Interview: Mike Ciprari, SJC Drums
A industry leading brand SJC Custom Drums was not always had the weight that it has today. This February IH&CO was able to sit down with Co-Founder, Mike Ciprari. We talked about drums, bands, and the business that tested and tried a brotherhood but now stands as a brand bigger than the actual building itself SJC calls home. Mike and brother Scott had a deep love for drums since their first drum set at age 9 from the Sears catalog. The humble beginnings of two kids beating to the beat of their own drums, would come to a brand of disruption in a dominated market.
As the Ciprari brothers grew up, Scott focused on the craft and the quality of their drums while Mike was infatuated with the customization and how the drums look, felt, and, most importantly, how drummers felt sitting behind them. These guys would quietly keep building drums for local bands and artist close to their home town. Now their structure was less than desirable at the time; Mike and Scott operating as Sole Proprietor, they were lucky enough to have a grandmother with nothing better to do with her basement than let these boys build drums. For the Ciprari brothers, this was one of many hurdles they would face as the drum business grew. After some early low level success with local bands, Mike dared to go out on a limb and try to capture his brother, Scotts then favorite band, The Aquabats, as a customer. This was what would be realized later to be the fulcrum of success; SJC Drums was now dealing with an onslaught of new customers and new opportunities. In 2006 Panic! At The Disco performed at the MTV's Video Music Awards (VMA) and another wave of orders and demand shadowed the growing brand. SJC Drums, like many other entrepreneurs, have strengths and weaknesses. Scott and Mike had the product quality that was second to none. The attentiveness to bands and the ability to be under the radar while gaining market share,left SJC Drums in a growth pattern. However, lack of management, knowledge of inventory, and an drowning internal culture left SJC Drums on the ropes. Shortly after their early success, Mike and Scott were left with a strain on their own abilities and looking for a quick solution. Mike found friends of his that were willing to put in the work to watch SJC grow, however this left an internal culture of social circles excluding to Scott. Unknowingly, SJC created a company of friends. Seemingly a good thing, over the years Scott felt the wedge splitting the brotherhood and culture that was once a humble underdog story in a national growing industry. As the social strains grew so did the lack of controls; inventory was hardly tracked properly, if at all, and cash flows was always a secondary concern. As years passed, the strain continued to cut deeper, until SJC swallowed their pride and became vulnerable to the entire country.After Mike became the sole owner and SJC became more haunted by their deepening struggles, Mike and Operations Manager, Chris Nikopoulos, decided to be vulnerable to the entire country.
Marcus Lemonis, or better known as The Profit on MSNBC. This decision did not come easy and was originally met with reservations. However, Mike followed his gut intuition and reached out. Mike and Chris was afraid of the vulnerability and what the reaction would be in the industry and how it would affect their business. Through the process of Mike's new partner, Marcus; SJC Drums was able to repair the internal infectious culture and streamline the internal management. Marcus Lemonis was not a magician; he balanced out the company, which is what most businesses, entrepreneurs, and start-ups need. Scott and Mike created a great product, built a company, and sold units. By most measures, externally they were considered successful.
Lemonis complemented Ciprari and they were able to execute their given areas with excellence. With Lemonis supporting and aligning the internal side, Mike was able to execute their marketing and service customers as the self-proclaimed renegades of drums. Today Mike is dominating the drum industry still as the direct to consumer drum manufacturer and harnessing relationships with their artists. Through the story of SJC Custom Drums there are lessons learned that any entrepreneur or inventor can take away. SJC is a perfect example of no matter how great a product is without the other supporting areas of business. Likewise the contrary is also true no matter how great your marketing and business development team is, a poorly made product will never be a long-term sustainable business. Also like Ciprari faced, many growing businesses recruit family and friends to employ and bring in to help grow their new brand. However, like Mike found out, this creates a mixture of social and business setting where advantages can be taken and abuse and ensues. More concerning, many times new companies end up with family or friends fulfilling positions they are either less than qualified for or being over compensated - be wary.