small Canadian business building custom acoustic drums. We are already vendors for a large Canadian Music Store chain similar to the US Sam Ash chain of stores.

    We use 100% American Maple, Kellar shells, and we have two suppliers that we could use in Taiwan, Lea Hung and Gu Tai, however we know there are more out there that would have some other parts that we are interested in. Could you send us a few more names of suppliers please? That would be greatly appreciated. Our biggest problem however, is finding the funding to purchase these parts in bulk through the Taiwan suppliers. I know you mentioned that getting a few builders together to buy it in one big lot however the Canadian market for builders is slim to none, very different than the US. Any suggestions? Perhaps you know of suppliers that would provide a credit line or something similar to that?

    Thanks again,

    Sil Cultraro
    Silver Drums

  2. Dave

    Hi Sil,
    Thanks for dropping in. You may wish to consider what we have in clearance in our Co. facility however you would need to factor in shipping by truck. All shells would probably fit in a 20 ft truck and guessing cost at around $500 for transit. We have our entire closeout of imports on sale that includes tons of hardware, about 400 shells, drum heads, parts etc. We have gone to focusing on our new Tranzformer convertible drum set invention and selling our entire import inventory at $12,500 with estimated list value of about 45k. I have complete inventory list or you can go to craigslist and look at listing in Denver, Co musical instruments category for general overview.
    Buying offshore is a challenge when getting into shells and hardware since most of the companies will not ship less than a 20ft container. Small parts can be shipped with less hassle and combined with other companies products. When buying shells and sets, China and Taiwan manufacturers don’t want to bother in smaller volume as you may have found out.
    There are freight forwarders that can assist when buying less than a full container at a fee where they can coordinate other importers and combine but again, if you all aren’t ordering from the same manufacturer, it can be problematic. Small parts, lugs, rims and heads are generally no problem. Using a freight forwarder is almost essential as navigating the customs laws and rules can be a nightmare. A freight forwarder is setup to handle all the paperwork, duties, customs, bonding and will secure options for ocean or air freight for you. We have used Western Overseas freight forwarding and suggest you contact them or another reputable agency.
    Cost for a 20ft container is generally around 3k with seasonal adjustments and import duties can be another 2k. With this said, the cost to import can be very reasonable with the right offshore manufacturers but you need to be cautious. Getting samples can help but that doesn’t always mean you will get the same quality they sent as sample. I dealt with factories that were members of NAMM to insure at least a bit of accountability as these manufacturers attend annual shows and you know where to find them. Gioco was one you didn’t mention and they have a presence at NAMM and claim to make some of Tama’s products. The Asian method of negotiation can be offputting at times as they tend to start quite high on pricing and it can get tedious working out a deal. Once you establish regular business with them, it may become more comfortable but quality can vary from shipment to shipment.
    Getting an open account is another catch 22. Once you order several containers by either line of credit with bank or wiring at least partial funds in advance with balance due at port, you may be extended a short open account which is my experience. It doesn’t solve your problem for now since you will not likely secure open account with any of them to start.
    Keep in mind the landed cost issue when ordering as your net is going to be about 20% more than the actual cost of goods for a 20 ft container. Ordering a 40 ft container can lower your landed cost by as much as 10% since the container cost is not much more than 20 footers and you can cost average the freight over more merchandise.
    The problem with this is you may not want to go all in for a 40ft container when dealing with an offshore manufacturer to begin with and feel them out over a few 20 footers.
    The best method I can suggest if you decide to try importing is co-oping a 20 footer and spread the cost and risk. Depending on what you are purchasing, total cost can be from around 17-25k+ as typical amounts.
    I hope this gives you a better insight into the process, thanks Sil.

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