We had the good fortune of connecting with Jeff Bauer and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jeff, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
Love what you do, never work a day in your life. Well, I do work quite a lot, lol, but I would say I do love what I do. When people ask what I do, my answer is short and simple: I sell pianos.
I spent my childhood fascinated by music, and pianos became an important part of my process at an early age. Fun fact, I never had a piano growing up (I had keyboards). I would go into music stores, piano stores, browse and play until I get kicked out. In college (UCSB) I took a minimum wage janitorial position at a local piano store. It wasn’t long until the owner recognized I could be utilized in sales. That was 1994, the rest is history.
My training is music composition, and I spend a lot of time around music, writing, performing, listening. My focus, as of the last 20 years, has been jazz. Being connected to music, musicians, facilities that host musical performances, and a store with the finest pianos in the world, I get full doses of my musical fuel both in and out of work.
As my role at Keyboard Concepts expanded from sales person (1997), to store manager (2003), to Vice President and part owner this year, my balance has shifted more towards work. There are no real piano emergencies (for the most part), so I can hang my hat at the end of the day and sleep well at night. These days I am accessible 7 days a week for my staff and customers, and I will say they all make good use of that, lol. Still, I feel the balance is good. As long as I can keep rooted in my passion for music, whether I am supporting other artists, or creating the art myself, I feel fulfilled. The piano business has allowed me to do that in spades.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I am in the piano business, and recently bought into a company that I have worked for since 1997. It’s like anything else in sales, be it homes, cars, wine, shoes, you name it. The business model is simple, and one would think there isn’t a whole lot of gratification in something seemingly shallow, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I went to UCSB for music composition, and looked for a summer job my 3rd year at college. That was my first piano store job, and I was a maintenance person of sorts. Clean floors, clean pianos, help with odds and ends. It was about 5000 square feet with a music school in the back. The owner of that business (Michael Farley of Michael’s Music) hired me because he saw something in me. He created a position for me as I learned the business from him, and over the course of the next 3 years, I became pretty good at selling pianos. By chance, I had the opportunity to work for Keyboard Concepts in 1997 in sales, a year after I graduated, and it was a great choice.
I went to LA against my will (Santa Barbara was REALLY nice), but I recognized I needed to swim in a bigger pond if I was going to succeed. Overall, LA has become my home and I have come to really love living here. Keyboard Concepts was a shock to the system, and I had to up my game dramatically right at the start to compete with the seasoned pros there. The first couple of months were a challenge, but the longer I got steeped in the culture of LA, the more I identified with it and connected with my customers and the professionals I worked with.
The lesson I learned early on from my new mentors, Dennis Hagerty & Jeff Falgien (owners of Keyboard Concepts): learn a little bit about everything. Go get sold on something. Go out and learn the town, drink wine, attend concerts, experience the town. That experience will not only enrich your life, it will give you the ability to talk to anybody. That was the best advice I think I have ever received.
When I started with Keyboard Concepts, there was one location. We had a growth spurt in the early 2000’s, and we have been going strong ever since. Currently with four locations around So Cal, my home base is the Santa Monica location. I have been at that location since 2003 since we first opened, and it was my first real management role in the company. It has been an honor seeing this store build roots in the community and be a hub for everything pianos.
Recently I became part owner, replacing Jeff Falgien who retired to a different state. This was an honor to be considered for the position, and being afforded the opportunity to buy into the company to claim a seat at the table. Working with Dennis Hagerty, together we are breathing some new life into the company to take it to the next level of evolving retail business and lifestyle.
Our main brand is Yamaha, which doesn’t really need much of an introduction in the world of pianos. they have been building pianos since the end of the 19th century, It’s relatively exclusive and is not available to many piano dealers, but it is the one brand that will guarantee your store will not fail due to lack of interesting products, They run the gamut of nice affordable beginner instruments to the most expensive high-end things money can buy.
We represent other new brands such as Bosendorfer, Knabe, and Schimmel. Additionally, we keep a very healthy stable of used pianos that range from entry level to top-shelf performance instruments. Dennis has cultivated an incredible warehouse that functions as a rebuilding and servicing center. Used pianos come in looking like a mess, and they leave glowing like new instruments. It’s really an incredible facet of this company that fuels a big part of our success.
All in all, with excellent customer service, the best piano selection in LA, and the choicest new pianos on offer, we’re a happy company helping happy customers realize fun dreams.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I am a jazz fanatic. I play it, listen to it, and practice it 24/7. I would definitely take my friend to a jazz jam. A jam session is where the instruments are opened up for others to play, and I would sit in on piano of course. It is a wonderful sink or swim moment, and the results can be glorious or disastrous, but always entertaining.
LA is rife with great neighborhoods to hang out in for drinks, food, and people watching. Favorites right now are Manhattan Beach and Culver City, Would catch a few shows at local jazz hangs like Sam First Bar, Vibrato, etc. There is a wonderful Italian restaurant named Il Forno, near another fantastic Italian restaurant called Vito, near a great mediteranean restaurant called Crimson, near a great breakfast/lunch spot called society kitchen, all on Ocean Park blvd near Clover Park. Would probably go there a few times.
There is a lot to explore in this quasi post-pandemic landscape, new things to discover.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I give my shoutout to all the music educators out there that are inspiring musicians of all ages and genres. Teaching is such an incredible and important component to the immortality of music, and in my business the more inspired people are to make music, the better the music industry is as a whole. I particularly respect the teachers in my community that found a way to thrive during the pandemic and keep their practices running in a different way. Behind every successful person, there is at least one teacher that was an inspiration and contributor.