Article on Cavendish Pianos in British Airways in flight magazine “Business Life”

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The piano man

How an exploratory trip to Shanghai helped the last remaining British pianomaker break into the Chinese export market

Adam Cox has taken his pianos from Yorkshire to China
Gabriel Szabo/Guzelian

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“When you’re working away in the Yorkshire Dales building pianos, it’s quite difficult to get a sense of what’s going on the rest of the world,” says Adam Cox, co-owner, with wife Charlie, of award-winning Cavendish Pianos. “So you’ve got to get out there and meet people who share your passions.”

The story begins two decades ago, when the Coxes had a shop in Leeds selling British-made Kemble pianos. Then Kemble was bought up by Yamaha, which shut down all UK production. “It marked the end of a tradition that had gone on unbroken in the UK for 150 years,” says Cox. “We felt we had to do something or lose British piano manufacturing forever.”

The Coxes, who both play the piano, as do their three daughters, gathered together some of the UK’s leading experts, from technicians to cabinet makers, and found new premises for both a shop and manufacturing base in Bolton Abbey on the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, after whom the Cavendish brand is named. “Everyone said we were mad to launch ourselves in the middle of a recession,” he says. “But it turned out that the romance of producing pianos in the English tradition got lots of interest – particularly as they were unavailable anywhere else.”

With the talent and infrastructure in place, the Coxes thought about broadening their horizons. “We visited the Musikmesse in Frankfurt in March 2013, then went on a recce to the Shanghai Music Fair in October. What we discovered through talking to locals was that there was a gold rush going on in Shanghai. In China, piano ownership is a phenomenon, it’s a hallmark of the rising middle class. Success in the arts is prized as highly as success in science and that means being able to play a musical instrument. And a British piano is the ultimate status symbol.

“We went to see Jin Ling Road in Shanghai, which is an extraordinary traditional street of piano sellers – like something you would have encountered in 1890s London. European manufacturers were descending on the city. It was so exciting, and we realised we needed to do something, but didn’t know how to proceed.

“The following year we returned to Frankfurt and met a wonderful Chinese couple called Susan and Rubin Wang, who shared our passion for British pianos and offered to help us distribute the Cavendish in China. They had a piano shop in Beijing and suggested that we took a stand in Shanghai in 2014. They said, ‘It’s now or never to make your mark in China’. So we worked hard to create a show piano for the exhibition. The Chamber of Commerce helped, as did the Musical Intruments Association, who gave us a grant and held our hands the whole way. We had the ideas, but they were able to navigate us through the considerable paperwork.

“We spent a lot of time with Susan and Rubin. They came to Yorkshire to look round our factory and were fascinated by the sheep in the fields and the dry stone walls. It’s important to grow a relationship built on friendship. I know that jaded businesspeople might not agree, but it’s important to get to know someone really, really well and to have complete and utter trust in them. They were instrumental in us setting up a £1.75m contract to export 500 Cavendish pianos to China over the next five years. I doubt it would have been possible if we’d never bumped into them.”

For more: cavendishpianos.com. To make the most of your business travel, join On Business at ba.com/onbusiness. For support on how to export abroad, visit exportingisgreat.gov.uk. Tell us your own amazing export stories at businesslife@cedarcom.co.uk

 

The piano man

How an exploratory trip to Shanghai helped the last remaining British pianomaker break into the Chinese export market

Adam Cox has taken his pianos from Yorkshire to China
Gabriel Szabo/Guzelian

Share this
article

“When you’re working away in the Yorkshire Dales building pianos, it’s quite difficult to get a sense of what’s going on the rest of the world,” says Adam Cox, co-owner, with wife Charlie, of award-winning Cavendish Pianos. “So you’ve got to get out there and meet people who share your passions.”

The story begins two decades ago, when the Coxes had a shop in Leeds selling British-made Kemble pianos. Then Kemble was bought up by Yamaha, which shut down all UK production. “It marked the end of a tradition that had gone on unbroken in the UK for 150 years,” says Cox. “We felt we had to do something or lose British piano manufacturing forever.”

The Coxes, who both play the piano, as do their three daughters, gathered together some of the UK’s leading experts, from technicians to cabinet makers, and found new premises for both a shop and manufacturing base in Bolton Abbey on the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, after whom the Cavendish brand is named. “Everyone said we were mad to launch ourselves in the middle of a recession,” he says. “But it turned out that the romance of producing pianos in the English tradition got lots of interest – particularly as they were unavailable anywhere else.”

With the talent and infrastructure in place, the Coxes thought about broadening their horizons. “We visited the Musikmesse in Frankfurt in March 2013, then went on a recce to the Shanghai Music Fair in October. What we discovered through talking to locals was that there was a gold rush going on in Shanghai. In China, piano ownership is a phenomenon, it’s a hallmark of the rising middle class. Success in the arts is prized as highly as success in science and that means being able to play a musical instrument. And a British piano is the ultimate status symbol.

“We went to see Jin Ling Road in Shanghai, which is an extraordinary traditional street of piano sellers – like something you would have encountered in 1890s London. European manufacturers were descending on the city. It was so exciting, and we realised we needed to do something, but didn’t know how to proceed.

“The following year we returned to Frankfurt and met a wonderful Chinese couple called Susan and Rubin Wang, who shared our passion for British pianos and offered to help us distribute the Cavendish in China. They had a piano shop in Beijing and suggested that we took a stand in Shanghai in 2014. They said, ‘It’s now or never to make your mark in China’. So we worked hard to create a show piano for the exhibition. The Chamber of Commerce helped, as did the Musical Intruments Association, who gave us a grant and held our hands the whole way. We had the ideas, but they were able to navigate us through the considerable paperwork.

“We spent a lot of time with Susan and Rubin. They came to Yorkshire to look round our factory and were fascinated by the sheep in the fields and the dry stone walls. It’s important to grow a relationship built on friendship. I know that jaded businesspeople might not agree, but it’s important to get to know someone really, really well and to have complete and utter trust in them. They were instrumental in us setting up a £1.75m contract to export 500 Cavendish pianos to China over the next five years. I doubt it would have been possible if we’d never bumped into them.”

For more: cavendishpianos.com. To make the most of your business travel, join On Business at ba.com/onbusiness. For support on how to export abroad, visit exportingisgreat.gov.uk. Tell us your own amazing export stories at businesslife@cedarcom.co.uk


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