Being in business for 100 years is a major effort for any commercial entity, let alone one as fragile and fast-moving as the music industry.
For an independent retailer, the chances of survival are even slimmer, particularly in a world dominated by express shipping and AfterPay.
Nevertheless, Logans Pianos have risen above the odds and notched up an achievement many in the industry could have never forecast, with the family-owned music retailer marking a mammoth milestone this month as they celebrate an entire century of serving the Sydney music community.
So, how does a small family-run music store manage to survive all the turmoil of the 20th century and come out on top as one of the most respected retailers in Australia’s scene today?
“We live and die by our reputation,” says Daniel Holmes, a musical jack-of-all-trades who currently handles Logans Piano’s digital channels. “We could be another big box moving store if we really wanted to be, but that’s not really what we want to do. We’re more interested in providing that old world customer service experience where you give people something that lasts.”
Currently helmed by third and fourth generation family members Geoff Logan and his son Chris, the Burwood-based store is renowned for their unparalleled customer service, massive inventory and expert instrument repair, with Geoff being widely recognised as one of the best piano tuners in Australia – despite never learning a lick of piano himself.
“He’s someone who’s achieved a very caliber in what he’s good at,” says Holmes of the Logan’s legendary Piano Technician. “At the end of the day, the way that the business was run for a really long time is by word of mouth, so he’s someone who’s been recommended by the best in the business in Australia, which means we’ll always have people keep coming to us based on recommendations.”
The story of Logans Pianos began back in 1908 when the Logan family, helmed by Charles Logan Sr., uprooted from Scotland to find brighter opportunities in Australia. Twelve years later, the Logans opened their first store under the name of C. Logan & Sons in the Bayside suburb of Bexley, and within five years, had branched out to cover a number of different locations around the city – an expansion that was cut short by the economic devastation of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
“Part of being in the music industry – either as a creative or as a retailer – is having to constantly reinvent yourself,” Geoff Logan says of the store’s evolution. “At one stage, Logan’s had six locations in Sydney, including two in Burwood, and the Great Depression effectively put a lid on that, which meant we had to downsize to one store in Burwood.”
After Charles Logan Sr. retired in 1946 and sold the business to his son Charles Logan II, the store managed to come back swinging before being hit by yet another roadblock in the 1960s with the advent of the television.
With the piano falling out of favour with families as the preferred entertainment device, the Logans were forced to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate their business model – a move that ended up paying off tenfold for the family business.
“Once pianos stopped being such a big thing, we started doing a pretty bustling trade in televisions, where people would trade in their old pianos for a television and we’d refurbish the pianos for schools and teachers who needed a good piano,” says Geoff, noting the store’s affiliation with Sydney’s educational sector as being another key factor in their commercial longevity.
Fast forward to the 1980s, and the livelihood of the typical bricks and mortar piano store as it was once known was threatened again when the synthesiser swept the music industry by storm. This time, however, Logans were prepared for the changes that laid ahead.
“By the time the first home synthesisers and sampling units arrived, we’d already been stocking Yamaha products for a number of years, so we were well into a lot of their gear,” Geoff says. “We moved a lot of units like the DX-7, which would go on to become the biggest selling synthesiser of all time and is now considered to be absolutely iconic today.”
Although Logans would eventually branch out and expand their inventory with a range of woodwind, brass and stringed instruments in the 1990s, the store’s customer-first ethos remained exactly the same, continuing to offer their world-famous after-sale piano servicing and even giving the same treatment to the other instruments they stocked.
“With strings, we’re one of the few places in Sydney that still do the full professional setup on every single one of our string instruments, and we do it with guitars as well,” says Chris Logan, the store’s General Manager. “A lot of us here are musicians, and certainly all of us are customers of other stores as well, so at the end of the day, we’re just trying to treat customers how we’d like to be treated ourselves.”
Despite their shift towards the broader musical instrument sector, one look inside Logan’s Burwood shopfront makes crystal it clear that pianos are still well and truly on the menu, with Geoff Logan explaining what makes the business such a respected name in the Australian community.
“You could go somewhere else where they just shovel pianos out the door and say ‘oh, we’ll give it a tuning in your house, because it’s going to be out of tune when it gets there anyway’, but that’s not true. It should arrive at your home in tune and playable.”
“Pianos can become out of tune faster as they acclimatise to your home, but regardless, they need to arrive in good shape and in tune. We’re less interested in moving pianos out the door for a cheaper price, and more interested in providing you with an instrument that’ll last for the next forty to fifty years.”
Even alongside the sheer convenience of digital retail, it’s this ethos of providing an experience and not just a product that’s helped to assert Logans Pianos as Sydney’s premier music retailer. Although they eventually embraced the digital domain late last year, their fiercely loyal in-store clientele speaks volumes of the Logan’s mission to offer the best customer service possible, with Holmes noting that it’s not uncommon to serve families who themselves have been coming into the shop over several generations.
“It’s really important that people have a place where they can come and personally lay hands on things, he says. “That’s a little tough now with the pandemic, of course, but heading into the future, I hope that that’s something that we can get back to: physically handing people their first violin, or physically handing people their first guitar.
“There’s no feeling like that – being able to give someone that first experience, and then seeing them come back into the store over the years and getting better and better, and then one day, you go to a concert and see them playing in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
It goes without saying that 100 years in retail is quite a commendable feat, and one that certainly warrants a bit of a celebration. As such, Logans Pianos are planning to throw a mammoth birthday bash with a bunch of limited edition giveaways, with Chris hinting at some very tantalising presents to give back to the community that’s supported them so fervently over the years.
“We want to thank all of our customers for supporting us over the last century, because there are obviously families that have been coming to us for three or four generations, and there’s also schools who’ve been with us for decades and decades,” he says.
“To thank all these people, we’ll be running a lot of giveaways, like custom instruments from Takamine, Gliga, Gibson and Yamaha. We’ve got a beautiful J-45 acoustic, and a custom chrome-plated Yamaha piano, which is an absolute stunner to play. We’re also giving away some store credit, as well as a Clavinova to a local school, which will be a special one.”
And as for the team?
“Honestly, I think we’ll probably a few beers!” Holmes says with a laugh. “But really, this one’s about the customers. So, thanks to all of you for a hundred great years, and here’s to a hundred more!”
Find out more about Logans Pianos’ big birthday bash over at their website.