Perfect Pitch

By Hannah Wallace May 31, 2006

With an estimated 80,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Florida in the last decade and challenges like skyrocketing tangible and property taxes, a declining skilled work force and a shortage of affordable housing, some Southwest Florida manufacturers are contemplating throwing in the towel or relocating out of state.

But not Sarasota-based Cavanaugh Company. The company, which serves a niche music market through its three businesses-Super-Sensitive Musical String Co., Black Diamond Strings and Bari Woodwind Supplies-is on an expansion binge. Vice president Jim Cavanaugh and his father, president John Cavanaugh, say the company's commitments to maintaining a family-focused workplace, constant innovation and setting up savvy sales systems are responsible for nearly four decades of Cavanaugh business success. With sales averaging $7 million a year, the Cavanaugh companies have a recipe for resiliency that is worth emulating.

Manage by the Golden Rule Unemployment is the area is low, which can spell disaster for manufacturers looking to fill vital skilled labor slots. But the Cavanaughs are able to hold on to 75 full-time employees, 60 of whom work directly in manufacturing.

The company offers competitive pay-manufacturing jobs pay from $10 to $17 an hour-and that goes a long way in helping the enterprise compete with the local service sector. "Manufacturing pays more than the service industry," Jim says, "but because of factors like a lack of work-force housing and transportation issues, it is starting to take us longer to find qualified people." One way the Cavanaughs retain a competitive edge is to treat their employees in a way that fosters loyalty and promotes referrals. "Our hours are 6 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and six to 12 on Friday," Jim says. "This allows our employees to get home to their families. We have employees that have been with us for 30 years. And they refer their friends to us. We fill a lot of our open positions from these types of referrals."

"Our management philosophy is simple," John says. "We treat people the way we would want to be treated."

Keep the Customer Happy Striving to innovate and make the best orchestra-instrument strings and accessories in the business is a cornerstone of Super-Sensitive's philosophy. Eighty-five percent of violin students in the United States use Super-Sensitive strings, including the former bassist for the Johnny Cash Band, David Roe; David Taylor, assistant concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony (who uses Super-Sensitive strings on his violin); and Eugene Levinson, principal bass player for the New York Philharmonic. But the Cavanaughs continue to innovate to perfect new sounds. They solicit the expertise of famed musicians from all over the world, including violinist Joseph Silverstein, Utah Symphony conductor and former concertmaster of the Boston Symphony.

"Joseph Silverstein has been coming down to Sarasota for area music festivals for 15 years. My dad had him test out violin strings, and he worked with us for 10 years on developing the sound he was looking for. Together we finally created a desirable string that he liked," Jim says. "What sets us apart is that we are flexible and we are willing to customize products for musicians. Our goal is to create a perfect product and meet demands for new styles of music."

Sell Smart To keep up with an evolving marketplace, the company has recently started restructuring how it sells and to whom. "Ninety percent of our business in the past was through distributors," Jim says. "We are now moving toward a more consumer-oriented sales paradigm to increase market penetration. We are selling through independent sales reps, dealers and direct to customers. Eventually we will have the ability to sell online," he adds.

Bari, manufacturer of synthetic reeds and mouthpieces, is striving to gain a larger share of the synthetic reed market. "The reed market is $42 million globally, and synthetic reeds comprise about 4 percent of that market," explains vice president of operations Ron Van Ostenbridge. The company anticipates an increase in export sales, Ostenbridge says. "Right now, 30 percent of Bari's sales are export, divided pretty evenly between Europe and the Pacific Rim-Korea, Taiwan, China and Japan. We anticipate an increase in sales in the near future to China, where our reeds are purchased by OEM customers for use in foreign-made instruments and then exported all over the world."

Filed under
Show Comments