Talking Heads – Behind a brand at Gewa Music with Marcel Messner
GEWA is a multi-national company that has developed a sterling reputation as a partner for the professional musical instrument business, working with worldwide brands including Paiste, DW, Ovation, and more. MIN’s Andy Hughes spoke with Marcel Messner, son of Hans-Peter Messner who has been CEO / President of the company for the last thirty-one years, and remains the organization’s sole shareholder.
What does the Gewa name mean, and where did it originate?
GE WA are the first initials of our founder’s Name GEorg WAlther. The company was founded in 1925 as a manufacturer of string bowed instruments and cases in Adorf, Germany. The company returned to the town in 2008.
How did you become involved in the business yourself?
Well, I more or less grew up in our industry. At the early age of three years old, I participated for the first time in the Frankfurt Musikmesse and met the people who are still around today. I was never forced to become part of our company. Being able to realise my own ideas and working with such a great team convinced me very quickly to join the organisation.
What is your role and input?
I am the Director of Marketing – Strategic and Sales. I coordinate our marketing and sales strategies, as well as implementing ideas in our general GEWA Strategy.
Are there any other family members involved in the business?
My sister Simone lives in France. She took over the role as a Marketing Coordinator for GEWA France. This means she is undertaking the development of our European strategy there, and includes a “French note” concerning the specific needs of the market.
You have a number of offices in Europe, the US and China where brands you represent for distribution, as well as those sold under the Gewa brand operate – do you have a similar support and sales set-up in the UK?
Absolutely! We have a team of three people who are currently serving the retailers in the UK with all the GEWA owned brands, as well as certain distributed brands. In addition, we have a specific marketing coordinator for the UK.
What do you see as your growth plans for Gewa, both world-wide and here in the UK?
At the moment, in common with all international business which trade in Europe, we are waiting for the final decision regarding Brexit. If the UK does stay in the EU, the concept we are using in other European countries will be finalised in the UK too. If the UK leaves, we will be assessing the implications for our organization as they develop.
The company has made some significant investment in the Gewa Drum Workstation, both in terms of development and promotion – is this a product we are due to see in the UK, and if so, do you have a timescale for introduction?
When GEWA develops new instruments, it’s very likely that they’ll be available all around the globe. The GEWA Drum Workstation G9 is an entirely new product for us; nevertheless, we will bring it to the market within the next couple of months. We used the last two years to introduce our concept study to the market and evaluate the reaction from artists, retailers and consumers. It is a different approach to what currently exists in this area, therefore we decided to go in another direction with the way we introduce the G9 to the market.
The company is rooted firmly in the manufacture of traditional instruments – is the advent of the Drum Workstation a sign of a company move into the electronic side of instrument development and manufacture?
It is a clear sign that GEWA is never standing still. A development in electronics does not mean that we stop focusing on our other categories. We are in the very lucky position of having six different product divisions. Each division does have its own product specialists and engineers, sales people and marketing people. Innovation with string bowed instruments exists in the same way that it does with cases and bags, as well as in guitars or electronics. That innovation exists in the carry cases we manufacture – we use ground-breaking materials that artists all around the world are using to protect their instruments when travelling.
Do you see electronic instrumentation as a potential future market for Gewa, to sit alongside its traditional manufacturing base?
Very much so. We are located in a territory (the so-called ‘Silicon Saxony’) that allows us to do research and development in the area of digital sound technology. The region GEWA is located is the Cluster Number One for micro and nano-electronics in the whole of Europe. More than a hundred thousand people are working here. We have five universities and eight special institutes for research – Fraunhofer, Max-Planck, Leibniz Institute – just to name a few – all of which give us an extremely strong base to develop digital instruments. For traditional instruments we have the IfM – Institute for Instrument Making – just ten minutes away from our HQ in Adorf. They give a lot of support in the development of traditional musical instruments.
Your company’s introduction to the US market came with a partnership with Nova Strings – can you foresee similar partnerships with any manufacturing companies in the UK or other territories?
In Europe, we have a different position in the market because we have been located in Central Europe since 1925. The partnership with Nova Strings offered us the possibility to enter into the US market with an existing team and infrastructure. In the meantime, we moved the former NOVA Strings – which is now GEWA USA – to a new building in Gaithersburg, Maryland. From now on we offer the whole range of GEWA String bowed instruments and accessories for the US market from there. In Wuqiang in China, in the Province of Hebei, GEWA has built up a manufacturing facility for all categories of our portfolio with its old partner Mr. Jan Bin – GEWA Strings, GEWA Guitars, GEWA Drums, GEWA Winds and GEWA Accessories. GEWA is the majority shareholder in this joint-venture. We have a clear concept here – we develop all kinds of instruments and accessories from our portfolio in Germany. Here we manufacture top class instruments and accessories such as string bow instruments and cases, digital pianos and digital drums. We manufacture the ‘big series’ of our product categories – the middle and lower price classes – in our factory in Wuqiang, China.
How far ahead do you plan strategies for the company’s development and expansion?
The development of musical instruments for GEWA depends on available technology and the demand of the markets. This is quite different from product line to product line. We endeavor to undertake a medium-term strategy.
Traditional instrument manufacturers seem to have come through the potential competition from electronic counterparts – do you foresee any potential future trends that may impact adversely on your business?
I’m not sure how much electronics really compete with acoustic instruments. If I look to the market of guitars, the electric guitar never replaced the acoustic or classical guitar. I think electronics and acoustics can complement each other. That is what you see if you look at professional drummers these days. Hybrid kits are very common in live concert settings. GEWA is a family-owned company with a great team of people in all different parts of the origination. I don’t think you ever can plan to release a ground-breaking new instrument – it happens if it happens. We carefully look at the different markets and technology that is available. With our products, we try to pass new features and new ideas respectively to the consumers.
Finally, is there a major musician or musicians who you would like to see using your brand on the world stage?
Many outstanding musicians are already using our brands. A potential idea could be the musicians in Coldplay.
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