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Suhr Guitars: Old-World Craftsmanship, Modern Mac Technology

With 5 month backlog of orders, Xserve and Filemaker helps company expand By Stacy Williams

At Suhr Guitars, work and passion go hand in hand. Behind each guitar and amp stands the Mac, a tool powerful and flexible enough to help the Suhr team precisely deliver on every important custom detail and successfully manage a rapidly growing business. From the time a customer places an order, to the moment a beautiful new guitar is ready for delivery, the Mac is pivotal to the success of Suhr Guitars' operations. 

From musician to master craftsman 
Founder John Suhr started out as a musician, but he soon found most guitars and amps weren't up to his standards. He also realized that he'd probably do better working on guitars and amps than becoming a full-time professional musician. It turned out Suhr made the right choice as he soon discovered he had a true knack for building exceptional amps and guitars. 

"Most guitars disappointed me," says Suhr. "I knew I could build better instruments that would be easier and more enjoyable to play." 

Suhr quickly rose through the guitar-building ranks to become a Senior Master Builder in Fender's Custom Shop. Then in 1997, Suhr left Fender to start Suhr Guitars with Steve Smith, an expert in business management and in programming routers that cut out guitar parts using a process called Computer Numeric Control (CNC). Before long, Suhr and his team were building guitars for legends like top studio player Mike Landau, jazz/fusion giant Scott Henderson, rock/shred virtuoso and all-around guitar phenomenon Guthrie Govan, and Reb Beach of Whitesnake.

Orders ready to be shipped

Several other highly skilled builders and craftsmen have since joined Suhr, lending the company well over a century of collective guitar-building experience. All together, 30 employees at Suhr Guitars create an average of 150 guitars and 60 amplifiers each month-and the company currently has a five-month backlog of orders.

Growing in the right direction
The company has tripled its sales volume in the last three years, creating the enviable challenge of having to cater to more dealers and customers than ever before. Suhr Guitars also sells components and accessories, a business that has been expanding as well. At the same time, the company strives unfailingly to provide the highly personalized service for which it is known.

A year ago, Suhr Guitars wasn't having such an easy time coping with exponential business growth. The company was experiencing problems and viruses with its previous computing platform, and needed something that would enable everyone to communicate faster, do more with less, and deal with far fewer IT support issues.

The company moved all of its operations to the Mac, including the Xserve for managing its FileMaker database, CRM, and accounting programs. Says Ed Yoon, director of marketing, sales, customer service, and artist relations, "The ease of use, tight integration between the hardware and Mac OS X, reliability, and Apple's reputation were all factors in choosing the Mac platform. The Mac also complemented who we are as a business-a company that provides the very best for discriminating customers who seek the very best." 

Today, Suhr uses the Mac for virtually everything, including internal communications via iChat, accounting, order taking, production scheduling, customer relations, advertising, web design, media content creation, and engineering. "Simply put," says Yoon. "The Mac handles everything you can think of that needs to be done in order to run a fast-growing business."

Suhr uses the Mac for virtually everything, including internal communications via iChat, accounting, order taking, production scheduling, customer relations, advertising, web design, media content creation, and engineering

The devil is in the details
The company designs, engineers, manufactures and distributes its products in-house-a process that requires a balance of old world craftsmanship and modern technology. Suhr Guitars cuts its own necks, bodies, and pick guards on state-of-the-art CNC routers, creating one-of-a-kind pieces of art. Each guitar is detailed prior to painting and assembly, providing enhanced control over quality and consistency. Once all the pieces are routed and ready, a builder assembles the guitar to exact specifications. The company's paint process ensures that the beauty of the wood shines through and contributes to the tone of the instrument. 

Suhr offers numerous options for custom instruments that other manufacturers don't. For example, customers can choose from their preferred combination of woods, one of 15 different neck shapes, over a dozen pickups, numerous electronic configurations, and a virtually unlimited number of colors. Even without the electronic options and colors, there are tens of millions of different possible combinations that enable customers to create the guitar of their dreams. 

To keep track of this dizzying array of detail, the company relies on a FileMaker Pro database hosted on an Xserve that is accessible to employees from anywhere via the Internet. The FileMaker Pro database provides everyone with a central location for tracking all of the millions of options available for guitars, from the moment an order arrives, through the end of the manufacturing process. 

"Gone are the days of scribbling down a customer's order and tracking it on paper," says Suhr. "With FileMaker Pro, we know down to the black screws or the gold screws exactly what we're delivering to each customer. We even output instructions on a label that the builder or painter might need to make sure all of the specifications are correct." 

New opportunities for business expansion, inspired by the Mac
To help maintain an exceptional level of service, Suhr Guitars uses a Daylite customer relationship management (CRM) system running on the Xserve and accessible from every iMac or MacBook Pro in the company. Daylite tracks company contacts, dealers, and customers and is integrated with the company's email system to streamline communications related to marketing and sales. 

The team that makes Suhr guitars

Apple tools have inspired the Suhr team to become more creative in the way it does business and has opened new avenues for growth and innovation. For instance, Media Marketing and IT Manager Joshua Smith captures photos of every guitar, touches them up using iPhoto or Aperture, and publishes them on a MobileMe web gallery. The photos are also used extensively for marketing purposes such as magazine ads and email newsletters to dealers. "MobileMe is an immediate way for dealers and customers to see the newest guitars we've created-and it's been a big success-especially because we rely heavily on the Internet for our advertising and promotions," says Smith.

Everyone at Suhr Guitars agrees: the Mac has enabled them to advance the business in ways they never considered in the past. "When your guitar is the best possible quality, you can play better without worrying that something's not right," says Suhr. "It's the same with the Mac. When we come to work, we don't have to worry about viruses, or whether or not our Macs will be up and running. We know we can just walk in and immediately get to work."


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