Idaho Falls

Nov./Dec. 2011

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If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. —Henry David Thoreau Think of the milestones of your youth—that first kiss, that game-saving play, that bitter break-up, that life-altering loss of a loved one. The popular melodies of such times often find their way into your emotional scrapbook. Sometimes you may wake up those forgotten chapters—for bet- ter or for ill—whenever the music plays. No wonder that a celebration of music can serve as the nexus of a culture. In its 100-year celebration, Chesbro Music's message has grown with its reputa- tion. And as the longtime proprietors will tell you, its mission statement has held strong: Hold yourself accountable. Stick to what works. Foster music in others. Give back to the community. Horace Chesbro put these principles into action as young entrepreneur in turn- of-the-century Seattle. At the time he was already an accomplished student of the musical arts, and went on to learn the busi- ness side as he worked at a music store and sold pianos on the side. This pursuit quickly matured into the 1901 launch of his com- pany. The early years were difficult, to say the least. Chesbro was faced with either bank- ruptcy or working out a long-term payment plan with his creditors. He chose the latter, earning himself a lot of respect along the way. He then caught wind of an untapped frontier in the sale of musical instruments: our neck of the woods. Chesbro and his wife, Ella, moved to St. Anthony in 1911 and set up shop and home at the same location. A short time later they moved south and did the same in Idaho Falls. Then in the early 1920s, they found a building downtown. Part of that original building still stands today as the home of Chesbro Music Company. With more room for inventory, the com- pany quickly grew into a major force in the world of wholesale music materials, but Chesbro also pursued local sales just as he did in his earlier years--going door-to-door. Chesbro's passion was contagious. Children and their parents became the early compa- ny's biggest supporters, and Horace went on to work with the local schools in jump-start- ing desperately needed music programs. Horace passed away in 1952, but by then his son Henry had taken the helm of the company while the elder Chesbros retired to California. Following the family example, Henry's wife Mary Jane and the couple's children, Joan and Paul, were all active in the family business. But their own fate was sealed just a year after Horace died, when Henry, Mary Jane and Paul perished in an airplane accident. That left Ella (by then in her 70s) and Instrumental in Their Success in selling a full lineup of drum sets and guitars (sampled here by employees Jason Ramer and Ben Parker) as well as various other instruments and accessories, much of the chesbro sales and service staff definitely practice what they preach. the company also offers a full roster of instructors for music lessons right at the store. Joan as managers. Joan, who was 21 years old at the time, had already garnered a keen interest in the company and was now fresh out of Stanford with a degree in economics. It wasn't going to be easy, but the company would survive. By 1959, Joan had become President and CEO of Chesbro Music Company. Joan has since passed away as well, but in the Chesbro tradition, the progeny continues its management of the company to this day through the efforts of granddaughters Tana-Jane Stahn and Vanetta Chesbro-Wilson. "We were a wholesale distributor during the depression years," as there was really no other Western distributor for print," Wilson said. "Then we added instruments. It just grew steady, and then really boomed in he '70s through the '90s for instruments, tri- pling our distribution area." Wilson is quick to acknowledge that the real key to success has been in hiring and maintaining a superbly qualified workforce. She says a perfect case in point is Gary Bennett, who has served Chesbro for 45 years. In industry circles, Bennett is considered to be one of the top salesmen in the nation for musical instruments. After nearly a half century in the business, it's a well deserved distinction. "Chesbro has been a phenomenal compa- ny to work for," he says. "The management is great, and the name is very well known and respected." He was the first outside rep for the company, and says he's found suc- cess through a positive attitude and a full knowledge of the product he's selling. "The most rewarding aspect is helping dealers find success," he says. "Their success and ours are definitely tied together. We have good people on the phones here—very knowledgeable. They make the job easier." Wilson adds that like the company itself, "Gary's life has changed a lot in his many years here. He's been at the forefront for a long time and naturally he is very well- respected by his dealers." He's not alone in that regard, either. Chesbro employs about 50 employees (sometimes upwards of 80), and more than a few of them have been here 20 years or longer. Local patrons might find it surprising that Chesbro's retail division accounts for only 15 percent of its business. The other 85 per- cent is wholesale to music retailers and mail orders from all across the continent. Chesbro is largely considered to be the larg- est print-music distributor in the West. It sounds like big business, and it is. Yet IdahoFallsMagazIne.CoM 41

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