The Coastal Star

Business Spotlight: Flourishing culture key to piano business

Bob Luptak is owner and president of the Steinway Piano Gallery.

Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Christine Davis

    On the grand scale, Steinway Piano Gallery in Boca Raton hits all the right notes, because it’s always been about pianos for owner Bob Luptak, who opened the showroom in 1999.

    Luptak started learning piano when he was 11 years old, and playing it helped get him through college. Then, he worked as a music educator and performer and for Baldwin Piano before he was hired by Steinway, where he represented the company in Chicago, Atlanta and parts of Europe, as well as Latin America.
    In the process, it eventually occurred to him that Broward, Palm Beach and Martin counties, with their flourishing cultural life, were ripe for a high-quality piano showroom and he asked Steinway if he could represent the company here, choosing Boca Raton as a central location.
    One of 12 independent licensed dealerships in the world, Steinway Piano Gallery is a place where you can see, hear and play handcrafted Steinway & Sons pianos as well as the Steinway-designed Boston and Essex pianos. The gallery also features designer grand and petite baby grand pianos, as well as PianoDisc and PianoMation digital player systems.
    “We offer great pianos,” Luptak said. “Also, we host 40 to 50 independent piano educators in our studio recital space at our 70-seat, state-of-the-art performance room on Saturdays, and we have our own recital series on Sunday afternoons.
    “We also partner with music, health, cultural and social organizations for their fundraising events, and we can record students for auditions and competitions.”
    This type of business model has always been Steinway’s approach, he said. “Henry Steinway believed that when cultural life flourishes, so does business.
    “There has to be a cultural life in the community. We are not just selling lumber.”
    Clientele has changed, though, he noted.
    “Having lunch with Henry (the founder’s great-grandson)at Windows on the World at the former World Trade Center, he told me that the piano business was impacted by the invention of the Victrola.
    “Before, every house had a piano and everyone could play two or three songs, but after the Victrola, people just needed to put the needle on the record to enjoy Chopin.
“Fast-forward to today and we have music all around us. No one has the patience to sit down and learn how to play.”
    Some people do, though. “Now, our core customers are Europeans, Asians and Latinos. The process and discipline of learning to play the piano is part of their cultural life.”
    Surgeons, anesthesiologists and radiologists buy Steinways and play them, too.
“Some doctors even have a little piano at their office, so that between patients they can practice,” Luptak said.
    “I don’t know the significance, but I always say to moms, ‘if you want your son or daughter to be a doctor, buy the piano now.”
    He, like the doctors, currently plays to relax and unwind. “I come home, crack open a bottle of wine and play Ellington tunes,” he said.
    His son, Daniel, 13, who also plays, soon will audition at the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts.
    “I never told my son, ‘you are going to play.’ When I asked him if he’d be interested, he, like the politician he is, said, ‘Let me think about it, Daddy.’ A few weeks later, he told me he’d like to learn.”
    Recently, Steinway was bought for $499 million by the investment firm Paulson & Co.
    “Now John Paulson is sole owner, and we feel at the company level that this is a good thing,” Luptak said. “Paulson has indicated that he wants to keep things as they are, and he has an affinity for Steinway piano; he owns three. We are looking forward to a relationship with him. We have great people on the manufacturing and management sides, and from my standpoint as a dealer, we are in good hands.”
    Luptak’s pride for Steinway shows through glowingly. “More than 98 percent of artists worldwide play our pianos, and we are the only company that has never paid an artist to play our instruments. That’s significant.
    “After 160 years, Steinway still represents the pinnacle of how the piano should look, play and sound.”

 

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