EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — John Epifanio grew up in Vineland with a love of music, and had worked as a musician, playing in casinos and wedding bands.
So after graduating with a business degree from Temple University, Epifanio turned his music passion into a business, opening Music Central in Vineland in 1994 and another store in Egg Harbor Township five years later.
“I decided owning a music store would marry my business skills with my music skills,” said Epifanio, 45, of Egg Harbor Township, who plays keyboard and guitar and sings. “So I relegated the performance aspect to a part-time basis, and as the years went on, I concentrated more and more on developing the stores. I play more as a hobby these days.”
Owning a successful music store means hard work, and plenty of diversification, he said.
Music Central sells and rents musical instruments and equipment at its two stores, and also uses eBay to sell inventory.
The locations also have music rooms for students’ classes and about 24 part-time music instructors, charging $80 per month for weekly, half-hour private lessons, Epifanio said. About 300 students take part weekly.
The economy and its impact on discretionary spending have reduced gross sales, further emphasizing the need for the multifaceted approach the business takes to music.
“It’s more important to be as diversified as you can when you’re operating in a tight economy, so if one day the sales are off, at least we have a lesson flow of students coming in, or some eBay sales,” he said.
In business for 18 years, Music Central has seen the ups and downs of the economy and has adapted.
“The reality is we need to work hard every day. I found a group of employees committed to the same principles as I, and that’s how we’ve been able to weather all economic cycles over 18 years,” he said.
The business had once focused on boutique and higher-end, higher-priced instruments and guitars, but changed that to entry- and mid-level instruments, he said.
Previously owned equipment has become more popular, as have consignments — the business sold 10 accordions on consignment in less than two weeks, he said.
Among the rows of guitars, drums, band equipment and other instruments, the store keeps an assortment of ukuleles in stock. The small stringed instruments have become more popular in recent years, and sales increased 54 percent last year, according to the National Association of Music Merchants, a trade group.
Epifanio said music has a creative appeal that spans income levels, ages, religious and other demographics.
“It’s the diversity of people we have. The reasons for people’s musical needs vary so greatly, from local churches to parents wanting music lessons for a child, from rented sound equipment at New Year’s parties,” he said. “We rent sound equipment for the high holidays to local Hindu and Muslim populations. Music is definitely an international language.”
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