Having steadily grown from a one-man outfit into a company pushing the definition of a violin store, Master Luthier Tong Ming Xi speaks to The Columnist on why he feels that music can not be the only reason why the instruments should sell.
The Columnist (TC): You are celebrating your company’s 10th anniversary this year. Can you give us a window into the next 10?
Ming Xi (MX): We see the need to expand beyond just service, but into developing products that are only found in Tong Ming Xi. In the past, we have just been taking others’ things to sell. This may not sustain us in the long run and so we moving into producing something that is unique to us.
TC: Is that limited to just instruments?
MX: Not exactly. In the past we have primarily been providing a lot of repair services and (instrument) sales but down the road that is simply just one line of revenue. Future products need to be more innovative and ‘never seen before’, such that they are undeniably from us.
TC: How are you planning to celebrate?
MX: We are launching a new program called Tong Ming Xi Podium, and this year is the first time we are doing it. Our plan is to invite different speakers who will talk about topics that expand on the classical music industry.
This year, we are pleased to have David Bonsey flying in from New York. He is one of the more prominent people in the US auction scene, and his track record is in auctioning off a lot of priceless instruments from the old European violin crafting schools. We are excited because with the experience and expertise that he has, which will help us move to the next level within this community where interest in antique instruments are still very nascent.
Just to let the cat out of the bag a little, for next year we are considering someone who is an excellent designer, someone who is good at mechanical engineering and design. We see this as something that we think can add value to the industry, and is something in line that we want to do for the next 10 years.
TC: What are your proudest achievements as head of Tong Ming Xi?
MX: (laughs) The proudest moment is that we survived! Overall, I’m proudest of the team we have. What we have did not come easy. I had to groom them, give them the right mindset, put them together and make them believe in the concept. While I may be the face of the company, it is my team behind me that I’m most proud of.
Everyone has come together in this 10 years. We build the relationships through our service, and people have told me that they trust us because we have given them the best.
TC: Was there anything that you would have done differently?
MX: I wouldn’t have been in this business altogether! When I began, I had no idea how it will evolve. Eventually, you realise that market here (in Singapore) is only so big. That is why we are moving into a products based company. We’re not complaining, and we have got a solution.
TC: How do you see the industry growing in the region?
MX: We see that people are always looking for alternative investments. Similar to how collecting fine wine is an example of this, fine instruments such as violins will be of interest to some. It may not be so much for the tangible returns, but for the positive repute and prestige of owning such pieces.
TC: Is there really a market for rare instruments in this part of the world?
MX: I think there is always a market but people won’t just buy. You need to educate, develop their interest, give them ideas and share with them what is so good about it. Only when they see the value would people then buy. I believe this school of thought (collecting fine pieces as investments) is already there, but we simply need to position violins into that same space. Otherwise, if people don’t see value, they won’t commit to it.
TC: Do you see the market changing?
MX: No. It has been around for centuries. The only change I see is that there will be more people playing, and while that means more good players will surface, there will also be more people playing that will not be anything more than casual players too. We just have to recognise this and cater to it.
Tong Ming Xi Podium 2014 will be held on 20 March, 2014, 6.30pm onwards at One Marina Boulevard. Tickets and more information can be found at www.tongmingxi.com.
This interview was conducted for The Columnist, a newsletter by Consulus that offers ideas on business, design and world affairs. The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Consulus.
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