It’s a rare thing for a business to survive multiple generations. It’s rarer still when the business stays within the family. Ted Brown Music – with locations in Tacoma, Richland, Yakima, Seattle, Silverdale and Puyallup – has been able to do just that. Ted Brown Music has been owned and/or managed by Ted Brown and his descendants for nearly a century. Most recently, this tradition has reached its fourth generation with Garrison Grisaffi, great-grandson to Ted Brown and current manager of the Puyallup location.
Yet getting into the family business was not Grisaffi’s first choice. “I was into sports mostly,” laughs Grisaffi. But ultimately he changed his tune (ahem…) when he started working at the store as a teenager. After college, he ultimately followed in his family’s footsteps.
Grisaffi knew he had done his family proud. “I could see it in my aunt’s eyes and mother’s eyes and grandmother’s eyes,” he says. “They just get so excited when I talk about the business. I have a lot to live up to. It’s up to the fourth generation to keep it going.”
“Ted Brown Music started in 1931 around the beginning of the Great Depression,” he continues. “It sold music instruments, TVs, toys, anything to get by. Knowing that Ted Brown has made it this far through all the massive obstacles there are for a family-owned business is one of my biggest drivers to make sure that I don’t let all of the employees of Ted Brown down.”
Much of Ted Brown Music’s decades of success revolves around the business model itself. They specialize in musical instruments, but Grisaffi is quick to point out that sales is merely a small part of everything they do. Much of their business revolves around instrument rentals to school bands and orchestras throughout Washington State. They pride themselves on having a knowledgeable staff that’s not pushy to make a sale.
“We have the best brands out there,” he adds. “We have a great rental program. People that work here know more about what they’re selling than the competition. If you want a new instrument, you want to come here because our staff will show you the proper way to use it. They will show you how to care for it. We’re going for the longevity of the customer here, not the sale. Customer service is number one.”
Music lessons are also offered for a wide variety of instruments, from piano to saxophone, violin to guitar. With new lesson studios in the Puyallup store, Grisaffi is looking to expand his music lesson base and help inspire young musicians to succeed in the field. “My goal is to produce real musicians out of the store,” he says.
Customer service extends to local schools, including a free instrument cleaning program the Puyallup store offers at local Ballou Junior High School. Instrument cleaning is an often overlooked, and sometimes yucky, necessity for taking good care of an instrument. Poorly maintained instruments lead to costly repairs. “Regular maintenance saves families money in the long run,” says Grisaffi. “Plus the kids learn the proper way to care for their instruments, which is a great responsible habit to have.”
Another reason Grisaffi attributes to the chain’s success is the opportunity for feedback from other managers throughout the company. “Every store is different,” he explains. “and each manager runs theirs a different way. It’s nice to understand why they run it that way. We can all learn from each other.”
Ted Brown Music’s presence in the community also plays a major factor. Not only do they offer a rock and roll summer camp Live it OutLoud to teens (a SouthSoundTalk article about the details of Live it OutLoud can be found here), they created the Ted Brown Music Outreach program, a non-profit designed to improve children’s lives through music. This includes donating instruments for those in need, and instrument exploration summer camps.
Perhaps the best way to experience everything that Ted Brown Music has to offer is to visit one of their locations to see and hear it for yourself. The stores offer a host of sheet music, instrument accessories (such as reeds and guitar strings) DJ and lighting equipment, and just about every kind of instrument worthy of playing. So for anyone in need a little more music in their lives, Ted Brown Music remains the South Sound’s first choice in all things music.