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Posted By: edferris Can we sell old American pianos in China? - 10/31/18 12:22 AM
China is making and buying 80% to 90% of the pianos today. Their export prices are around $6,000 for a baby grand and $21,000 for a concert grand. (If anybody has actually played a nine-foot Carod, let me know how it sounded!) It seems we could clean out the back rooms of piano stores across America, get those Howard and Kimball and, yes, Starr baby grands in good working condition, and ship them across the Pacific for a reasonable profit -- say $1,000 each. Questions are: do the Chinese consider American pianos prestigious? are they going to slap on a tariff? and is there a service organization in place? I assume the native products have the same structure as our pianos, although "fiberboard case" sounds pretty bad. If anybody else has considered, or actually done, this, let me know your figures.
You could attend next years Music Industry show in Shanghai and canvass the piano dealers you find there. I suspect the only pianos one could make any money on would be high quality grands. Because China has very few "old" used pianos and almost no "old" grands. Serious students from wealthy families would be the most likely customers.
Posted By: oldMH Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China? - 10/31/18 10:53 AM
Just make sure any required ivory transport paperwork is in place before moving them.
Right, the Shanghai show.
My take is that China is in the same phase as 1940's and 1950's America, and that getting a piano is a sign of culture, whether it is played or not, and whether it is worth playing or not. The cheap Chinese pianos I have played have been very bad, but they sell lots of them. I don't think they deserve the spinets we made back then, but there are lots of fairly good, old baby grands that don't sell here.
But I don't live there, so what do I know.
Thanks for mentioning the ivory problem. May have to be replaced with plastic keytops.
I have only a few insights into this potential market, but what is a niche market there would still be considered big just because of the size of the market. I've spoken with businesses that buy up old Steinways to restore in China. They do well with the finishes, but have major failings in the restoration process to get anything that competes with a new high-end brand. We were even approached to offer training or even relocate some of our staff.

The transfer of knowledge can happen quickly, but their mature buying culture will be greatly influenced by their own local market and cultural factors as well as tariffs. If dealers there can become successful offering restored American brands, they will.
By way of a response to edferris:

Before you conclude that money may be made in the manner you describe, I think you need the answers to a few questions.

First, is there a tariff on imported pianos being brought into China? I do not know the answer for a fact, but I would be astonished if there were not a substantial tariff. One of the reasons for the success of Chinese industries is the protection they receive from their government. Many American industries have tried to get into the Chinese market without success.

Second, Chinese currency (presumably what you would be getting when you sell the pianos) is very low right now against the dollar. Don't you need to give some thought to the exchange rate (and inevitable fluctuations therein) before reaching any conclusions on how much you would receive per piano?

Third, can you even exchange Chinese currency for dollars at a decent exchange rate?

Fourth, how much will it cost to ship the pianos and to prep them once they arrive?

Fifth, who would do the selling, and how much would they need to be paid?

Sixth, if this were a great idea, don't you think someone would have thought of and implemented it already?
There are businesses in China who specialize in imported used pianos. One guy I saw a few weeks ago in Shanghai had a NY Steinway D, Bösendorfer 290, NY Steinway M, and a bunch of Yamahas and Kawais.

Also, I know of individuals who buy used instruments in the US, and ship them to China one container at a time.

Then, there are those who first ship a container of pianos to Poland where they would be refinished, then shipped to China.
We sell many NY Steinways (both old and newer) to china. Containers full. They definitely consider the piano prestigious, and appreciate the craftsmanship. The tariffs have impacted the mentality of the buyers, and the entire process (customs, etc) is much more strict.
Posted By: j&j Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China? - 11/02/18 03:13 PM
I think the interesting and hopefully wonderful thing about the Chinese piano market is that there’s a growing number of talented young students studying and playing piano. I’ve seriously wondered about the long term future of the acoustic piano. With the growing interest and demand of acoustic pianos in China, there should also be keen interest in making quality uprights and grands for the large number of new students. Several Chinese companies like Hailun and Pearl River are now winning MMR awards each year.
Growth and innovation for acoustic pianos in a huge highly populated country like China is fabulous for the entire music industry, and acoustic piano fans like me.
Nice topic and what a great question!

I'm not any way connected with the business but as a Asian-American working and living in China, along with my passion and hobby for the piano, I do have some info but perhaps only very general compared to others who have already replied with more professional expertise.

Several factors make it difficult to import any new or used pianos to China. High import tax and a lot of red tape through customs. And considering now with the trade war between the US and China, importing American pianos to China will be even tougher.

I've heard stories of expats moving to China for work and wanted to bring their pianos but the whole process is both expensive and quite messy. I had a friend who was teaching English in Beijing and she was able to bring her family upright with her. Luckily, she had her company to fork out the money and handle the customs process.

I had an English friend who was thinking about importing used pianos from the U.S. but he discovered the import tax is the same regardless of new or used condition, though this might've changed now. Also, the import tax varies from country of origin. While talking to one of the local Chinese piano dealers, anything exported from Indonesia to China is import duty free. Now who makes "Made in Indonesia" pianos? Yamaha and Kawai. smile

Currently in China, there is a big market for used Japanese pianos, mainly Yamaha or Kawai uprights. A lot of these are from the 60s-90s and range from 10,000 - 50,000 RMB ($1,400-$7,200).

I even played a late 90s Kawai RX-2 being sold for 100,000 RMB ($14,400) here. Great sound but the action was quite heavy for my taste.

So I'm thinking it's probably a lot easier to import used Japanese pianos to China.

As for if Chinese customers see American pianos as prestigious, I would guess very unlikely. American products weren't really associated with "luxury" compared to the Germans or the Italians. The local Steinway dealer here where I'm located in China has a new Model D going for about 1.5 million RMB ($216k). Of course, it's the Hamburg model.

Anyway, good luck!
Originally Posted by edferris
Howard and Kimball and, yes, Starr baby grands in good working condition, and ship them across the Pacific for a reasonable profit -- say $1,000 each.


"Good working condition"...I think you are overestimating the condition of old pianos. They might make a sound when you press the key, but that's not saying much. Old strings break easily, and even lightly used instruments can have a lot of wear in the felt and leather parts accumulated over decades. Replacing all the above would cost a substantial amount of money even if it were done by a piano technician in China at a lower labor cost. Not to mention old soundboards usually have lost crown and stiffness, and probably have unsightly cracks.

Don't get me wrong, I think restoring old instruments is a good value proposition. I have a Steinway A2 that I want to say is about 6k away from sounding really great, and I have sunk about 9k into it so far. It's just not an easy sell for people who don't know how pianos work or haven't seen restored pianos before. Heck, it wouldn't be an easy sell for me if there were more used Hailuns out there, because I think they are really great instruments for the money, and I could skip most of the hassle.
When I really was philip in China I had a used Kawai that was a good few years old. The price was good and so was the piano.

At the Shanghai music expo a few years ago a major Polish rebuilder was going to be there. I would very much have liked to have spoken with him, but he didn't arrive until the day after I had left. I presume that the reason he would have been there was to sell pianos, so imagine that it must go on. Of course being in Poland most of his rebuilding would have been the 3 Bs and Hamburg Steinway.
Thank you for the information from China. If they don't want Howards and Kimballs, we certainly won't send any there. We all agree that used Japanese pianos are (generally) better, but are there enough to go around? I suppose I should go to a trade show and talk to dealers.
What mislead me, I suppose, is the fact that Oriental manufacturers are buying and using old American trade names: Wurlitzer, D. H. Baldwin, Weber. There must be some reason for this.
Ed, with respect, 80% of new businesses fail.... by natives in their own country! It does not seem like you are even in the piano business. And how did you come up with $1000 a piano to make it profitable? Believe me, as someone who tried 3D CDrom's of world famous cities, developing a game app and writing musicals, run in the opposite direction! However, a fun thread, so thanks!
Why are Chinese manufacturers buying old American trade names? That's an easy answer!

China is currently the biggest market for pianos and what way to market your new piano brand other than by using the name of a defunct piano company and inherit its history?

In simple words, it's "false" marketing. smile
Posted By: j&j Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China? - 11/27/18 03:07 PM
As I was re-reading this thread, I’m thinking the old Kimbals and Howard pianos aren’t sitting in piano dealers backrooms but in Mom’s or Grandma’s damp basement untouched and not maintained for years. Vast generalization here, but who wants to be stuck getting Nana’s old upright? The sad thing is it would take more money to fix it and get it back to playable than to just go out and get a used piano that has many years to go in its lifetime. And that’s if the heirs even want a piano in the first place.
If the piano lovers here on PW don’t want to rescue these old American pianos, why would Chinese piano students and players want to rescue them, pay shipping and tariffs for these old pianos. Sadly, they just end up in the junkyard much to Nana’s (in heaven hopefully) horror. My dear departed Mother imagined her children would cherish her console piano, her Lenox China, her dress jewelry yada yada yada. Now that she’s gone, we’re trying to find good homes for her “treasures”....because nobody really wants these things. It’s great to keep some small things in remembrance, but pianos and big old cars need to go.
Well, we have piano dealers reading this forum. Do you have a big stock of second-rate pianos you would like to get rid of?
I trust you don't store them in a damp basement.
I have a 1936 Starr action sitting on my workbench at this moment. It needs four hammer shanks repaired and several knuckle leathers replaced -- although they are still within adjustment limits. Say twenty dollars in parts and one hour of work. I was quoted six thousand dollars for "rebuilding the action". Sure, if you pay that price you're not going to make any money.
If calling a piano a "Weber" will help it sell, why won't a real Weber sell? It's made of better materials, even if it says "AEolian" on the plate.
It's cheaper to build old American pianos in China. wink
Originally Posted by j&j
My dear departed Mother imagined her children would cherish her console piano, her Lenox China, her dress jewelry yada yada yada. Now that she’s gone, we’re trying to find good homes for her “treasures”....because nobody really wants these things. It’s great to keep some small things in remembrance, but pianos and big old cars need to go.

This is a sad story that plays out over and over again, family after family, as older generations pass on, and the things they loved and cherished are [understandably] of little or no value to those that follow.

When my dad passed, his will included a list of 70 lots of personal items that my brothers and I were supposed to receive. He thought it was significant enough to even specify that "to be fair" we should make choices in a round-robin style. I selected only a single thing (my great-great-grandmother's school bell).

I learned the hard way: I already had a mini storage full of crap from my great-aunt. I can't get any of my siblings, nieces or nephews to take any of it.
Posted By: Bob Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China? - 11/30/18 03:42 AM
Well, China has sent enough junker pianos to the USA. Sending a few Starr Grands to China would be tit for tat...…...ha ha.
Originally Posted by Bob
Well, China has sent enough junker pianos to the USA. Sending a few Starr Grands to China would be tit for tat...…...ha ha.
Hahaha! Brilliant. Love it smile smile smile
Now I deliberately refrained from suggesting that we send Wurlitzer spinets to China. International relations are bad enough already.
I used Starr as an example of the second-rate pianos that nobody wants in the US. There are a lot more Howards out there.
My own impression has always been that if you like to get a Chinese buyer's attention, the product ideally should be "made in Germany" If "made in USA" carries same attraction, it's something new for me. However, one never knows what dealers tell customers over there. In the end, every piano in China "made or sold" is strangely always somehow "German" I'm not saying it "should" But this, at least from my contacts and own experience, had always been the case before.

Norbert
You're definitely right on this one. For Chinese customers, anything German, French or Italian is considered luxury. Of course, the US and China never really had the greatest relationship and it's probably even worse now, so Chinese customers can be quite selective on the brand of origin.

On the other the hand, China has a pretty good relationship with Germany and one of the earliest car companies that entered into China after the open reform policy was VW. In the 90s, you were king if you had a Santana. Now they moved onto Porsche and Bentley.
Posted By: gp84 Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China? - 12/07/18 04:24 AM
Originally Posted by Retsacnal
It's cheaper to build old American pianos in China. wink


Yes, and this is why I was very reluctant to consider purchasing a newer and more recent Baldwin SF-10 dating from 2010 since it would have Chinese parts and this is no longer the best choice for a owning a well built grand since the best Baldwin's were made in the earlier years (i.e., as you have to find one prior to December 2008 which was the year production was moved to China) and have finally found one to buy that was built in 1984 (signed by Jorge Bolet) which was made in the USA:

http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthreads.php/topics/2787892/baldwin-sf-10-grand-piano.html#Post2787892

Here is some additional info regarding the history of Baldwin:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldwin_Piano_Company

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tS4JmhpgOJw

As I definitely prefer an American built Baldwin!
There is so much wrong with the concept that I don't have the time to go into much detail.

The pianos the OP seems to be sighting are Aeolians, Wurlitzers, Kimballs, etc. And it is true, many can be acquired for a couple of hundred dollars. Add to that the cost of picking it up and getting it in saleable condition, shipping it to China and allowing for a realistic margin for the retailer and they would sell for about the same price as a Japanese-made instrument imported from Japan or an entry-level Young Chang or Samick.

Who in their right mind would buy an Aeolian for about the same price as a reconditioned Yamaha or Kawai.

Further, the entry-level Chinese-made verticals are far better today that Aeoilians or Kimballs were when new!
Originally Posted by Steve Cohen
There is so much wrong with the concept that I don't have the time to go into much detail.

... the entry-level Chinese-made verticals are far better today that Aeoilians or Kimballs were when new!


+1


Originally Posted by gp84
Originally Posted by Retsacnal
It's cheaper to build old American pianos in China. wink


Yes, and this is why I was very reluctant to consider purchasing a newer and more recent Baldwin SF-10 dating from 2010 since it would have Chinese parts and this is no longer the best choice for a owning a well built grand since the best Baldwin's were made in the earlier years (i.e., as you have to find one prior to December 2008 which was the year production was moved to China)!


First, the SF-10 is no longer in production, and there aren't any produced after 2010. The SF-10 was replaced by the BP212, a new design but with many features in common with the SF-10 (Renner action components etc). Have you tried one? I can understand making your comments if you have tried one, and preferred the SF-10. If you haven't tried one (they are hard to find - and limited in production), well, that speaks volumes.
Could it be that the Wurlitzer and Weber brand names are being used now because they sound German, not because they were once American? If so, why is D. H. Baldwin also used?
Originally Posted by edferris
Could it be that the Wurlitzer and Weber brand names are being used now because they sound German, not because they were once American? If so, why is D. H. Baldwin also used?

Baldwin in "used" because the company that owns Baldwin (Gibson) chooses to continue producing and selling Baldwin pianos. They just choose to produce them in China.

China is not a monolith, where all things are the same all the time. For example:

  • Baldwin is American owned, but they own production facilities in China. I believe they also contract production with others in China for certain models.
  • Hailun is a Chinese company, but privately owned.
  • There are other factories, owned by the state, and probably a smattering of other private and public factories with which I'm not familiar.


Sadly, there could be some truth to names being selected because of how "German" they sound.
Originally Posted by gp84
Originally Posted by Retsacnal
It's cheaper to build old American pianos in China. wink

Yes, and this is why I was very reluctant to consider purchasing a newer and more recent Baldwin SF-10 dating from 2010 since it would have Chinese parts and this is no longer the best choice for a owning a well built grand since the best Baldwin's were made in the earlier years (i.e., as you have to find one prior to December 2008 which was the year production was moved to China) and have finally found one to buy that was built in 1984 (signed by Jorge Bolet) which was made in the USA:

As Russell accurately noted, no SF-10 would have had Chinese parts. Those would be different model numbers, produced in later years. For the record, my comment above was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of the current marketplace, not to impugn Chinese pianos, parts or subassemblies. The voracious demand for pianos within China, and China's booming production capacity, is fortuitous for the rest of the piano playing world.
Btw, some folks believe the best American-made Baldwins were produced long before 1984. In fact, some people specifically advise avoiding the 1980s production due to increased quality control issues in that period. Personally, I believe Baldwin's best years were the 2 or 3 decades following WWII, but I wouldn't be afraid of a later Artist grand. I would just be sure to have it thoroughly inspected by someone who's familiar with known issues from that time period.
I had sort of thought this whole thread was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. So, in the same vein, in order to give the impression that my Baldwin has a German pedigree, I think I will start pronouncing it Balt-veen!
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