How did you start Southern Percussion and what gave you the idea?
Southern Percussion was started an exceptionally long time ago by Ron Armstrong, but was a best kept secret operating from a small office in Bournemouth initially. It existed mainly by word-of-mouth recommendation. I used to be a customer, quite regularly, to try out new products and new music and so Ron knew we quite well, but this was while I was a teenager at music school.
While I was in my first year at the Guildhall School of Music, I received an unexpected call from Ron saying he was retiring asking if I wanted to take over the business. I was only about 19 at the time and was not sure what to say or ask, so I did not really give much response initially. However, after a bit of thought and speaking to a friend I called Ron back to ask him many more questions and worked out it could be a great opportunity to carry on his great reputation in percussion. This was really what he was offering, as he had run the business completely by referral and did not even have a stock list or database of customers! The business with me started with loading up a van of Ron’s stock and dropping it off at my parents, before heading off to Ghana for a month, before attempting to carry on the business for him, whilst also performing almost 4-5 nights a week and attending the Guildhall School of Music. It was a busy time!
What has been the secret to the success of Southern Percussion?
I have always focussed on offering only products which I would use myself and providing really specialist advice to people. For example, there are hundreds of mallets you can choose from to play with, but I can help people decide by asking them the right questions and knowing the products myself. Our entire staff are all percussionists themselves. We can give people the pros and cons of different options. Our specialism, along with our focus on finding what is best for the musician, creates a unique experience for our customers and people keep coming back to us.
What is the best thing about running a business such as Southern Percussion?
The best thing is that the business has really evolved over time and I am now able to create exactly what I think is needed for the percussion industry and individuals; what I would have loved as a child who was passionate about percussion. This means not only continuing to develop the shop both in store and online, for retail and trade, but creating projects around this as well.
I created a “test” area in the shop where you can try out for example the mallets on an instrument and play along with a recorded orchestra soundtrack; something I would have loved as a young amateur.
We run the Southern Percussion International Tuned Percussion Competition which is usually run at the Purcell School but is online this year. It gives people under the age of 18 the opportunity to not only compete but meet and network with other specialist percussion players. The judges are some of the best percussionists from around the world and they not only judge the players but offer masterclasses and we do a concert with everyone. This really brings together the talent under 18 across the world.
My next project is to launch a Percussion Academy. I still have a passion for teaching and if you would have asked me as a child what I would like to do, it would have been to have my own percussion school. All my staff who work at Southern Percussion are percussionists themselves and we are going to bring together some of the best percussion teachers in the world, to the Academy. We are just about to update our website and branding, and with this launch the school.
I am also actively involved with the National Association of Percussion Teachers and am helping this to evolve.
What sort of customers shop with you?
We are very specialist and so attract a lot of orchestras and professional percussionists, but we can also provide products and advice to people at all sorts of levels. We do have a focus on classical percussion and marching and you will not find a single drum kit in our shop because it is not our speciality, but we have a huge range of everything else!
What is your advice for someone who is passionate about percussion and wants to pursue this as a career?
If you know music is your passion and what you want to do in life, then you should follow this! Hard work and passion will lead you down the right path and I love helping talent find that path.