Gibson Guitar Being Fine-Tuned

By | January 7, 2004 at 12:00 AM

Gibson Guitar Corp. chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz is intent on keeping Gibson on the cutting edge of technology.

The company has established a consumer electronics division called Gibson Audio and developed its first product, the Wurlitzer Digital Jukebox. The product is being launched Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and has been awarded the Consumer Electronics Assn.’s best in audio award.

The Wurlitzer Digital Jukebox allows consumers to store as many as 1,000 CDs in Windows Media format and access 100 channels of digital radio as well as a download store.

“I’m totally focused on what people want,” Juszkiewicz says. “I don’t determine what they want, I don’t determine the price points; I just really study the situation.”

Juszkiewicz applies this philosophy to all of his business ventures – whether it be technology, guitars or pianos. And he’s been successful.

When Juszkiewicz and his partners acquired the then-faltering Gibson guitar company in 1986, the situation seemed hopeless. Gibson had become synonymous with mediocrity, so Juszkiewicz developed a consumer-based initiative to bring quality back into the brand.

“When I started in the guitar business, the Gibson brand had gone down because it was trying to compete with everybody else,” Juszkiewicz says. “However, in order to do that, the quality of the instruments weren’t where they had been historically. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy when you start price-cutting. It was clear to me that there are a lot of buyers whose instruments are their main passion. They want the best.”

So instead of cutting prices, Juszkiewicz increased prices and quality. He also launched a high-end marketing campaign to promote Gibson as a company of quality, prestige and innovation. These tactics created an almost instant turnaround in profit for Gibson.

“Pricing reflects the best to a lot of people,” Juszkiewicz says. “But once you have the price, you also have to deliver.”

Juszkiewicz even instituted a policy that no second-rate guitar would leave a factory.

“We have a pile of rejects, and we cut them up in front of the employees,” he says. “Some people actually break down and cry…. Everybody thought I was nuts. But my position was and continues to be: If you’re buying a Gibson, there is no second-quality Gibson; it’s either the best there is, or it doesn’t exist.”

Juszkiewicz is using this same philosophy with the Baldwin Piano Co., which was near bankruptcy when Gibson acquired it in 2001. He’s improving quality and focusing on high-end advertising campaigns that include endorsements from pop stars including Vanessa Carlton and Ben Folds.

Of special focus was the Wurlitzer piano brand. Intent on returning it to its former glory, Juszkiewicz brought Wurlitzer’s manufacturing and assembly operations back to the United States (it had been moved to Asia to cut costs). The Wurlitzer Digital Jukebox is yet another step in bringing the brand back to popularity.

“Playing piano isn’t about being a concert pianist; it’s about enjoying life,” Juszkiewicz says. “There are a lot of aspects of music that really fulfill you and accent your life. A musical instrument is really an emotional thing.”

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