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We are often asked about trade-ins, do we take instruments back in part exchange when you move up in size?

The short answer is yes, but our old system was simply too generous, we ended up losing money on it every time.  So now the rule of thumb is that we will allow back 50% of what you paid when you move up to the next size.  We’ll still lose on that but at least it’s an easy one to remember.  If you bought from us when we were still offering 70% as long as you also moved up in quality, then of course we will honour that.

If you want to trade in something that didn’t come from us then we will certainly consider it, but we’ll only give you what we think we can actually sell it for.

We find that people sometimes think we’re being less than generous.  There are specialist shops out there who will offer the full price back when you move on to a better violin.  Well, just stop and think about that for a moment and you will see why it can never be a real offer.  A shop is a business.  Let’s take a hypothetical example.

Stringexperts violins (I am assuming there is no such shop – if there is and they read this, please let us know immediately!) is a renowned specialist shop with nice premises, employees and therefore plenty of overheads.  Mr. Stringexpert the violin seller has sourced his own range of violins, at some cost and after a lot of effort, from China, which he sells to beginners and improvers, and he also visits auctions where he buys antique violins in need of setting up (at least) and possibly also repair.  He expects to make a profit that covers his time, his expenses, and the fact that he has spent many years working up his business to reach this point.  None of this is saying anything negative about him at all, he has worked for his success and he deserves it.  He enjoys his work, but after all, he has his bills to pay, he isn’t running a charity.

Mr. Stringexpert buys in a few boxes of violins from China, he has to pay for those upfront and it will be at least ten weeks before he has any hope of any return on his investment.  When they arrive, he works on them, and then he has them up for sale.  The stringstarter outfit sells at £100.  The stringimprover outfit sells at £200.  The stringorchestra outfit sells at £400.  Those are his three basic outfits, and beyond that he encourages players to move on to try one of the antique violins he has sourced and set up.

Mrs. Willingparent comes in to the shop with little Jenny, aged five, who has been borrowing a violin and is making good progress.  Mrs. Willingparent is sure that Jenny will persevere because she is that sort of child, so she asks about what happens when Jenny needs a bigger size.  Mr. Stringexpert assures her that if she buys a Stringstarter outfit now for £100, she can have that full £100 off the price of a Stringimprover in the next size up when it is needed.  So two years later, Jenny is ready for the next size up and she is taken back to the shop where her mother buys a Stringimprover outfit which only costs her £100 plus the old violin.

But hold on, Mr. Stringexpert could have sold that Stringimprover outfit for £200, actually he has sold it for £100 plus the value the used Stringstarter outfit.  What would you pay for a used Stringstarter outfit if you could get a new one for £100?  And there will certainly be something that needs to be done to the Stringstarter outfit.  The bow will almost certainly be low on hair and need replacing (they are totally uneconomic to rehair), one or more strings may well be worn out and need replacing too.  It may easily cost Mr. Stringexpert £20 or more to get that used outfit into a saleable condition and then perhaps he will sell it for £70.  And don’t forget that includes VAT which he cannot reclaim from Mrs. Willingparent.  Effectively, the value of that used violin to him is £40 – and he has given £100 for it.  Where does the other £60 come from?

Two more years down the line, Jenny moves on to a Stringorchestra outfit and this time Mr. Stringexpert gives £200 for the used violin (which he only sold first time for £100 plus a used violin).  If he sells this one, used, for £150, after replacing the bow and perhaps a string or two, the value to him is something like £100 after accounting for the VAT.  But he has given £200 for it.

Two more years, and Jenny is doing really well, now she’s onto a 3/4 and her mother decides that a nice antiqued violin would suit so she pays £1000 (£600 plus the used Stringorchestra outfit).  Mr Stringexpert sells the used Stringorchestra outfit for £320 (would you pay any more than that for it?) and after VAT and the costs to get it into saleable condition he actually gets £200.

Finally Jenny acquires a beautiful full size antique violin and she deserves it.  Her grandparents help towards the cost which is £5000 (but at least she has the £1000 from the used 3/4 which she can put towards it).  Actually this time Mr. Stringexpert doesn’t lose so badly because the 3/4 violin was used to start with (obviously, since it’s 80 years old).  He only has to restring the violin and pay the VAT.  So this time he gets £800 and he can sell it for £833.33 plus VAT (total £1000). It’s just that he has paid the VAT twice on the same instrument.

So far, Jenny’s family have paid a total of £5000, which was in fact equal to the cost of the final violin they bought, but for the past eight years (the time taken to grow from a 1/8 to a 4/4 – Jenny was a slow maturer) they have had violins.  If they had gone into the shop and bought the £5000 violin as new customers, they would still have paid £5000.  Effectively they have been hiring violins for nothing for the past eight years.  Meanwhile Mr. Stringexpert has sold them violins worth a total of £6700, but he has only actually received £5140 – 23% less than he would have received if he had sold all those violins at full price.

In fact, he’s effectively done even worse than that because (sorry if this upsets anyone) he could have bought those Chinese violins new from China and set them up for less than he gave for them when he took them back as trade-ins (and had he done that, he could have sold them as new).  And he could have gone to another auction and bought an equivalent quality 3/4 antiqued violin and set it up for a lot less than he gave for it when he took it back.  And he is, after all, in business to make a profit.

Where does the money come from?

This is not at all intended to imply that Mr. Stringexpert is doing anything wrong.  He has a loyal customer base and his customers wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else.  And that’s fine, as long as he has what they want.  He has been in business for years and he deserves his success.  It’s just that if Jenny turns out not to be quite the dedicated player than her mother thought she was, and she gives up when it gets difficult, and her mother tries to sell her used Stringorchestra outfit on ebay, suddenly her mother finds a number of very similar looking outfits that can be had new for about half the price she is expecting to get for her used one.  Or if Jenny gives up as a teenager and decides to sell her violin to fund something she wants (such as a car) she finds that no violin shop (including Stringexperts) will value her final violin at more than half of what she paid for it, and that’s the final sale price. Stringexperts will probably take it back for half of what she paid for it as a gesture of goodwill, but no other shop will want to. They know how much these things cost at auction.

I recall a 3/4 amati copy we had which was absolutely beautiful, a high grade trade violin. It would have sold easily for three or four hundred in a good violin shop. We took it to an auctioneer who valued it at £60. OK perhaps he wasn’t an expert ….

We are not saying don’t get tied in with trade-ins, all we are saying is, the cost has to be factored in somewhere.