Typically, J.W. Pepper’s market is a school or church music director buying on behalf of an organization. The company has been able to build and maintain a loyal customer base by focusing on each niche.
“We market directly to them with e-clubs and catalogs featuring products that matter to them,” Burtch says. “We provide guidance in product selection to help them navigate new works, and we provide a best-in-class offering called Editors’ Choice.”
One way the company grows its business is by making sure customers get to know J.W. Pepper and its people. The company has 11 stores across the country where staff engages with customers on a regional level. They attend director conferences and host special events. They offer to help the directors in their special projects as well, such as coordinating the folders of music for student honor choirs or sponsoring clinicians at workshops. This person-to-person connection is incredibly valuable to the company.
“Through our staff’s rapport with the customers, we learn much about what they need and how they view the services we already provide,” Burtch says. “It’s important we are ready to learn from our customers.”
J.W. Pepper believes its success stems from an unwavering commitment to customers, the expertise of its people and investments in infrastructure. The company answers its phone, has a generous return policy, and its people guide the product selection and develop relationships with vendors.
J.W. Pepper also operates out of two distribution centers, one in Atlanta and one in Salt Lake City. That allows the company to provide excellent delivery times and shift distribution to adjust the work allocation when necessary. In addition, J.W. Pepper has call centers in Exton, Pa., and Grand Rapids, Mich., to ensure availability of support for customers. “Beyond the physical infrastructure, we’ve invested heavily in our systems,” Burtch says. “We are in a state of continuous improvement. It’s a rare time when we aren’t investigating or implementing a core piece of technology to improve our operation to either better service our customers or to reduce the cost of doing business.”
Certainly the most significant change in J.W. Pepper’s market has been the Internet and the move to online shopping. Fortunately, early on in the development of the Internet, the company was very proactive in developing this side of its business. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the company developed its own private network for customers to communicate with each other and with music publishers and other industry associations. It also allowed them to place orders online, manage their account and even have J.W. Pepper’s computer system make recommendations of products to meet their specific needs.
“We called it Pepper CARES, which stood for Computer Assisted RESearch,” Burtch says. “This allowed us to transform a ready-made group of tech-savvy customers to our website when the Internet blossomed commercially in the mid-1990s. We then introduced e-Print, the digital digitally delivery of music, in 2001.”
Perhaps even more importantly, the company’s early involvement with online sales and delivery helped develop a staff and culture that is technology centered. When J.W. Pepper develops a new service, product or promotion, the online implications are always part of the planning and implementation processes.
“Our customers have high expectations of us and hold us accountable, which we are happy to accept,” Burtch says. “Our customers tend to trust us, and we work hard to earn that trust. That relationship allows us to get serious consideration when we offer something new. We examine our customer base to find areas where they need help doing the job they do.”
Looking forward, J.W. Pepper believes it can continue to offer world-class service to customers. It intends to look for opportunities to diversify, evaluating risks and benefits, along with its ability to sustain and grow its business.
Some areas where it has found success with diversification include fundraising and music accessories. Pepper Fundraising is only a couple of years old and growing nicely, while the music accessory diversification is more of a concentrated boost rather than an entirely new unit.
“Our company has been a source of products like music folders and stands,” Burtch says. “Within the last year, we have expanded our products to include items such as reeds, mouthpieces, microphones, recording equipment and more.”
J.W. Pepper knows that it must be able to tackle any number of challenges that could come its way. Large-scale economic problems that impact school and church budgets and the online piracy of sheet music are just some of the issues the company must constantly watch. But the company has already demonstrated the ability to change throughout its history.
Pepper Fundraising will help customers weather storms with their budgets, and the company’s diversification into physical products can combat the danger of online sheet music piracy. J.W. Pepper is a company that has evolved to suit the needs of its customers, and there is every reason to believe it will continue to evolve and prosper for many more years.