Import-export makes sweet music

A travelling musician’s idea has grown steadily into a solid business, one container at a time.

Hot Apple Distribution was born six years ago, when musician Aaron Pye invested in his first container of cases for musical instruments.

The company has since gone from strength to strength, now supplying 250 stores and trade customers with instrument cases and bags, and even instruments themselves. It has suppliers in Japan, France, Germany, Taiwan, Turkey and the US.

At the Business Excellence Forum and Awards in Melbourne, an annual forum that unites more than 2000 business leaders and entrepreneurs across five countries, Hot Apple Distribution won the title of Best Import/Export Company.

“This win endorses the fact that we are not just a distribution company, but also experienced musicians”, says Pye. “This helps us identify world-class brands, and our artist roster covers players of a range of musical instruments.

“As musicians ourselves, we know what our customers are looking for, giving us a service edge that we hope wets us apart.

Still on the road

Pye has been a working musician for many years, and continues to be one, travelling regularly and working with other artists. He says the idea behind Hot Apple evolved over a long period of time as he came to discover quality accessories that were not available in Australia.

While touring at home, fellow musicians would ask him about his instrument cases, and the idea of importing high-quality international products to sell to Australian wholesalers was born.

“As musicians ourselves, we know what our customers are looking for, giving us a service edge that we hope sets us apart.”

While there is not a huge amount of money to be earned by a touring musician, Pye had managed to “eschew the excesses of the rock’n’roll lifestyle” and put aside some money, enabling him to import that first containerload without first needing to go to the bank or seek investment.

“I used the money I raised from the sales of the first shipment to buy a second container’s worth of products, and built the business container by container while continuing to play and tour to keep my income ticking over”, says Pye.

Lot of contacts

His years of touring helped him build up a lot of contacts in the music industry, and he found major suppliers at trade shows. He now visits a few of the big international exhibitions each year, such as Musicmesse in Frankfurt.

He says one of the advantages of buying from suppliers at such events – alongside the quality of their products – is their experience in the import-export sphere. He has combined their knowledge with that of the shipping companies he uses to bring the goods into Australia without needing to pay a third party to obtain the relevant licences and complete the necessary paperwork.

“I am fortunate that the products I’m importing are fairly straightforward, and I’ve avoided those that involve more complex standards and regulations.”

For storage, Pye started out with a single container in the yard of a distribution company, and has expanded into more of its space as Hot Apple has grown. This has enabled him to stay on top of the business himself. He does employ someone now to look after the office and the bookkeeping, reflecting how the business has grown, “but I’m still able to run the business while continuing to play and tour – and the band plays on, as the saying goes.”

Tim Ladhams, Editor, Inside Small Business


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