About Piano Prices
The subject of piano pricing is difficult, complicated, and controversial. One of the major problems is that piano dealers tend to prefer that list prices be as high as possible so they can still make a profit while appearing to give very generous discounts. Honesty about pricing is resisted.
But even knowing what is “honest” is a slippery business because many factors can have a dramatic effect on piano pricing. For one thing, different dealerships can pay very different wholesale prices for the same merchandise, depending on:
- the size of the dealership and how many pianos it agrees to purchase at one time or over a period of time
- whether the dealer pays cash or finances the purchase
- the degree to which the dealer buys manufacturer overstocks at bargain prices
- any special terms the dealership negotiates with the manufacturer or distributor
- the cost of freight to the dealer’s location.
In addition to these variations at the wholesale level, retail conditions also vary from dealer to dealer or from one geographic area to another, including:
- the general cost of doing business in the dealer’s area
- the level of pre- and post-sale service the dealer provides
- the level of professionalism of the sales staff and the degree to which they are trained and compensated
- the ease of local comparison shopping by the consumer for a particular type of piano or at a particular price level.
Besides the variations between dealerships, the circumstances of each sale at any particular dealership can vary tremendously due to such things as:
- how long a particular piano has been sitting around unsold, racking up finance charges for the dealer
- the dealer’s financial condition and need for cash at the moment
- competing sales events going on at other dealerships in the area
- whether or not the customer is trading in a used piano.
As difficult as it might be to come up with accurate price information, confusion and ignorance about pricing for such a high-ticket item is intolerable to the consumer, and can cause decision-making paralysis. I strongly believe that a reasonable amount of price information actually greases the wheels of commerce by giving the customer the peace of mind that allows him or her to make a purchase. In this guide I’ve tried to give a level of information about price that reasonably respects the interests of both buyer and seller, given the range of prices that can exist for any particular model.
Prices include a bench except where noted. (Even where a price doesn’t include a bench, the dealer will almost always provide one and quote a price that includes it.) Most dealers will also include delivery and one or two tunings in the home, but these are optional and a matter of agreement between you and the dealer. Prices do not include sales tax.
In this guide, two prices are given for each model: Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) and Suggested Maximum Price (SMP).
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
The MSRP is a price provided by the manufacturer or distributor and designed as a starting point from which dealers are expected to discount. I include it here for reference purposes — only rarely does a customer pay this price. The MSRP is usually figured as a multiple of the wholesale price, but the specific multiple used differs from company to company. For that reason, it’s fruitless to compare prices of different brands by comparing discounts from the MSRP. To see why, consider the following scenario:
Manufacturer A sells brand A through its dealer A. The wholesale price to the dealer is $1,000, but for the purpose of setting the MSRP, the manufacturer doubles the wholesale price and sets the MSRP at $2,000. Dealer A offers a 25 percent discount off the MSRP, for a “street price” of $1,500.
Manufacturer B sells brand B through its dealer B. The wholesale price to the dealer is also $1,000, but manufacturer B triples the wholesale price and sets the MSRP at $3,000. Dealer B offers a generous 50 percent discount, for a street price of, again, $1,500.
Although the street price is the same for both pianos, a customer shopping at both stores and knowing nothing about the wholesale price or how the MSRPs are computed, is likely to come away with the impression that brand B, with a discount of 50 percent off $3,000, is a more “valuable” piano and a better deal than brand A, with a discount of 25 percent off $2,000. Other factors aside, which dealer do you think will get the sale? It’s important to note that there is nothing about brand B that makes it deserving of a higher MSRP than brand A — how to compute the MSRP is essentially a marketing decision on the part of the manufacturer.
Because of the deceptive manner in which MSRPs are so often used, some manufacturers no longer provide them. In those cases, I’ve left the MSRP column blank.
Suggested Maximum Price (SMP)
The Suggested Maximum Price (SMP) is a price I’ve created, based on a profit margin that I’ve uniformly applied to published wholesale prices. (Where the published wholesale price is unavailable, or is believed to be bogus, as is sometimes the case, I’ve made a reasonable attempt to estimate the SMP from other sources.) Because in the SMP, unlike in the MSRP, the same profit margin is applied to all brands, the SMP can be used as a “benchmark” price for the purpose of comparing brands and offers. The specific profit margin I’ve chosen for the SMP is one that dealers often try — but rarely manage — to attain. Also included in the SMP, in most cases, are allowances for duty (where applicable), freight charges, and a minimal amount of make-ready by the dealer. Although the SMP is my creation, it’s a reasonable estimate of the maximum price you should realistically expect to pay. However, most sales actually take place at a modest discount to the SMP. How good a deal you can negotiate will vary, depending on the many factors listed earlier.
There is no single “fair” or “right” price that can be applied to every purchase. The only fair price is that which the buyer and seller agree on. It’s understandable that you would like to pay as little as possible, but remember that piano shopping is not just about chasing the lowest price. Be sure you are getting the instrument that best suits your needs and preferences, and that the dealer is committed to providing the appropriate level of pre- and post-sale service.
For more information about shopping for a new piano and how to save money, please see pages 60–75 in The Piano Book, Fourth Edition.