Northeast Times

Making music

  • Sounds of success: Members of the Ibanez guitar quality control team test instruments that have been repaired to ensure they play correctly. The company, which is the third highest-selling brand of guitars, is headquartered in Bensalem. TED BORDELON / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Sounds of success: Members of the Ibanez guitar quality control team test instruments that have been repaired to ensure they play correctly. The company, which is the third highest-selling brand of guitars, is headquartered in Bensalem. TED BORDELON / TIMES PHOTOS

  • Sounds of success: Members of the Ibanez guitar quality control team test instruments that have been repaired to ensure they play correctly. The company, which is the third highest-selling brand of guitars, is headquartered in Bensalem. TED BORDELON / TIMES PHOTOS

Vir­tu­ally every­one who plays gui­tar or has been in­volved in the mu­sic in­dustry is fa­mil­i­ar with Ibanez gui­tars.

The brand was made fam­ous in Amer­ica in the 1970s when its own­er, the Ja­pan­ese com­pany Hoshino Gakki, began a part­ner­ship with Main Line mu­sic store own­er Harry Rosen­bloom, who began to dis­trib­ute the im­por­ted gui­tars from a headquar­ters in Ben­s­alem. 

Ibanez gui­tars began to flood the Amer­ic­an mar­ket dur­ing a dec­ade when many of the Amer­ic­an brands began to drop in qual­ity. Ibanez “copy” gui­tars rep­lic­ated the staple products of the Amer­ic­an brands such as Gib­son and Fend­er and proved to be of a high­er qual­ity, which led to an ex­plo­sion of sales.

Need­less to say, Amer­ic­an gui­tar man­u­fac­tur­ers were less than pleased by the new com­pet­i­tion, and sued Ibanez for its rep­licas, but the brand’s name already had made its mark on the mu­sic land­scape. The com­pany settled the law­suit out of court and began to fo­cus on its unique mod­els, which were already be­ing played by artists like Bob Weir of the Grate­ful Dead and Paul Stan­ley of KISS.

Hoshino Gakki has re­tained its Ben­s­alem headquar­ters as the hub of its Amer­ic­an dis­tri­bu­tion and qual­ity con­trol, and cur­rently, Ibanez is the third highest-selling brand of gui­tars. Feasterville nat­ive Bill Re­im is the cur­rent CEO of Hoshino Gakki’s U.S. op­er­a­tions.

A mu­si­cian him­self, Re­im got his start at Ibanez as a graph­ic de­sign­er and “ra­bid mu­sic fan.” He worked his way to the top after serving as an art dir­ect­or for Ibanez’ pro­mo­tions de­part­ment.

Re­im de­scribed him­self as a “George Bailey-type guy,” who al­ways thought he’d leave the area, but ad­ded that he’s con­tent with his cur­rent post. Re­im sat down with the North­east Times to talk about what it’s like to work in the mu­sic in­stru­ment in­dustry.

North­east Times: How did you first get in­volved with the com­pany?

Bill Re­im: I think it star­ted just be­ing a mu­si­cian. The funny thing is I’m not a gui­tar play­er, I’m a drum­mer. I think it was my en­tire youth just grow­ing up and watch­ing gui­tar play­ers the whole time, even more than bassists. I was a ra­bid mu­sic fan my en­tire life, and I was do­ing pro­mo­tions for Elec­tric Fact­ory Con­certs be­fore I star­ted up here.

NET: How does op­er­at­ing out of Ben­s­alem im­pact Ibanez’ busi­ness mod­el?

BR: It’s a good prox­im­ity from the East Coast between New York and Wash­ing­ton and, of course, Phil­adelphia is something of a hub it­self. It’s right where the ac­tion is without be­ing right in the heart of Phil­adelphia it­self. So we’re close enough to be tied in­to the gen­er­al met­ro­pol­it­an cor­ridor here. 

NET: I’ve read that work­ing in the gui­tar in­dustry re­quires a cer­tain amount of “laid back-ness.” Is this true?

BR: Not really .. .I mean, most CEOs don’t dress the way we do, so in that re­spect we’re more laid back. Most of the people here are mu­si­cians or they have a lot of that in their blood any­way, but it def­in­itely is a lot more ag­gress­ive and com­pet­it­ive now than it was even 10 years ago. As things have be­come much more boxed out by chain stores, that kind of busi­ness acu­men is seep­ing in­to this in­dustry. So it def­in­itely is be­com­ing much more of a stricter busi­ness en­vir­on­ment. 

NET: So you guys are the dis­trib­ut­ors and you man­age qual­ity con­trol, but you’re owned by a Ja­pan­ese com­pany. What’s the dy­nam­ic there?

BR: They de­term­ine the dir­ec­tion of the product and a lot of the man­u­fac­tur­ing. They have to try to think a little dif­fer­ently for each mar­ket, so we have a cer­tain amount of in­put. Their teams over there in­ter­face with the factor­ies and they do everything from con­cep­tion of the design all the way to qual­ity con­trol. Our job is to get it in­to the stores and try to make people aware of it and in­ter­face with mu­si­cians. 

NET: What kind of stuff do you play?

BR: I star­ted out play­ing reg­u­lar rock, I guess what you’d call clas­sic. Then I kind of moved in­to more European and av­ant garde stuff and then al­tern­at­ive and jazz and that kind of stuff.

NET: Rock ’n’ roll is of­ten about “fight­ing the man.” Do you feel like you’ve sort of be­come him?

BR: Well you know what, it some­times feels that way be­cause I grew up dur­ing that peri­od when mu­sic really was the em­bod­i­ment of a form of vo­cal­iz­a­tion and was very key in driv­ing a lot of the re­volu­tion­ary changes that took place in the ’60s and ’70s. I try to ad­here to that in my ap­proach to that on the busi­ness end of it. I don’t ad­here to the typ­ic­al busi­ness man­age­ment doc­trines that most man­agers do. I want to try to do the right and fair thing for cus­tom­ers and em­ploy­ees. I am not about cut­ting people’s throats, you know? I want to be able to sleep at night. I try to bring in in­stru­ments at reas­on­able prices. 

NET: Do you have any ad­vice for a young gui­tar­ist or mu­si­cian who would want to rise the ranks and “be­come the man?” Or, at least be­come CEO of a com­pany that deals gui­tars?

BR: I think you have to try to be smart about things. There’s a dif­fer­ence between be­ing in­tel­li­gent and be­ing smart. I think the thing is to stay fo­cused and try to stay true to your ideals. Even in busi­ness, you’ve really gotta be cre­at­ive. Someone said to me lately that, “Busi­ness is the last cre­at­ive form.” Now wheth­er that’s true or not, I don’t know, but I think you def­in­itely have to be able to think out­side the box to keep a busi­ness vi­able these days. ••

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