Sam Ash: A Family In Harmony

Sammy Ash, chief operating officer of Sam Ash Music Stores, was named after his grandfather, who founded the company nearly a century ago.

Sammy Ash is a third-generation music retailer, with 45 years in the business that was started by his grandfather, Sam Ash, a violinist and teacher, in 1924. Sammy and his team have built the company into one that boasts 45 stores, 1,600 employees and 250 music teachers. Sammy is head of customer service and is responsible for all physical aspects of the company. That includes opening new stores and designing the stores. He has lived on Long Island all his life, and now resides in Suffolk County with his wife and two sons, Alex and Jason.

Have you worked for Sam Ash all of your life? I have been working for the company for more than 45 years now. I did everything from clean the bathrooms, drive and load trucks, warehouse, sales, sales manager, manager and so on. Our father made sure we knew every single aspect of the company.

What is your title now? I am the company chief operating officer. I oversee all physical aspects of the chain, I build and move the stores. I am also head of customer service. There has been an Ash on the other side of the phone, now email, for 95 years, and that will not stop any time soon. If there is a problem that the stores can’t fix, I fix it.

How old were you when you started at the company? I started getting paid on the books at 15. Prior to that I got paid in hot dogs and a few bucks my father would give me.

What did you do before working for Sam Ash? I was a rebel and I didn’t want to work for “my daddy’s business,” so I parked cars, tried pumping gas, anything my friends were doing.

How many stores does Sam Ash have now? We just opened up our 47th location in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s a 16,000-square-foot beauty with all of the benefits and features of all Sam Ash Music Stores.

Your grandfather started the business. Can you talk about his business plan? Goals? Do you think he would be pleased with the company today? My grandfather wasn’t much of a business man and didn’t have a lot of goals except to see that his bills were paid on time even in the Depression. It was my father and Uncle Paul that had the vision to become a chain. It was my brothers and I and a few very trusted members of our team that took it the rest of the way.

If you attend a wedding or a bar mitzvah these days, you hear a lot of electronic music, operated by a DJ. You don’t see a lot of instruments, and I love instruments. How has this affected your business? DJ is a rather small part of the overall music business. It is a segment of our live sound business. Yes, it is very popular in the bar mitzvah/wedding circuit, but in the overall scheme of things musical instruments still dominate. I personally love a band!

When I go into a Sam Ash store, I see lots and lots of guitars. Are these your biggest selling items? We sell a lot guitars, clearly one of our biggest segments of instruments. Right now we are seeing an explosion in the sale of acoustic guitars and ukuleles — yes ukuleles! They are huge. We sell more ukuleles in one month than we did in a whole year a decade ago. Everyone loves them.

What’s the next big seller? Technology. Keyboards and recording microphones.

When I went to school back in the Dark Ages, every kid was required to play an instrument. We all went to Sam Ash to pick out our instruments. Is this still the case today? Today we have lesson centers in a majority of our stores and will probably have taught about 110,000 lessons last year. That is my fastest-growing segment. On a Saturday morning, the stores are still packed with families buying or renting all kinds of instruments. It’s still a fun visit.

Where do you see the company going in 10 years? I have two sons in the business, Ben and Max, and my brother Richard has two, Adam and Derek. I want a business that they can run together for a long time as well. They have the capabilities to bring the company into the future as a team. They work very well together.