How did you get into guitar?
“My dad played classical and had a couple of nylon string guitars in the house while I was growing up; my personal interest mostly came from the music my family enjoyed. I grew up hearing Pink Floyd, Zappa, Steely Dan, Al Di Meola and to some extent Clapton, Hendrix and Satriani. A family friend fuelled this further when I was shown his guitars. I remember a black SG and a red Strat and thinking they were incredibly cool, they interested me way more than the run of the mill kids’ hobbies.”
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“For my sixth birthday I got a black Squier Strat, with the daunting task of figuring out what on earth to do with it. I only began to get to grips with it in my teens where I began to find music tastes of my own and I found guitar to be a really helpful tool for expression. Around this time, I began feeling incredibly interested in what effect changing components can have, why guitars have certain body woods, hardware or pickup specs and what tone that results in. It’s been a slippery slope ever since!”
What stands out about your business model?
“I think the quality of the products offered and the unique nature of many of the brands I represent plays a big part in what I do and that’s proved to speak for itself, which is fantastic. My ethos from the very beginning has been to only stock and represent products that I’d personally want to own and that’s been helpful in getting noticed and staying afloat in a sea of well-established retailers.
“I come from a customer service background prior to establishing the Home of Tone, so I think all of that came together when I began finding my feet with the level of service I wanted to provide. I really believe those factors are some of the most important parts of my business model. They’re certainly the aspects I get the most feedback about and hopefully I can improve on them as the business continues to grow.”
When did you realise you had a viable business?
“It’s taken time to experiment with products and the business approach in general, but the most helpful thing early on for me was taking the leap of faith (despite perhaps not being quite ready yet!) and exhibiting at The Guitar Show in Birmingham. Despite funds being low and stock being limited, I still worked hard at attending those shows early on as it gave me a chance to get a real feel for what worked, what didn’t work and to gauge the public reaction to the branding and products offered. I’m an introvert, so doing these shows really forced me out of my comfort zone for the good of my business and I’m glad that I’ve pushed myself in that regard.
“One range I’ve offered since first starting is a selection of pre-wired replacement harnesses and developing those over the years has really proved to be worth all the efforts as they remain a major part of my business and day-to-day work. Over the past couple of years, I’ve focussed more on the parts and accessories side of the industry and that’s been the most viable for me and given me hope that the business is sustainable going forward. It’s easy for parts and accessories to be overlooked, especially when shiny, new guitars take centre stage, but focussing on them instead has provided me with a viable business which I’m incredibly thankful for.”
Did you have any external investment starting out?
“I decided not to seek investment when starting. I still worked full time early on and I just spent whatever I had left after the household bills went out each month on stock, supplies or equipment. Luckily, suppliers and boutique makers believed in my approach so I was able to obtain some really cool stock as and when I could. I also sold some of my own gear to fund items or batches of stock. Granted, sometimes those were painful sacrifices, but I wouldn’t expect success for nothing.
“I’m proud to say that I continued like that for some time. I won’t sugar coat it and say my life transformed overnight because it didn’t! It’s been gradual growth, a lot of late nights and taking little steps forward as often as I could afford to do so. The downside was any setbacks hit incredibly hard, but I set myself the goal of making this work by the time our son started school and, after a lot of efforts, managed to achieve that.”
When did you feel like you’d nailed your branding?
“Setting up a business is overwhelming for so many reasons but getting the branding right from the get-go carries a lot of pressure, so it was an important thing to get right. About a year or so into business, I wanted to raise some money for Mind Charity and decided to do so via a limited-edition t-shirt release. I approached Kevin Wilson, an illustrator who I’m a huge fan of, to work on a design. Kevin created a logo that I’ve stuck with ever since – my UFO inspired logo – which has had such a great response and is memorable too. I’ve since worked with some amazing illustrators and designers on variations of this logo and idea concept which has been great fun!”
How do you continue to develop in an ever-changing market?
“I think platforms like Instagram and YouTube give you a chance to keep your ear to the ground on any shifting trends, so I’ve subconsciously found that to be an incredibly useful tool. Truthfully, I just go with what inspires me, whether that’s brands, products or players, as well as factors from outside the guitar industry and how they approach their business. I’m lucky to already work with so many great forward-thinking brands that it keeps me moving forward, but at the end of the day, I’m a long-term guitar obsessive and love the new gear as much as anyone so the passion drives the development.”
What’s your proudest moment as a business owner?
“Some of my favourite moments since starting are some of the events I’ve organised. These have been non-profit events raising awareness and money for charity and the response continues to blow me away. There have been gigs and ‘coffee morning’ get-togethers where luthiers come along and share their work in a more relaxed atmosphere; it’s been incredibly humbling to see the turnout and response. Having said that, being able to support my family via a business I’ve established from the ground up is the proudest of all. Seeing some of my products featured in this mag has been humbling too. I’d buy the magazines every month growing up, so seeing my name on a page brings it full circle!”
What are the biggest opportunities for the guitar industry in 2021?
“I hope those who picked up an instrument for the first time through 2020 continue with the passion we all have for our beloved instrument. Perhaps when gigging can return it will spark more interest in open mic nights and local bands, or at least further the respect for performers. It’s been incredible to see so many people tackling home builds and learning more about the inner workings of the guitar. That’s such an awesome opportunity for the ‘parts’ side of the industry, especially with the ever-growing popularity of modding more affordable, lower budget instruments. It’s safe to say that the modding and boutique builder community has influenced the bigger name brands. The DIY world is very healthy indeed and the variety of parts available should certainly reflect that in the coming year.”
What’s next for James’ Home Of Tone?
“I’m always looking to improve the brand selection and stock levels, so that’s continually at the forefront of my growth. One by-product of establishing the Home of Tone as a place for cool gear is that it’s important for me to keep that going and help promote more brands making that cool gear! Perhaps even some new Home of Tone branded gear too…”
For more visit homeoftone.co.uk.