On the up · 4 December 2015

Family business series: Brother and sister team sees Forsyth hit the right notes

Forsyth Music Shop,  Manchester
After 150 years, it remains to be seen whether the business will pass on to the next generation
We’ve come to the end of our week-long family business series, taking in companies spanning the hospitality, arts and crafts, fashion and food sectors. Rounding things off is a fantastic business from the world of music.

Figures released by American Express in the run up to Small Business Saturday, now in its third year and expected to see millions of pounds spend at independent retailers, show that just under three quarters of family-hiring entrepreneursthink working withloved ones is good for business. The main reasons cited include relatives being more committed to the success of the company, the best qualified and most knowledgeable people to employ.

As a fifth generation family business, Forsyth has been in the same family for over 150 years and is now run by brother and sister duo, Emma and Simon Loat having been handed down from their parents.

In 1857, the Forsyth brothers settled in Manchester to help Charles Hall? set up the Hall? orchestra having learned their trade with their father the factory manager for Messrs Broadwood in Golden Square. After initially specialising only in pianos, Forsyth soon diversified into supplying sheet music and all other instruments. Some 150 years later, itis still run by the same family the 4th and 5th generations.

Simon said: We encourage people to shop here as an independent business and pride ourselves on giving impartial advice. We support lots of other local businesses (piano tuners and technicians, restoration and advertisement services to name a few) and we employ 40 staff in-house plus a number of freelancers. We feel a responsibility for the area and everyone who works in our shop is a musician whether they are in bands, orchestras or music students.

Both Simon and Emma have grown up in a musical environment and the Forsyth shop means so much to Emma, she even held her wedding reception on the shop floor, one Saturday afternoon, while the store was open.

Emma and Simon’s mother, Anthea said: Were a solid unit because as were a family as were always supporting each other because we ultimately all have the same goal. In the centre of Manchester were regarded as a bit of a landmark particularly for musical Mancunians. Now that were online, were also going out to a wider audience so people know it’s worth a trip to Manchester to see what weve got!?

(1) How has the business changed over the years?

We have been in these premises for over 130 years and have evolved over time. The core of the business is the same we sell musical instruments, specialising in acoustic pianos and sell sheet music and recordings. Initially we also had a significant part of the business in artist and venue management. We managed the Hall? orchestra from these premises for the first 70 years as well as a large roster of other performers. Up until the 1980s we had around 20 teaching and rehearsal rooms in addition to the shop premises unfortunately we had to give these up when they demolished the adjacent building.

Obviously technology has changed the way we do business too with the advent of digital accounting, the internet and EPOS systems to help with stock control. Online shopping has brought more competition at the lower end of the market, but has also allowed us to reach out beyond the North West to sell nationally and internationally. For higher value items such as pianos, hand made guitars and folk instruments we are a destination shop that people will travel to visit once they find us on the web.

The family has always been core to the day to day running of the business and the intrinsic values of passion, independence, integrity and the desire to do the best for our customers has always been there.

(2) What is enjoyable about running a business with your family?

Getting to see your extended family regularly is actually quite a perk it makes the family a lot closer overall. For my husband and I it means we are able to be flexible and accommodate each others work and home/family commitments in a much more understanding way.

(3) What unique advantages are there that other businesses, which arent family run, don’t have?

When it’sfamily you can be open and frank about things, or indeed have a laugh about things together. When times are tough you know you can rely on each other to put in the extra effort and hours. With family you know it’s not just a “job”. Customers really appreciate the extra effort we make to be welcoming and helpful and the family feel extends to the way all our staff interact with the customers. Everyone is very proud of the rich heritage of the business and try to go that extra mile to help the customer passion, integrity independence and the desire to do the best for our customer is at the heart of everything we do.

(4) Are there any draw backs?

As with any family there will be times when tensions get high, but I think the advantages out weigh the disadvantages.



Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.

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