Canadian Music Trade - August-September 22 - Page 17

By Michael Raine

Supplier Spotlight

In century-old manufacturer of

May 2021 , it was announced that for the first time , ownership of JJ Babbitt , a
high-end clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces , would not be in the hands of its founding family . Thankfully , the person taking the reins , Steve Rorie , had spent his life around band instruments , knew the company and family well , and he was determined to honour and build upon its admirable history .
Prior to joining JJ Babbitt as its president in 2019 , Rorie had spent 28 years with The Selmer Company , where his father also worked for nearly four decades . Over those many years at Selmer , he worked almost every job , going from the factory floor to management . Leaving Selmer in 2002 , he also spent time working for Powell / Sonare ’ Flutes , Blessing , B & S USA , and Buffet Crampon . And so , it makes sense that his friend , the then-president of JJ Babbitt , would identify him as an ideal successor .
“ My agreeing to join JJ Babbitt actually goes back several years prior to 2019 . My very close friend , Rocky Giglio , who had been the president of JJ Babbitt , asked me if I would consider taking over for him upon his retirement at some future date . I told him I would be open to the discussion . He chose to remain with JJB until their 100-year anniversary celebration in July of 2019 , after which he informed Bill Reglein , the owner [ and nephew of company founder Jessie James Babbitt ], of his intent to retire at the end of 2019 ,” explains Rorie to Canadian Music Trade . “ He recommended me to Bill ; Bill and I spoke and reached an agreement pretty quickly . A part of that agreement was he would give me first option to acquire the company should he choose to sell . A month after we reached that agreement , Bill had a stroke and did not survive . A few months later , Bill ’ s wife Diana followed through on his commitment and offered to sell the company to my wife and I . The company has held a strong position in the industry and has been very well managed during its entire 100-year history , so the opportunity to own it and carry it forward into its second hundred years was a dream come true .”
Over three generations , the Babbitt / Reglein family built JJ Babbitt into one

JJ Babbitt

of the most popular makers of woodwind mouthpieces , with brands that include Meyer , Otto Link , Premiere by Hite , and more . Rorie says the mission now is to honour and build upon that legacy .
“ Rocky and Bill Reglein built such a fantastic team of talented and dedicated people who all agreed to stay with us after the ownership change . Jim Green , Linda Nielsen , Tracy Longfellow , Dominic Massaro , and others have made the transition easy and nearly seamless ,” Rorie says . “ I am committed to maintaining the important elements of our process history that we are famous for and carefully and strategically introduce technological advancements that improve consistency , playability , and performance . Adding Chris French and Mike Smith to our team has helped advance our efforts much more quickly than even I anticipated .”
Because the company was so well managed and established in the market , Rorie says the internal challenges since taking over have been minimal ( aside from COVID , of course ). As such , he says , “ We are focused on debt reduction and eventual elimination and so that forces us to be a bit more patient with our technology plans . The good thing is that nothing is ‘ broken ’ or requires immediate action , so we can afford to be patient and strategic with those plans . Our VP of finance , Linda Nielsen , and I are financial conservatives so we are very much on the same page when it comes to managing our resources . The rewards are nearly endless as artists , educators , retailers , wholesalers , and others have been so supportive as we have worked to reengage with the marketplace in a much more present way .”
One market that the Elkhart , IN-based company is particularly focused on engaging is Canada , and they ’ re currently looking for the right distribution partners .
“ In terms of our goals regarding growth among Canadian retailers , we typically sell to and through distributors . When you manage a factory with dozens of workers and have to make material commitments months in advance , we find it too difficult to sell small quantities to hundreds of dealers without being able to plan and anticipate those needs ,” Rorie explains . “ Distributors help us with larger orders scheduled months
in advance . That is an amazing advantage when trying to schedule a factory . But we are committed to supporting dealers with information , product support , and general needs to the greatest extent possible . We believe there is a lot to be gained in Canada in many ways and are focused on doing so .”
It ’ s no secret that while much of the MI industry did well during the pandemic , the band instrument market , specifically , was hurt badly by school and concert shutdowns . Nonetheless , JJ Babbitt weathered the storm better than many . With a 20 % reduction in 2020 , they were able to recover more than half that deficit in 2021 , Rorie says . This year , he reports , the company is on pace for its best year ever .
Now , with a brighter future ahead , Rorie says the goal is to pursue markets where they have room for growth , including Canada , and “ further enhance our newly-introduced Connoisseur Series mouthpiece line and build on its success ; introduce new products in segments where we have opportunities , such as pro clarinets ; and continue to invest in process and facility enhancements that improve product as well as working conditions for our valuable teammates .”
Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Music Trade .