The man who bought a piano

by Mark Hinds

Many years ago, between 1978 and 1982, when I was employed as the manager of a piano shop in Randburg, north of Johannesburg, I had the pleasure of selling many a fine instrument. The best-selling brand was Otto Bach – pianos which, at that time, were manufactured at a factory in Wellington in the Cape. This was the only piano factory in Africa and unfortunately no longer exists.

 

Otto Bach used to run a highly successful advertising campaign on radio in which they used the opening section of the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor as a sound track in order to impress the public with the rich sonority of their instruments. Being an accomplished pianist myself and thus being able to render an impressive demonstration of this piece, led to many a piano sale. I was merely repeating the radio commercial's theme! Such was the boom in sales that we could hardly keep up with the demand and were continuously waiting for more and more shipments to arrive from the factory.

 

Despite the recent introduction and novelty of television, sales continued to boom and the instruments left the shop as quickly as they arrived. But the quickest sale I ever made was concluded in a single evening, complete with delivery! It happened on a cold, winter's day. The boss had already left for home and was, I imagined, lazing beside a cosy log fire, contentedly sipping a Scotch and soda as a prelude to a peaceful evening.

 

Just as I was locking up the shop, looking forward to being at home myself, a very boisterous gentleman arrived, anxious to buy a piano as a gift for a young lady. He explained that he was in a great hurry and was prepared to pay up front, on condition that the instrument he chose would be delivered immediately – that night! This of course was a logistical nightmare. A piano is a heavy item, four men are needed to lift one and great care has to be taken with the transportation. It was then past six o'clock, dark and cold, but the thought of my commission on the piano, combined with the customer's anxiety, overrode all other considerations. I phoned the boss and I had been right. He was most annoyed at being disturbed, insisting that delivery could wait until the morning. I persisted, explaining that the client was purchasing the piano as a surprise birthday gift and the recipient's birthday was that very day. Immediate delivery, therefore, was imperative. Grudgingly, he succumbed and finally agreed to make arrangements. Meanwhile, the customer had been lifting the lids of various pianos and inspecting the contents, as to make sure that they were all intact. But I doubted that he had much interest in, or knowledge of, the instruments themselves. He also insisted that it was not necessary to demonstrate any of the instruments. Thus I did not even get the chance to impress him with my fabulous rendition of the Grieg concerto. Finally, he indicated the biggest and most expensive upright in the shop as his choice. Money was clearly no object to this ebullient gentleman who was obviously used to making quick decisions!

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