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Inspiring stories of entrepreneurs – The Piano Man

The Piano Man is a small, privately owned business that offers a range of services including piano tuning, repairs, restorations, valuations, rentals, sales, and transportation of pianos. Based in Pretoria, they service a client base stretching as far as Maputo and the Botswanan border.

Piano tuning is an age old trade passed down from generation to generation. However, it is a dying art in South Africa. Current registered piano tuners are aging to a point where they cannot work, without significant succession plans in place. Raymond Cugnolio identified this as a business opportunity, but also recognizes a responsibility to ensure that the art of piano tuning is not lost in this country.

Years in ‘The School of Hard Knocks’, plus a determination to learn and network with people, have contributed to Cugnolio’s entrepreneurial drive. He shares some of the struggles he has overcome: ‘I have had some business failures and at one point walked away with my toolbox and little else. However my knowledge in my field allowed me to open new doors. I took a temporary job marketing water purification systems, and while exhibiting at a mall asked if they had a piano. This elicited some strange answers but also yielded some leads. Then when I went to install some of the water systems I encountered pianos in customers houses. Slowly I got enough leads to branch out on my own with some marketing to community newsletters, music shops, churches, and schools. My business grew as I ensured that I gave an excellent service at a very reasonable price. The rest is history!’

As with so many small businesses, cash flow is a constant challenge, as Cugnolio manages daily expenses while trying to grow and purchase assets. The company makes use of a business consultant as well as an accounting company to assist with making tough decisions. Another obstacle the business has had to overcome was difficulty in building relationships with established piano tuners. ‘They saw us as competition, and thus provided little assistance in terms of advice and guidance. I kept plugging away until I became too significant to ignore.’

Small businesses are the backbone of South Africa’s economy, and this is something Cugnoilio appreciates. ‘South Africa is in need of jobs and we see our business and trade as an opportunity to provide this through equipping individuals with the skills they need to earn an income. Our dream is to run a piano tuning school where we are able to train students on a full-time basis.’

When asked what sets him apart from other entrepreneurs, Cugnolio replied: Continuous learning – knowing that I don’t know it all. Excellent customer relations and often going beyond just remuneration. A team dedicated to the same goals and vision. Perseverance – The ability to keep going when times get tough. Passion – I love what I do and tuning a piano is a form of art. Who else gets to say they perform an art every single day!’

The Paino Man was awarded as Top 20 Small Businesses at the 2016 South African Small Business Awards.

For more on The Piano Man visit:

Small Business Friday is brought to you by the NSBC and encourages all South Africans to interact and support small business everyday; especially every Friday and even more so on Small Business Friday, the first Friday of Spring every year. This grows local communities, drives job creation and ultimately builds the nation. With your support small business will be able to employ more, therefore reducing rates of unemployment and harvesting the entrepreneurial spirit.

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