Economic review

Trombone maker to hit the right note

2017-09-08 11:01:00 (Beijing Time)         China Daily

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Britain's only indigenous bespoke trombone manufacturer has enlisted an overseas trade company to advise on entering the Chinese market.

Rath Trombones produces around 500 of its handmade instruments a year.

Customers have included the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Military School of Music, the Count Basie Orchestra, the Berlin Opera and the US and Norwegian armed forces.

The company, founded in 1992 by Mick Rath in the West Yorkshire village of Honley, is looking to boost its export business and has set its sights on China.

"The trombone market is fairly small and we need to export to keep growing," Rath said. "We cannot rely on the UK alone to sustain business. Exporting enables us to take advantage of fluctuating economies and exchange rates."

The company currently generates around 60 percent of sales from overseas orders. It has sold instruments in 25 countries, and works with dealers in the US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and across Europe.

"We've been trying to get into China-a large and increasingly wealthy market with good arts funding-for some time," Rath said.

China's musical instrument market surpassed the US in 2012 to become the largest in the world, with domestic production and sales totaling $6.2 billion and imports worth $300 million.

"A lack of understanding of Chinese business culture, which is very different to ours, is holding us back," Rath said.

Rath estimates that orders from the Chinese market could boost sales by as much as 25 percent. He has enlisted the help of Bradford-based export-import service Chamber International to help gain a better understanding of Chinese business culture.

"Every country has its own culture when it comes to purchasing, and China is no exception," said Matthew Grandage, China affairs associate at Chamber International. "Understanding this is often the difference between success and disappointment in overseas markets."

Rath, who started playing the tuba when he was 11, works with his wife Nikki and nine other makers.

They build the trombones by hand, employing traditional techniques rarely used today.

"Visiting Rath Trombones' factory is a privilege," Grandage said. "You know you're meeting top craftsmen in their field. Professional musicians will recognize and value that quality as it transcends international boundaries."

"Ours are high-quality instruments made by British craftspeople," Rath said. "The fact that a modular design enables customers to interchange components to ensure a perfect instrument for most trombone players gives us wide appeal to players and dealers overseas."