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Updating a Classic

A guitar innovation helped this entrepreneur take the music world by storm.

Garrison Guitars
Description: Manufacturer of acoustic guitars using a patented bracing system
Founder: Chris Griffiths, 32
Location: St. John's, Newfoundland
Projected 2005 Sales: Over $7 million

Brace Yourself: A Garrison acoustic guitar looks like a regular guitar on the outside, but the inside is a modern marvel. Instead of wood braces, a one-piece injection-molded fiberglass structure called the Active Bracing System is encased in the guitar body. It's a high-tech leap for an instrument that's been around for hundreds of years. Garrison is on track to build 25,000 guitars this year, selling to more than 450 dealers in North America and to distributors in 35 other countries.

The Long and Winding Road: Griffiths likes to mention that it took six minutes to come up with the bracing concept--and six years to build it. He was no stranger to running a business, having started Griffiths Guitar Works, a small custom guitar-building shop and later a retail store, in 1993, when he was only 19. "All the lessons and all the troubles and all the issues were extremely similar between both companies, just on a different scale," he says. With no factory and only five prototypes in hand, Griffiths went to the National Association of Music Merchants trade show--the industry's largest--in 2000 and came away with prospective orders for over 46,000 guitars per year. By February 2001, Griffiths had secured $4 million in funding. "We had no employees, no sandpaper, no wood, and we started to build a company," he says. By September 2001, Garrison was shipping its first batch of guitars.

Canada Calling: From one of North America's oldest cities come the newest innovations in acoustic guitars. As Griffiths says, St. John's is "way out there. It's a big deal to have a guitar factory in this town. We've shown that you can be innovative in Newfoundland and still be a global company." The 37 employees at the 20,000-square-foot factory are all locals. "Without good people, it's just a building, a bunch of machines and a pile of wood," says Griffiths. That focus on the community has paid dividends in terms of loyalty and low employee turnover.

Making Beautiful Music: "I've transitioned from being a fan of the guitar and a guitar builder to being a guitar CEO," Griffiths says. But he still finds time to play the instrument he's loved since he was 12 years old. With Garrison Guitars looking to double in size over the next year and a half, Griffiths has definitely found his groove.

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