Since its founding in 2015, Novo Guitars has built a reputation in its home base of Nashville and beyond, with its instruments played by country legend Keith Urban and musicians who work with Beyoncé and David Byrne.
But when the pandemic brought its business to a standstill in March, owner Dennis Fano said the future suddenly looked uncertain.
“We weren’t sure how long we were going to be shut down for,” Fano, 49, recalls. “And then once we were able to resume production, we weren’t sure exactly what that was going to look like.”
Until that point, Novo Guitars had been on a run. It kicked off 2020 with a “nice increase” of orders, says general manager Matthew Timmons, 40. Its guitars — which cost between $2,600 to as much as $5,000 — are known for their vintage designs that harken to classic instruments of the 1960s and 1970s. Before the pandemic hit, the company was on track to craft about 400 guitars this year.
Like many other entrepreneurs and small businesses across the country, Novo Guitars quickly adapted to the new normal in the ongoing pandemic. New safety protocols, such as wearing masks in the workplace and keeping socially distant, are part of post-pandemic life, as well as figuring out how to retool as consumers shift their buying preferences to online sales.
Novo received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which provided income for its 16 employees while its workshop was shuttered. When a phased reopening began in May, the company had to orchestrate a new schedule since only half of its workers were allowed on site. The company split the team into two shifts — and didnt lay off any employees.
The pandemic also spurred Novo to speed up a pre-existing plan to sell more guitars directly to customers, rather than relying on dealers. Part of the desire to focus on direct sales came from concerns about lower traffic to dealer showrooms, which could impact Novos orders. While the workshop was shuttered, the company refocused on its website to boost its direct-sales efforts.
“The customers have really liked it because we’ve been in constant contact with them,” Timmons says.
Aside from cementing customer relationships, shifting to direct sales has delivered higher profits, he adds. “We’re cutting out the middleman, so to speak, and so we can sell less guitars and survive,” Timmons says.
Even though sales were slow to pick up, orders are rolling in again. Timmons expects the company to reach its pre-pandemic projection of manufacturing about 400 guitars this year. But its showroom remains closed because of the ongoing health concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There’s still some uncertainty, but fortunately, things have been going really well,” Fano says. “A lot of people are staying home and playing guitar and, uh, so sales have not lagged at all. If anything, they’ve, they’ve picked up a little bit.”