KALAMAZOO, MI – Heritage Guitar Inc. has new partnerships that it hopes will grow its sales worldwide and make its Kalamazoo factory a destination place for music lovers far and wide.
Company owners say they are partnering with Rolling Stone LLC as they develop plans to incorporate a wealth of music and pop culture into their multimillion-dollar renovation of Heritage Guitar’s 225 Parsons St. location.
The company is also partnering with BandLab Technologies, a Singapore-based music retailing and distribution company, to boost Heritage sales worldwide.
Privately held Heritage would not disclose sales figures but said it is focused on producing and selling six handcrafted guitars each day, about 1,500 instruments per year. That is up from two to three per day in 2015.
Those announcements were made as Heritage celebrates 100 years of guitar-making at its 225 Parsons St. location on Kalamazoo’s North Side. The two-day celebration involved a dinner gathering there on Friday evening, Sept. 8, with 300 VIPs including musicians, guitar craftsman, elected officials, dignitaries and business leaders .
On Saturday, the celebration was to include an open house for the public with live music, interactive booths, child-friendly activities, an historical display, and complimentary food and drinks. Starting at 11 a.m., people were to be able to trace the history of the Parsons Street site from its days as the original factory for Gibson Guitar Corp. to its present use by Heritage.
“We are excited to share that we are working closely with Rolling Stone, the most iconic name in pop culture for 50 years, and have a partnership agreement in place to develop a premium lifestyle offering at 225 Parsons,” Jeff Nicholson, president of PlazaCorp Realty Advisors Inc., said in a prepared statement. “They share our passion for the location’s history and significance and we are currently in an exploration phase to find operators for these opportunities.”
PlazaCorp is a Kalamazoo-based property development and management company whose co-owners, Archie Leach and Jeff Nicholson, bought Heritage Guitar in April of 2016. In 2015, working as 225 Parsons LLC, they had become owners of the 225 Parsons property, which includes the three-story guitar factory and an attached building that includes a total of 167,000 square feet of light-industrial space.
Nicholson did not explain the opportunities that the owners envision and he did not cite figures for the anticipated cost of development. But he said plans will rely on support from local, state and federal sources .
Thus far, plans calls for the location to include a live entertainment venue, a music instrument store, a recording studio and a space for musicians to try instruments or rehearse, according to information provided by the company.
” For the less musically inclined, there will be a courtyard and cafe/restaurant with a view across the iconic site where people can enjoy a meal and soak in the musical history of Kalamazoo,” the company said in a prepared statement.
Nicholson said plans are reliant upon the support of local, state and federal incentives ” to help us guarantee the future of this iconic, historic site,.” But he said he is optimistic that “with this support, we will be able to deliver a world -class facility, which will further cement Kalamazoo as a vibrant and progressive must-visit location.”
“The 225 Parsons property is rich in history and, as we have done with several historic renovation projects in the past, our vision incorporates this history with creating a special place for people to gather, united by a love of music. “
He said community support that was shown when the factory’s brick smokestack was set to be demolished in 2015 “is a strong demonstration of just how important this site is to the community.”
The 70-foot smokestack bears the Gibson name, the last large visible sign of the original Gibson factory. It opened in 1917 and was operated by Gibson until 1984 when that company relocated to Nashville, Tenn., and halted production here.
Several of Gibson’s skilled guitar-makers remained here, however. They bought a lot of the company’s decades-old equipment, formed Heritage Guitar in 1985 and continue to produce hand-crafted guitars in the factory.
After a “Save the Stack” campaign was started in January of 2015, PlazaCorp considered alternatives and in September of 2016 dismantled the smokestack and preserved its bricks to be reassembled or used in some other way as it overhauls the factory and its adjacent building.
Of Rolling Stone and BandLab, Wenzel said, “We are collaborating with some great partners who are committed to making this property a gem again. We’re honored to have our community join us to celebrate the history of this site and understand our concepts for the future.”
Heritage also announced that it has high hopes for its new global sales and marketing partnership with BandLab Technologies. It is is a collective of global music brands that includes its flagship digital product BandLab — a social music platform that enables creators to make music and share the creative process with musicians and fans.
“I would say before the new ownership came in, there was really no outside marketing effort,” said Victoria Leach, marketing and sales for Heritage Guitar. “Truly we sold guitars based on word of mouth. Since that takeover – that was about a year and a half ago – we’ve developed our presence and that’s through social media, advertisements on hard-copy newspaper, and out into the public. So we’re spreading it and forcing it into the public. And they’re loving it.”
In a press release, Meng Ru Kuok, chief executive officer and c o-founder of BandLab Technologies, said he is very excited to help bring Heritage into new markets .
“To me, 225 Parsons is one of the most significant establishments in the history of modern music,” Kuok said. ” The world’s finest American-made musical instruments were, and continue to be , built in this legendary factory. From the moment I saw the iconic smokestack and had a chance to see the Heritage craftsmen in action, I knew that this was something that deserved a wider audience. “
As renovation of the Parsons property started last spring, Heritage workers were relocated to about 12,000 square feet of space in a northern section of the 167,000-square-foot business facility that is connected the guitar factory. That space was added over many years and provided space for small businesses and companies that do light industrial work.
It is now home only to Heritage and Forensic Fluids Laboratories, a company that provides employee drug-testing technology for companies. It has been growing rapidly and currently has about 100 employees in about 27,000 square feet of space.
Heritage Guitar will ultimately relocate back into its historic position in the original three-story factory building.
The Saturday Celebration
Saturday’s event starts at 11 a.m, with music, free food and carnival activities. That will continue until 6 p.m. At 3.30 p.m., PlazaCorp will share its vision for the future of 225 Parsons.
Performing musicians will include:
-Jake Kershaw – 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
-Shelby Lentz – 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m.
-Paul Erdman – 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
-Rendal Wall — 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.
-Wild Bill Durkin – 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
-Sammy Melchi – 4 to 6 p.m.