A new string to Dr Twang's bow

Dr Hyram Ballard is making ''house calls'' in the musical instrument trade. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
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 his own.

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'' existence.

''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 it.''

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 smaller towns.

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 almost worthless.

''My job is to take those that are imperfect and make them perfect and if they're impossible to make perfect, send them back.''

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 said.

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 McClay said.

Mr Ballard said the high New Zealand dollar, more accessible, faster internet

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.''


Add a Comment