Dr Hyram Ballard is making ''house calls'' in the musical instrument trade. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Dunedin musician and instrument salesman ''Dr Twang''
might have closed his shopfront, but now he has restrung his
business model, Shawn McAvinue reports.
Twenty years ago, a Dunedin musician with a post-doctoral
qualification in anthropology decided to go into business.
Dr Hyram Ballard - with the apt nickname Dr Twang - wasn't
happy with the city's musical instrument shops, so he opened
Early this year his shop, Twang Town, closed.
The ''good run'' was over.
Dr Ballard said several musical instrument shops came and
went over the years, under pressure from small sales volumes
and profit margins.
While his shop was open, three established musical instrument
stores in Dunedin had closed and two others tried to start
and survived briefly.
''It was getting to the point where there was less fat in the
system, where any other negative stimulus would have tipped
it over the edge and I would have been out of control of the
situation,'' Dr Ballard said.
''This way I could control the exit.''
Until then, his shop had survived through a ''frugal''
''Other people would have left because they weren't willing
to work so cheaply, but it's what I love doing.''
He never considered selling the store as a going concern.
''I don't think anybody in their right mind would have bought
In January, he closed the store doors and changed his
business model to Dr Twang, making ''house calls'' to the
client base he had built over 20 years.
He said the change had made the business more cost-effective
and allowed him more time to perform music.
He planned to erect ''pop-up shops'' at music festivals in
The business would buy fewer, more expensive instruments and
the larger profit margins would give him the time needed to
ensure every instrument sold was perfect.
''It could be a $300 guitar or a $3000 guitar, both could
have a small inattention to detail that would make them
''My job is to take those that are imperfect and make them
perfect and if they're impossible to make perfect, send them
With musical instrument stores closing, some children could
miss opportunities to be inspired, he said.
''During the school holidays, kids would walk by and they'd
have to come in just to look or just to smell. There's a
smell about wooden instruments.
''Maybe that's being too nostalgic but it's a beautiful thing
and we're losing it.''
New Zealand retailers were competing against overseas
websites whose customers could evade paying GST, Dr Ballard
Customs set a $60 duty limit on goods but he said he knew of
consumers bringing in musical instruments ''to the tune of
thousands of dollars'' who avoided paying GST.
The Government needed ''to level the playing field'' and set
the threshold at Customs to $0 so every item bought included
GST, he said.
A government review that concluded it was not cost-effective
for Customs to collect GST had been misguided.
An easy solution was for Customs to bill the import company
and not the individual.
''Overnight, the playing field will level and New Zealand
will become a lot more competitive.''
The change would stop the New Zealand economy losing money to
overseas companies and put millions of dollars in the public
purse, he said.
Dr Ballard, a former United States resident, said New
Zealanders should be thankful for the benefits available to
them because of taxes, such as GST.
''In New Zealand, we have a different social contract and it
requires prices to be higher.
''I think most people in New Zealand should just suck it up
and be really grateful they're paying a few bucks more on all
the stuff coming in GST-free and realise they can go to the
hospital for nothing.''
Minister of Revenue Todd McClay said a 2011 review revealed
it was not cost-effective to collect GST when the duty owing
was $60 or less.
Customs was reliant on the self-declaration that the importer
made on the goods, he said.
More expensive goods were avoiding GST because the onus was
on the importer to declare the true value of the goods.
Mr McLay said some high-value goods were not accurately
described and were undervalued to speed up border clearance
and evade duty.
''I am advised that Customs are keeping a close watch and
working with the freight industry to find a solution.''
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
was working on guidelines to assist countries in collecting
GST on online purchases.
New Zealand was ''heavily involved'' in the project, Mr
Mr Ballard said the high New Zealand dollar, more accessible,
and aggressive marketing by offshore online retailers was
making independent retail difficult.
''Those three things working in concert are going to kill us
and if we don't think about it New Zealand is going to become
a country of primary producers and service people - there
won't be anything but cafes and dairy farms.''