I start my day with a fresh cup of coffee, which I grind myself. It’s an important ritual for me because I work across time zones. Pearl River’s office in Guangzhou, China, is 15–18 hours ahead of me here in Seattle, depending on the season, so I’m not able to start with my team there until 4 p.m. my time. Then I work with them until 3 a.m. and have to be up at 9 a.m. to manage the U.S. market. So, when I wake up, I know I need my support — and my support is my coffee. [Laughs.] I take the time to make a perfect cup. Just anticipating the aroma clears my mind and helps me prepare for the day.
Pre-pandemic, I was always flying back and forth around the world. It was crazy. I have to say that I’m enjoying getting to stay in Seattle and work from my home office. It’s been a pleasant surprise that this did not impede business. In fact, we’ve been growing by leaps and bounds over the last few years, despite travel restrictions everywhere.
We’re not the oldest name in the piano industry, and we started from humble beginnings in Guangzhou, China. But, we realized early on that to do something well, you have to hone your skills, practice your craft and learn from the masters. For the last three decades, Pearl River has had American and European master piano technicians as our teachers and partners. Many of them have come to our factory and stayed with us long-term. Our departments heads all learned their crafts from these wonderful experts. Fast forward to today, we have our Pearl River brand and two others — Ritmüller is a German company started in 1795 that we acquired 22 years ago, and our boutique Kayserburg pianos are just being reintroduced to the market. These are all instruments in the authentic European and American tradition that people can truly afford to buy. I don’t just believe that everyone should be able to afford a piano — everyone should be able to afford a good-quality piano.
All of the above. We have a variety of models, specs and sizes to fit every nook and cranny of the market. Whether you’re a school, concert hall, teaching studio or simply a hobbyist who loves pianos, we have something for everyone. That said, I want to be clear that the three brands under the Pearl River group are different, and we don’t make what are sometimes called “stencil pianos.”Some companies manufacture one single model and stick different names on it. They say they have 10 different products under 10 different companies, but it’s actually all the same. We don’t use that approach. Our brands are separate entities with their own qualities and personalities to suit the diversity of the music community.
It’s not bragging in any sense — it’s a statistical fact. The sheer number of pianos we sell is huge. On average for the last 20 years, we’ve sold 150,000 pianos per year. Domestically in China, Pearl River has 45% of the market share. Outside of China, we have about 30% of the global market share. Our newest factory regularly ships 500–1,000 pianos per day. The first time I saw it in action, I remember thinking how amazing an operation it was. I’d been to other piano companies’ factories and could not believe at first that Pearl River’s facility was actually making pianos, since it was so large and high-tech. I practically lived there at first just learning how the whole operation worked.
A lot of it has to do with our factory facilities. We completed them in 2019. They’re not just larger in size — we also invested millions of dollars in high-tech CNC machines that use robotics to perform precision replication. Using advanced factory automation can cut down on the amount of time it takes to make high-quality piano components.
I agree that it takes knowledge, experience and craftsmanship to build a great piano. But it’s also important to remember that there are many ways to build excellent instruments. Our No. 1 priority is combining traditional craftsmanship and high quality with modern-day factory management. We want to find ways to cut down on waste, not to rush production and compromise quality. In the end, our system helps us make certain processes highly efficient, which reduces the total time required for certain parts of manufacturing. That enables us to reach a critical economy of scale and offer the end-user a great instrument at a much more affordable price platform. Pearl River has never been about cheap production and inferior pianos — it’s about high quality and efficiency.
Our Kayserburg artist series of pianos come from a small factory within our big factory. We make no more than 2,000 Kayserburg pianos a year, and those are boutique, hand-made pianos. Our most knowledgeable technicians work on them, and the team is headed by our Swiss master Stephan Mohler. When I reintroduced Kayserburg to the U.S. last year, the reactions were great. The pianos have been accepted by the market and dealers who sell high-end European models.
This is not actually a new venture, but it’s one we’ve reinvented. For quite a while, Pearl River sold entry-level instruments that were primarily price-driven, but then we stopped about 10 years ago when the company became publicly listed. We relaunched our string instrument production last year but are doing it differently this time. Our approach is the opposite of before — high-end, small batches, top quality. Our workshop is full of technicians trained in the Italian Cremona tradition of crafting instruments. It’s become a special project that we’re very excited about. Just like our pianos, because of our way of managing finances, we’re able to produce very good quality, handmade instruments that are still relatively affordable.
It is. We have 1,000 employees working at our lumber processing plant, where we source the wood for our soundboards, frames and other components. Then the production facility that we just opened three years ago has another 3,000 employees and a 3.2 million-square-foot campus, which makes it the largest facility of its kind in the world. That campus also houses our research-and-development divisions, as well as shipping, storage, sales and other administration.
I am! I love the piano and believe that serious pianists need to practice all the time. [Laughs.] I would not be who I am today without Dr. Caio Pagano, who is a Regents Professor at Arizona State University’s School of Music. I learned from him when I was a student at Arizona State, and he taught me everything I know about being a pianist. He is a wonderful concert performer and pedagogue and really knows how to help his students grow both physically and mentally. My hat’s off to Dr. Pagano. I owe him everything.
I don’t think I can do anything without music! I started playing piano by choice when I was two years old after seeing my aunt play. My father was my first piano teacher, and my degree is in piano performance. I can’t imagine doing anything else.