Erica Feidner insists that she's not "in sales"--never mind that she expects to move roughly $3.5 million worth of pianos in 2004. Feidner prefers to think of herself as a piano matchmaker. Add to her interesting mindset the fact that she takes clients by referral only. And add the fact that she recently filed for a patent to further establish herself as a music expert. And finally, add to that the amazing press that she's received as a result of her unusual approach to selling pianos. What you end up with is a salesperson who transcends the label. Having been branded an expert, Feidner finds it's much easier to close deals.
Stroll through Steinway's lavish show room with Feidner, and you're apt to feel like you're spending time with a psychologist. The former concert pianist, who also has an M.B.A., tries to learn as much as she can about you before picking out a piano to show you. If you think you're tone-deaf, she teaches you to hear the differences between each instrument. If you can't decide, she gives you some alone time. If the right piano isn't available, she encourages you to wait to buy.
This unique approach led, in 2001, to The New Yorker publishing a profile of Feidner, describing her uncanny ability to match people with pianos. The article also delves into her personal life, from her bohemian upbringing in a house full of pianos to her stint as Miss Vermont in 1985 to her struggle with player's block, which resulted in a falling-out with her father.
After the article came out, Feidner realized that her customers were at least as interested in her as they were in Steinway. Typical of her clientele today is Erica Huang, a landscape painter from Huntington Beach, Calif., who sought out Feidner after reading the article. "There was something about her story and the courage she showed as a person," Huang says. "In my own life, there are parallels." Less than an hour after stepping into Steinway this past March, Huang put a deposit on a $43,100 Steinway model M that, according to Feidner, has an "inner fire," just like Huang.
In addition to drawing new business, the article is a killer calling card. Feidner e-mails it to top prospects like Andrew Mitchell, an accountant from Upper Montclair, N.J., who found it in his in box after he called Steinway to express an interest in trading in his old Boston model for something better suited to his 16-year-old son's musical talents. A few weeks and many phone calls, tune-ups, and test runs later, Mitchell plunked down $51,900 for a slightly used Steinway model B with a black satin finish. "After going through that process, I have a very good appreciation for Erica's discrete skill," he says.
To enhance her already impressive credentials, Feidner, a perky 39-year-old, is now attempting to patent her method of teaching people to read music in one lesson. She figures that protected intellectual property will, like a magazine article, separate her from the pack. Feidner first filed the application back in April 2002, with the help of attorney Charles Miller, whom she met, naturally, when she sold him a Steinway grand. She spent about 20 hours total teaching the lesson to Miller's assistant, revising the method, and approving drawings. The whole process cost about $5,000. Feidner also has plans to establish herself on the corporate speaker circuit. She will position her one-lesson music instruction as a team-building exercise. When the corporate types she trains decide they want a piano, they'll naturally come to her.
Besides making sales easier, there are other perks to the woman at the center of the burgeoning Erica Feidner brand. Customers sincerely appreciate her. Recently, for example, Feidner arrived home to find a lovely fruit basket on her doorstep. It was a thank-you from Mitchell. His son's piano had just arrived.