We were pleased to speak recently to Bruce Stevens, owner of 1001 Keys & Co. which provides piano tuning and keyboard instrument restoration services. 1001 Keys & Co. is located just over the Wells River, VT line at 58 Randall Hill Road in Ryegate, VT and serves customers in most of Vermont and New Hampshire. In addition to his business, Bruce is also very active in the community and local church as a School Board member and Trustee. He is also a former Woodsville-Wells River Rotary Club member and Paul Harris Fellow. Bruce can be reached by email at bstevens@myfairpoint.net or by phone at (802) 757-8050.

 Can you tell us a little about your business? What services do you provide and how long have you been in business?

I have been in business for thirty-nine years. We offer various services including piano restoration and tuning, refinishing, action restoration, stringing, repairs and adjustment. We also do restoration of reed pump organs and player pianos as well as repairs, adjustment, tuning and refinishing for these. I very much enjoy bringing instruments which enter the shop very tired back to their former glory and seeing them enjoyed and used by their owners again!

 

How did you get into this business?

Well, the whole genre of organ making and tuning is arcane and it can take half a lifetime to master. The first time I bought a piano, I was fourteen and I kind of started repairing them then. When I was around sixteen, I actually put a pump organ I had bought for five dollars and restored on display in the Rochester Fair in New Hampshire. There were no books on the topic that I had access to and there was no one I could consult, so I was really self-taught. I was a starry-eyed entrepreneur back then and got a space at the corner of one of the exhibition buildings. I did a nice display with a chair and a lamp and put a sign on it that said something like “I work on these.” I also spent quite a bit of time there demonstrating the instrument and talking to people. After that, the phone started ringing off the hook. I won a blue ribbon for the display. I also have a B.S. degree in Occupational Education from the University of New Hampshire and taught one year at a vocational school but this business really took over.

 

When did you learn to play the piano and organ? You must have been quite young.

I took lessons in piano, harpsichord and organ from when I was seven until I was eleven years old and then took higher level training in college for three years. I still play often. I have also been employed as an organist at the Wells River Congregational Church for more than thirty-seven years. A couple of weeks ago, I gave a performance in Etna Center (NH) on a reed organ. The family had restored the organ in memory of their mother who was a former organist at the Hanover Center First Congregational Church. I am also a member of the American Guild of Organists and the Reed Organ Society. I find that fewer people know how to read music now and fewer kids are taking piano lessons. It’s becoming arcane and a lost art.

How is your business doing? What are your biggest business challenges?

Business is very good right now. I actually do almost no advertising. My advertising budget is probably no more than two hundred dollars per year. Word of mouth has definitely been the best way to attract new customers for me. Insurance is probably one of my biggest challenges. It costs thousands of dollars a year between health insurance, business insurance and other insurance.

Do you have any employees other than yourself?

I have one other part-time employee, Matt Sargent. Matt attended the North Bennett Street School for two years (for piano technology) in Boston right near the Old North Church. I suggested strongly he go down there to learn. He is fairly self-taught in refinishing and has been with me almost thirty years. Matt also has his own piano-tuning business. We also have occasional student apprentices who help. Over the years, I have had thirty-five students work in the shop learning shop safety, tool handling and care, organizing, material handling, preparing estimates, ordering and stock. Students learned to understand our high restoration standards, the importance of attendance and arriving on time to work and the many aspects of owning a small business.