A conversation with a leader: Juan Berrios

Wednesday, February 23, 2005 at 1:00am

Juan Berrios

COMPANY, TITLE: Meinl, USA, LC, vice president/sales and marketing

Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Age: 33

Education: bachelor's degree in music performance with a minor in marketing, University of Tampa

First paid job: percussion salesman, Thoroughbred Music

Hypothetical dream job: drummer without the need for a day job

Berrios is the top official at Meinl U.S.A., the Nashville-based U.S. headquarters of German company Meinl Cymbals and Percussion. As such, he oversees marketing, advertising and distributing Meinl products in the United States and Canada. Berrios leads nine employees working from the company's office on Ambrose Avenue in Northeast Nashville.

Meinl USA is a relative newcomer to the percussion industry. Does that provide a challenge?

Meinl USA, as its own entity, has been in business five years. The German parent company has been in business for 53 years. The challenges we have are two-fold: First of all, we're a German company in the American market. Secondly, until recently, our products were distributed by a myriad of distributors that were not successful for us. Some of those distributors did not show the type focus we needed. And now we're working to return that focus.

Is there a timetable to have Meinl as a U.S power within the industry?

We don't have a timetable. But we expect in the next two years, we'll be on par with those percussion companies wanting to be in the second tier of this industry. We're not looking to be number one. We're looking to be the best at number two.

Meinl is probably best known in the U.S. for its special effects cymbals. What type marketing moves will help expand upon that image?

We continue to market those particular products. Meanwhile, we're introducing a lot of new lines that will allow our dealers and users to appreciate the sound and quality of a full range of Meinl cymbals and percussion instruments.

In January, your office began distributing Meinl products in Canada. Your thoughts?

Canada actually holds 10 percent of the international musical instrument sales market. We're going into Canada to do dealer-direct business instead of distributor-to-dealer business. We're not the middleman anymore. We're not buying from the manufacturer.

Percussion companies Gibson/Slingerland, Mapex and Pearl have a strong presence in the Nashville market. Is that a positive or negative for Meinl USA?

It's absolutely a positive. That's part of the reason we moved Meinl USA from Miami to Nashville in the summer of 2002. The reason those companies are here is because Nashville is a good geographic point for distribution and because this is Music City U.S.A.

What are some trends Meinl has set in the percussion instrument manufacturing industry?

Meinl has been known as a trend-setter in the specialty percussion and cymbal market. We follow the old German engineering philosophy. The Germans spend a lot of time in meticulous research, as well as design. Meinl was the first manufacturer of the fiberglass conga and the first company to introduce fades and burst finishes on non-drum set percussion instruments. Another example is the children's percussion market, which is being handled very effectively right now. There are two mistakes being made with children's percussion: toys that resemble musical instruments, and manufacturers forgetting who the product is going to - parents, teachers and children. We manufacture professional-featured instruments sized for children.

Instrument-making companies rely on musicians to use and push their products. Nashville-based percussionists Johnny Rabb (who holds the world's record for fastest drum roll), Trey Gray (Jewell drummer) and Chad Cromwell (Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Mark Knopfler drummer) for example, are Meinl spokespersons. What is your philosophy regarding spokespeople?

We depend on our artists, as well as on our dealer base, to push and promote our brand as one of the elite brands in the market. We look in our artists for image and for them to be busy doing sessions and tours, and featured in magazines.

In what areas does Meinl need work?

We need a lot more work in Canada. And we need to be able to spend more money on advertising and promotions to be heard in various areas of the country.

How do you prepare to make a tough decision?

I'm a fairly young professional. I've done this for only two years. The way I've reached this level of management has been mostly by my passion and with the help of my mentors, many of whom work within the musical instruments industry. In addition, I involve the guys on the team. I don't believe in a hierarchy setup. I believe in a linear set-up where each employee contributes ideas to help in decisions.

How do you balance work and personal life?

My wife has a traveling job as well, which makes it challenging for us to have time together. But, we actually look at travel as time off from home. So when we return home, we appreciate being back in Nashville and with each other.

If you could change one decision you've made at Meinl USA, which one and why?

We would have gotten into a bigger building that would have better facilitated more in-and-out movement of merchandise. We've actually outgrown the building faster than we originally thought we would.

What best measures success in the percussion manufacturing industry?

Basically, we measure our success in many ways. We do a bit of a batting average by comparing daily, quarterly and annual numbers with those numbers of previous years. To give an example, right now we are on a 72 percent sales revenue increase compared to the same month in 2004.

How do you keep Meinl USA employees happy?

We are a small and young team. Most of us are in our early 30s to early 40s. We don't a have a closed-door policy here. We celebrate ideas and successes together. To keep our employees motivated, we give incentives that are not always monetary. And we are close on a social level. That keeps the team vibe running hot all year long.

Identify a difficult situation you have dealt with while leading Meinl USA.

There was the Mars (musical instrument store) chain. Before we found out the company was declaring bankruptcy, they had an outstanding balance with us. The challenge for us was to keep doing business with them. They had a large debt and we then knew bankruptcy was coming. We were able to get back about half the balance owed us while still doing business as the bankruptcy took place.

How do you balance risk with potential reward?

Every risk we take, we take with a reward in mind. It doesn't always work that way, of course. But, for the most part, because we have our experienced parent company in Germany, we depend on them before we take a risk that may lead to failure.

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