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For those of you that are running a repair business out of your home, how do you handle intake and return of instruments? Do you ever have privacy concerns?

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Echo all that! My standard email response is: let me know, please, when you might come over and I'll make sure I'm not in the middle of gluing something up. Hopefully that makes them see that if they turn up at a time that we didn't agree on, it might actually be impossible for me to see to them.

It's good to be flexible, but in practice it can be a pain. If you have three customers who say, "Oh, I'll be over sometime Wednesday afternoon" you can guarantee they'll all arrive at the same time. So, I try to be flexible where possible, but I discourage, as best I can, visits when the missus is at home. When she is here: this is a home, not a business. I make exceptions for urgent repairs, but they really have to be urgent.

Every now and then, I'll collect and drop off instruments: e.g., recently, a pro musician who'd just had a baby and needed work done ASAP. I did some work at a customer's house, a few weeks back, who was flying out on tour the following day and had a minor emergency. Almost all that stuff gets a PITA surcharge that they're happy to pay. The odd time, I've done the same for elderly or ill customers, but I generally don't charge for that!

I used to collect drop-offs at a guitar store, but: 1) they took a big cut, and 2) I'd always need to call the customer for a lot more information, and then maybe a follow-up call to explain something about the repair or why so-and-so needed to be done, etc. It's a hassle, you don't build up a rapport with customers, you can't easily discuss options (especially if it's something cosmetic) and the staff who take the instrument in can give the customer weird or bad first impressions. You can get a decent volume of work, but it is often work you don't want to do! I wondered for a while why I spent most of my time doing setups on hopeless Chinese guitars, and so on, and the reason is: owners of more valuable guitars, which need more expensive repairs, don't trust their guitars to high-street music stores.

Other considerations are: Storage: I insist that customers bring guitars in cases, but they don't always so they have to get hung up, racked or put on a stand; Insurance: I've a policy through a company that specialises in insurance for bands, hire companies, stores and repairers, and can tailor a policy to suit. Instruments are also covered if I need to take them in the car.

Thank you Keith.  Good thoughts to ponder.

Hey Mike, it's good to vent. Thank you for the input.

Mike,

I solved the drop-off/pickup dilemma 5 years ago by working by appointment only, facilitated through this excellent service:

https://www.gettimely.com/

Nothing I've done in 26 years of business has had more of a positive impact, and in ways I never anticipated beyond the obvious. For $19/month, it puts me in complete control of my schedule and has streamlined my business completely. It's simple to setup and operate. The two BIG takeaways are thus: 1. I don't get involved with my customers' scheduling issues. They make the appointment without any input from me during times I make available. 2. This has resulted in a time savings of 5-6 hours per week not spent on the phone arranging pickups and drop-offs. I rarely use the phone anymore. Text is king and I'll never go back. The control over my schedule is my number one weapon against wasted time. I can add or subtract booking times at will, and I do it every day in response to my workload. It takes seconds, not minutes. I work so much faster without trying to help customers decide their schedules. I have my booking calendar setup such that it accepts appointments out to 6 weeks for drop-offs. Customers receive text and email reminders of their appointments and I have gotten nothing but positive response to this system. Customers comment ALL the time about how efficient it is and how much they appreciate it. I set aside 2-3 days a week for drop-offs in 20-minute intervals. When the calendar gets too full, I simply block off days until I catch up. This reduces the number of guitars I keep in my shop. For 17 years, I kept between 50-80 guitars in my shop at all times. I never, ever got a break from the constant phone interruptions asking for a completion time. With that many guitars, how could I? Now, I strive to keep no more than 12-15 at any time. It allows me breathing room in my schedule and relieves the constant pressure. Currently, customers are booking 4 weeks out. So I have a ton of work in the pipeline and I'm in control. I cannot overstate what a difference it has made. And for $19/month? It's a no-brainer. 

P.S. You can check out the booking system as it appears on my website by clicking here:

www.thefretking.com

It works on mobile devices beautifully, too!

80 guitars?! My mind is absolutely blown.

Yeah, I didn't really care for the pressure. I worked in a store I loved dearly and the staff took in everything under the sun. It was great for the variety of work I was exposed to, and there for a while, I'd get nervous if the backlog dropped below 30! But it was never-ending pressure because I didn't know how to manage the load efficiently. The booking software has changed all that, thankfully! 

I do work out of the home, and I did have privacy concerns when I began. My solution was, rather than allowing folks to visit me, I pick up/drop off instruments and work through local businesses. I almost exclusively serve professional clients; Not necessarily just professional musicians, but I restrict incoming clients whom I do not know personally to those that come from local music schools and music stores that partner with me.

When it comes to any client from a music store/school (98% of my work), the downsides are that I have to give the store a small cut of my labor, it restricts me from expanding my business to retail sale of parts (I do feel that I am obligated to give clients' money-worth by helping them sell THEIR stock), plus it can make it slightly more difficult to build a personal relationship with the owners of the instruments or "sell" jobs that are real heavy-lifting like replacing acoustic tops or working on particularly valuable axes, as cats like those usually want to be able to say that they know where you live or work in order to achieve satisfactory peace-of-mind.

The upsides are many:

-Privacy for days. I can't count the number of happy e-mails I've gotten from customers who have never seen my face and likely never will.

-Smaller stores and music schools oftentimes would like the services of a tech, but oftentimes cannot justify the salary to retain a good one; They love having a specialist that they can rely upon that not only costs them nothing out-of-pocket, but also can assist with increasing the velocity of their merchandise sales. It gives you a warm feeling of giving someone something they thought they couldn't afford.

-Their staff essentially serves secretarial functions of receiving/documenting incoming work and acting as an intermediate agent between myself and the customer, allowing me to restrict customers' personal contact with me to e-mail unless I choose otherwise; the customer doesn't receive my phone number, so I won't be disturbed at inconvenient times/moments.

-To add to the previous point, the customers receive the convenience of a door that is always open during "business hours" so they can make a drop-off at 4 PM when they were originally thinking they'd do it at 2, and I receive the convenience of never being beholden to another person's schedule, and only having to talk to people I want to talk to, when I want to talk to them.

-They receive and process payments. I do not have to worry about collecting money, processing cards, waiting for checks to clear, breaking the knees of nonpaying customers to serve as an example to others, blahblahblah. I get paid by the businesses for my contract labor, not by the end customer; The result is that whether or not the customer pays on time, or indeed ever pays at all, I get paid.

-Pickups/Dropoffs are entirely at my leisure, and are nearly always done en-masse. I much prefer taking a half hour out of my day to go pick up 6 repairs than taking a half hour out of my day to meet with a customer to receive one repair. And I'm rarely cornered by a customer who has a technicaly question that slowly devolves into a testament of why he much prefers a strat to a tele, or some such business. While I do not do the following, I do know one other luthier in Arizona that takes advantage of a similar arrangement in order to create a nice and orderly schedule for himself (if memory serves, they do pickups/drop-offs Tuesday and Friday evenings, which allows them to plan their work schedule for the other 5 days while being assured it won't change barring a significant event or the odd unanticipated development in a job).

-Insurance companies tend to like situations where there's no risk of liability for a customer's injury because there will be no customers on the premises.

-Note that I'm not encouraging any shady business; However, here in the US, there are many areas and living situations where home businesses are forbidden due to HOAs, etc. If you are one of these souls, the fact that you don't have caravans of customers swinging by or a sign proudly proclaiming you're open for business helps keep things covert, and your neighbors happy.

Hey Todd, thank you very much for the detailed reply.  I've thought about approaching some of the local music stores and even one of the music schools called "Rock School".  I've been apprehensive because I didn't know what their response would be.  That's just my personality but you can't make any progress without at least asking I guess.  It sounds like you have had a really positive experience working with the local stores though.  I really like this model.

Todd, one other thing, do you work with a lawyer to develop a contract?  Does the business you partner with handle this? or is it just a handshake agreement?  I prefer to keep things simple with just a handshake but in today's litigious society it seems you almost always need some kind of contract.

Most of my agreements are verbal, as most of my business partners are folks that I knew personally prior before a business relationship. Of course, it should be understood that there is some risk for drama/troubles in this situation (so far the worst drama I've encountered is being paid a couple weeks later than requested due to a business' accountant being on vacation, then forgetting about it for a week upon her return).

As far as a lawyer, it really depends on how comfortable you are. Personally, I think a lawyer is overkill for such a thing, but if you have the means free-and-easy then there's no reason not to; I'm always the sort where I feel the more meticulous you can be [within reason], the better off you'll be. So long as you're insured and you make sure to collect your dues regularly, you're not exposing yourself to much risk by having a less-formal process. Two parties hammering out a deal between themselves on a piece of paper should suffice; Ensure that each party has a copy with original signatures (which is to say, make your copies of the agreement BEFORE they're signed, and not after).

The important thing is for all parties to be clear on business terms, what you expect from the business, and what the business expects from you, and ensure that any term that's important is on paper with your signatures underneath. And, if you want the terms to be as favorable to yourself as possible, be absolutely sure you sell yourself. In my opinion, this is where most techs falter pursuing this path. And I'm not talking about you talking about how good you are at what you do, but the economic value you offer. The industry standard in this arrangement seems to hover around the business taking a 15% cut of your labor, but some places don't fully appreciate the kind of work we do and will try to demand ridiculous amounts; 30%, even 50% sometimes. You are worth more than that, and you should absolutely not settle for that kind of abuse. You are offering the business an opportunity to essentially make money by babysitting guitars now and again while processing payments. Here are some pointers on selling yourself that people seem to frequently overlook:

Scout stores, first. Go in like a customer, take a gander, plink around on some of their guitars. Look around at the store, and note how it's built as a business. Are the staff experienced, mature individuals that will be able to guide customers around the technical details of your work on your behalf? If not, that's a bargaining chip in your favor; "No offense sir/m'am, but none of your staff seems to have much technical knowledge regarding guitars, and I know that will require a bit more work on my part"

What is the customer base like? If it's a store/music school combo with lots of kids, you know you can count on a solid number of jobs like restrings, tuning machine installs, pickup swaps, bridge reglues, drop fills, etc. Not glamorous stuff, not particularly fun stuff for some folks, but I never turn my nose up at a solid opportunity to both make an easy buck doing something I enjoy while making somebody else's day. As John Prine said, that's the way the world goes 'round.

What products do they sell that you will install in the course of your work? Pickups, tuning machines, strings? As a tech working with them, ensure they understand that you doing your job well will also mean a higher sales velocity for such items. THEIR items. I have a policy that I'm not liable to any sort of damage to any sort of guitar that doesn't have a gigbag/case; When customers see that, they oftentimes have no issue dropping $30 on a basic gigbag for their axe, which they should've done anyway. 


Do they have a tiny cramped room onsite for you to work in? Don't accept that. Some businesses will try to give you a bare and unequipped joke for a workspace and demand extra % for their "generosity."

Do they have a bunch of guitars on walls that don't seem like they've been tuned or had their necks adjusted in ages? Mention how terribly their stock plays and be specific. There's an opening to offer coming in on a Saturday and for a few hundred dollars getting old stock playing as well as can be in order to increase their stock's velocity.

Be aware of all these things, be cognizant of all the value you add to the world and stand up for it, and don't be afraid to think outside the box. Just make sure you cross your Ts and dot your Is anytime you develop an "expectation" of a business that you would like them to be beholden to.

Stay Awesome, Chris!

Lawyer & Accountant: If you have real money coming in, I recommend setting your business up as a LLC and having an accountant set up your books. You may end up doing your own taxes but, in a jam, you have someone to call. This clears up financials and the LLC relieves you of personal liability to a point.

As for the customer contract, I use a standard form I drew up in Word that gives name, contact info, guitar make, model and serial; damage if any, jobs requested, ballpark cost if given, jobs performed, change orders, and guitar specs. After we go through this form, I have him or her sign. I use my phone to photograph dings and such for future reference. People appreciate the professionalism and it nulls the anxiety of giving it someone working out of the workshop in back or basement.

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