D’Addario & Company Inc.: Keeping It Real

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What do internationally known performers 3 Doors Down, Journey and Dave Matthews all have in common? Like a lot of artists around the world, they choose strings made by D’Addario & Company Inc. for their instruments. Headed by current CEO James D’Addario, the company’s rise to its position as the world’s largest manufacturer of musical strings is a classic American Dream come true.
 
D’Addario can trace his family history back to a small town in Italy called Salle, where local church records show a baptismal form filled out by a Donato D’Addario in 1680. His occupation was listed as cordaro, Italian for “string maker.”
 
The string makers in that time manufactured strings for violin family instruments, harps and lutes in a difficult and time-intensive process. Using sheep and hog intestines to create fine strings, production involved many phases and would take a week or more to complete.
 
Fast-forward to 1905, when the town of Salle suffered a massive earthquake. Brothers Rocco and Carmine D’Addario decided to immigrate to America and start their lives over. They immigrated to Astoria – a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens – and brought with them the family’s knowledge and dedication to the string-making craft.
 
Rocco would eventually immigrate back to Italy, but Carmine (or Charles as he became known) brought in additional family to grow a business obsessed with producing the highest- quality strings for violinmakers and musicians. Over the course of the century, the process would develop from messy gut to synthetic alternatives such as nylon and on to steel; and the company's clientele would grow from orchestras to include the electric guitar and bass of rock 'n' roll's emergence. There would be partnerships and separations from other companies throughout the decades, as well as four generations of D'Addario family in America that would be involved in the company. But one thing that never changed was the commitment to quality and a fierce loyalty to operating a company like a big family.
 
World's Largest Musical Accessories Manufacturer
 
Today, the firm – now headquartered in Farmingdale, N.Y., has additional manufacturing facilities in California, Texas, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Argentina and France. The company is the world’s largest manufacturer of a broad range of musical accessories, with D’Addario strings as its anchor brand. James D’Addario explains the company’s rise is a result of drive, ingenuity and a belief in keeping the research, engineering, production and packaging process in-house and in-hand to assure product and distribution consistency. The company also operates its own distribution companies in Canada and the United Kingdom and is now establishing the same in Australia.
 
“My brother and I took over the firm from our father in 1974; and, since then, we’ve grown from a tiny company with 11 people to more than 1,000 employees today,” he says. “That happened because we started aggressively reinvesting in the company. We have 20 engineers on staff and we design and build our own machines to automate and control the production processes for all our products. We can produce up to 600,000 strings a day and easily compete with, for instance, China and Mexico. In the seventies, we also started aggressively marketing our brand globally. We have some private label business, but 85 percent of the strings we sell bear the D’Addario name. If you walk into any music store in the developed world and look at the string display, more than half of the strings you will see are D’Addario produced. If you look around the rest of the store, you will see our other brands – Evans Drumheads, Rico Reeds, Pure Sound Percussion, Pro-Mark drumsticks and Planet Waves accessories – proudly on display.”
 
Technology Combats Counterfeiting
 
While D’Addario is proud of the fact that his products have now become global name brands, the increased exposure has attracted the notice of increasingly savvy counterfeiters in the developing world. D’Addario reveals that what used to be an obvious knock-off in the past has become increasingly high-tech, and he’s not ignoring that problem.
 
“It’s happening primarily in China. They’ve been counterfeiting our products for 15 years, but before they were putting out obvious fakes at ridiculously low prices. Now, they’ve become much better at packaging, and they’re putting the price a lot closer to ours to where a consumer may believe that they’re buying legitimate D’Addario string products at a discount. What the consumer is buying is a copy of our packaging with a horrible product inside. It’s hard to fathom that business ethics have sunk this low. We have had to spend more than $1 million combating this problem, and we are losing millions in lost sales revenue in the Chinese domestic market alone.”
 
To ensure that D’Addario’s customers are not tricked by clever packaging, the company recently started imprinting a unique serial number on each set of strings and has created a website (www.daddario.com/playreal) where consumers can check the particular set(s) they have purchased to validate that they are legitimate.
 
The firm also hired a law firm in China that sent mystery shoppers in several major cities around that country; this team discovered that seven out of ten “D’Addario” products being sold were fakes. The firm then back-tracked the products to the manufacturing facilities and has successfully conducted three raids, confiscating over 100,000 fake products.
 
D’Addario isn’t stopping there, either. He’s been active in Washington, D.C., raising awareness of the problem on Capitol Hill. “Billions of dollars are being stolen every year; they’re stealing American jobs by the hundreds of thousands,” he emphasizes. “I’ve been gaining some notoriety down in Washington, because I am so firmly opposed ignoring this problem. On separate occasions, [New York State Senator] Chuck Schumer and Representative Peter King [local Congressman and Chairman of the Congressional Homeland Security Committee] recently held press conferences at our factory regarding the counterfeiting issue.”
 
D’Addario has been working closely with all of his elected officials in Washington and has testified before the International Trade Commission about the impact on not just his company, but industry as a whole.
 
An Ever-growing Family
 
While happy to work on behalf of the entire industry, D’Addario is first and foremost focused on growing his own company and ensuring that D’Addario maintains its dominant position. To date, D'Addario & Company has grown into a large family of brands that is only expected to expand.
 
“We’re going to continue to diversify our product offerings and focus on only musical accessories,” D'Addario stresses. “We don’t manufacture instruments, but we want to manufacture everything related to instruments; for example, we recently acquired Pro-Mark drum sticks. We’re already competing in a stalled market (the music industry has had little growth in the last decade) where people can play virtual guitars and computer games, so we need to diversify to grow.  Our goal is to be the No. 1 or 2 brand in each accessory category we enter.”
 
With his aggressive support for product innovation and the company’s transition to LEAN manufacturing, a dedication to exceeding customer expectation and promoting industry-leading efforts against counterfeiting, James D’Addario has further cemented the legacy of D’Addario & Company Inc. as a global brand building on over 100 years of tradition, honor and values.