Customer Wise: Making violins and tuning for growth
Anton Krutz has one of the most complex businesses around: making violins and other stringed instruments.
As if making a finely crafted stringed instrument weren’t challenging enough, his company, KRUTZ, makes instruments in three locations — just outside of Kansas City, in China, and in Romania. Plus, Anton has a retail shop, K.C. Strings, with two locations in the Kansas City area. With 40 employees, the 25-year-old company has an outstanding reputation for quality that is driving strong growth. Demand for the company’s lower-priced instruments for students is soaring — Krutz says his sales are up about 100% this year from last.
As you’ll see in this Q&A, part of our ongoing series featuring insights from Bank of the West small-business customers, Anton’s work brings a whole new meaning to the common phrase “built to last.”Q: What would you say is your biggest challenge? A: It takes about a six-month turnaround between the time you order things from China and the time they can make the product and ship it here. Some bigger companies are used to that process; but for us — we just expanded nationally really fast — that coordination of timing and production is the biggest challenge. Talk a little bit about your experience with rapid growth.
I think any business that sees rapid expansion will not be able to do it really successfully without having a great advisory board. That’s really the key, and to listen to the board — they have a lot of sage advice because they’ve been there and they’ve done that. I think you really do need an advisory board at least to help accelerate growth.What’s your biggest financial challenge?
Financing for growth is really critical — especially planning it and organizing everything around the cash flow. That was one of the mind-boggling aspects that I didn’t realize. The more you grow, sometimes the tighter your cash flow becomes because you have outgoing expenses to produce the product. So when you have a six-month lead time, the financing for that and planning are our biggest issues, along with the challenge of getting all the projections correct.What guidance would you give someone starting a manufacturing business in the U.S. today?
It’s good to have an advantage in terms of the manufacturing process, or the end product that is produced here. You should have a process that really produces higher quality. Because if you’re just competing on price alone, then it’s a non-starter.What are you most proud of related to your business?
We make, on the upper end, some of the best products in our field in the world, and those products are going to last for centuries. When we talk about Stradivari and all those others, those are instruments that have been around three or four hundred years. Our items really are going to last for a long time.