After having spent 25 years in the piano business, I took the Quality Control Manager position with the Baldwin Grand Factory in 1987. I remember my very first day, I was asked to attend what turned out to be a monthly meeting of Sales and Manufacturing. They were called the "TBOP" Meetings. The "Take Back Our Place" meetings. These meetings went on for a literal decade!
The gist of the meetings always revolved around the simple premise of how can the Asians produce pianos, where the dealer can sell them at RETAIL, for less than what they could buy one Wholesale from Baldwin for!? After my first several meetings, I came to realize that Baldwin was well aware of the Asian’s better QC control of their product.
That was the main reason I was sought out and hired; my 25-year tenure piano technician background at the time and my being a former Baldwin dealership owner, that had seen first-hand the incoming quality of Baldwin products on Baldwin showroom floors.
We always had a hard time understanding how the Asians could be gaining market share, when in fact, they did use inferior rim woods, action parts, strings, while were using hard rock maple rim woods, Renner actions and German Roslau strings. So, when it was brought up to use cheaper woods, strings and action parts to reduce our wholesale prices, it was always met with adamant NO's from the Sales department! "You can't cheapen the storied name of Baldwin; Steinway will win the high-end market and we will ruin our reputation in the process!"
So, we were in a Catch-22 situation; Baldwin needed to drastically reduce our prices to compete with the Asian's lower prices. BUT, to accomplish that, we would have to start using for example, Luan mahogany for rims, like our cheaper Japanese, Korean and Chinese competitors. "NO, we can't do THAT was Sales answer!" Bottom Line: We all fell by the wayside; Baldwin, Wurlitzer, Kohler & Campbell. EVERY U.S. manufacturer tried to compete with the Asians on price. But, the Asian labor and wage market, will just not allow us to build pianos at their prices, while paying acceptable U.S. wages.
In most meetings, I was not very popular! I was called, "an obstacle to progress", more times than I can count! If you stick to your commitment to Quality as I did, it's very hard to stomach going from German Roslau strings to Indonesian-made strings. Very hard to go from Hard Rock maple rims to Luan mahogany rims. Very hard to go from Renner action parts to Chinese action parts. (Baldwin did build a Baldwin action factory in Mexico, in an effort to accomplish just that. A too little, too late story.)
Steinway and Mason & Hamlin, were the ONLY American piano companies to realize this simple truth; LABOR will BURY you if you think you can build pianos in the U.S. and price them with the Asians! BUT, these two American companies survived because THEY GAVE UP! They gave up on the nostalgic notion that, "we can do it" if we just work hard enough. THEY realized that there is NO WAY to compete with the Asians on price point! So, they took a gamble which has paid off!
They decided, NOT to try to compete on price points with the Asians. In fact, in Steinway's case, they JOINED FORCES with their competitors, Pearl River and Kawai. Steinway realized, they could NOT DO IT! With the Steinway and Mason & Hamlin brands, they chose to just continue building high-quality pianos and let the prices fall where they may!
That is what Baldwin was actually in the process of doing when the Baldwin Board of Directors decided they would bring in a new CEO, that would "help us" in that regard. I will not get into it here! Suffice it to say, she drove Baldwin into the ground in under 3 years with EXORBITANT spending sprees! It would take another 50 paragraphs to tell THAT story. Another time... So, Baldwin did not GET the chance to do what Steinway and Mason & Hamlin DID do; continue with their high-quality construction and costly European parts and let their pricing rise to what is now 300% higher than their Asian counterparts!
So, in discussing what WOULD be a successful new piano company and what it would look like, Todd Scott and I put our 81 years of piano technician experience and knowledge together. We mixed in my 16 years of Baldwin grand manufacturing experience of building 17 grand pianos a day and then added his concert pianist insights and requirements.
The synergy that has come out of this collaboration, has resulted in a mix of high-quality Asian and Baldwin Quality standards, AND European hammerheads, actions, soundboards and strings!
I think everyone would agree, installing better hammerheads, better whippens, better shanks/flanges, better strings, and better spruce soundboards, will result in, a better piano. THAT is Norberg’s MAIN PREMISE! Norberg is the ONLY piano company in the WORLD, where you can obtain a complete German Abel action from a piano factory. We build pianos, where even our MOST inexpensive vertical, comes standard with German Abel hammerheads. Norberg verticals come available with WNG, Wessell, Nickel & Gross actions. Austrian spruce soundboards. Proprietary, Norberg only, scale designs by, Todd Scott, CEO of the company on ALL Norberg instruments; verticals through our 9' concert grand.
Norberg IS a DIFFERENT kind of Chinese-built piano. Whereas Pearl River, Kohler & Campbell, Knabe, and Samick can only tout: Chinese, Chinese, Chinese about THEIR instruments, Norberg can tout: European, European, European about OURS!
ANOTHER MAJOR DIFFERENCE: Norberg was founded and is managed by two piano technicians. One, a 30-year tenure tech, in the CEO of Norberg. I, a 51-year tenure tech, with 16 years as the Baldwin Quality Control Manager of the grand factory. Todd is also an accomplished concert pianist. We decided the time was right to take a NOVEL approach to the building of pianos and the running of a piano manufacturing operation!
Todd Scott and I swore, we would NEVER allow a CBS tv executive, venture capitalist, banker, stock consultant or people that don't know a caster from a tuning pin, to run OUR piano company!
We decided to do something REALLY CRAZY! Something not being done by other piano companies! Together, we created a piano company run by veteran piano technicians, concert pianists and Baldwin grand piano manufacturing veterans! Crazy idea for a piano company to be run by “piano people”, I know! But it’s just crazy enough, it’s working out in a manner we could've only imagined in our wildest dreams... Join us in our quest of offering European quality, in affordable instruments!
Barry K. Bradshaw
Former Baldwin Grand Factory Quality Control Manager
Current International Sales Manager
Norberg Pianos Inc.
WHY ASIAN MADE?
The factory where Norberg Pianos are assembled is located in Shanghai, CN, the Piano Capital of the world.
In this deluxe factory are found incredibly skilled craftsman and the most advanced CNC technology used in the piano industry today!
Fay Wang, who is the CEO of the operations, and who also is a dear friend of ours, cherishes Norberg Piano Line, and does anything possible for the good-will of our company.
While I was there, I was treated with the utmost respect, and even the most radical plans and designs for Norberg were heavily discussed with the engineering department.
As a result of a strong family like bond, the Norberg Piano brand was created, with imported parts from Germany, Austria, and the United States to create a piano that is unprecedented and with a price that makes it possible for dealers to sell and generate a respectable profit.
Here, our prized proprietary formulas are used that include duplexes in vertical pianos, and is the first factory to use complete Maple Abel Actions for our pianos.
The labor force in Shanghai makes it possible to be a highly competitive and strong market force in the piano industry of today.