Thirty-five years ago, Jim and Floride Kidder dove into the music business. Today, with their daughter’s help, the journey continues.
“It was the best move of my life,” Jim Kidder notes. After graduating from Illinois Wesleyan with a degree in music education, he moved to Lacon for a job teaching music at the high school. Having come from small-town roots, it was an easy new home. But the move would also be a life-changer, leading him to his wife, Floride, and the start of their own retail business.
From Teacher to Businessman
The son of a Wisconsin farming family, Jim says that music had no real part of his upbringing until a sales representative visited his elementary school and announced he was recruiting for a new county band. Settling on the trumpet at age 10, Jim joined the band, and “the rest is history,” he laughs.
As a teacher and band director, he recalls teaching his future wife’s younger siblings and becoming close friends with one of her brothers before meeting Floride herself. When the two finally did meet, they were inseparable. Both had music in their blood: Jim with his trumpet, and “Ede,” singer, pianist, organist and saxophonist.
When Jim was offered a sales rep position in the mid-sixties at Byerly Music—a company that specialized in providing musical instruments and services to local schools—he was excited at the opportunity to work in the very position that had inspired him to learn trumpet as a young boy. He worked for the growing company for nine years.
Jim describes the early seventies as a time when “the organ business started to boom.” At that time, Byerly was located in a large five-story building on Southwest Adams Street in Peoria. Organ and piano stores were moving into malls; larger music stores were branching off and specializing, and some “really overextended themselves,” he explains. “With the right color-coding on the keys, anyone could sound like the Chicago Symphony with one finger, and that whole business really started to boom.”
Byerly followed suit, and as it began to specialize in the organ business, its school service industry became a low-hanging fruit. Kidder seized the opportunity, buying this piece of the business from Byerly in 1974 and opening shop on the fourth floor of the same building. With little knowledge of how to run a business, but enough motivation to fill the gaps, “we just took off into the strange unknown.”
“I said to Ede, ‘Now, you’re going to be the bookkeeper!’” Jim recalls. After taking a couple of bookkeeping classes, “she was able to do [everything] she was called upon to do. She’s smart—there’s no substitute for brains!” he says, still smiling 38 years later. Ede continues to supervise the company’s accounting functions today.
Directing the Company
And the Kidders have learned a lot along the way. Jim says that managing his company is not unlike directing a band, with all its parts— among the most important, finding good employees and treating them well. “We’ve been very fortunate in hiring good employees that have stayed with us for a long time,” he says. “Some of them have been here 30-plus years—that’s a really big asset.”
Of today’s staff of 25, Kidder Music commits three to the road. In the same fashion as the man who handed Jim the trumpet, and the role Jim himself once played for Byerly, these representatives call on schools across central Illinois—from Minonk to LaSalle to Macomb— keeping a regular weekly schedule to ensure the needs of students, parents and teachers are met.
“We bring the music store to the rural communities,” Jim explains. “That’s really what our business is based on—service, and satisfying the band directors in the area.”
Though the company’s mission hasn’t changed in over 30 years, technology certainly has, Jim admits. “When we started out, it was pencil and paper, a ledger sheet, and file cabinets all over. Now you have computers all over, and the most important person in your business is the IT guy!
“All our customers now have a lot of knowledge as they walk into the store,” he continues, noting that the Internet, too, has changed the music business. “Sometimes that’s good knowledge, and sometimes it’s not.” His customer service staff and dedicated team of instrument technicians are on hand, he says, to answer questions and provide the kind of personal service the Internet can never match.
Third Move’s The Charm
Since its inception, Kidder Music Service has continued to grow, carrying a full line of band and orchestra instruments, accessories, sheet music and repair services. When it outgrew the original Adams Street location in 1980, the company moved to Crestline Drive in north Peoria. But that was only a temporary fix, for just ten years later, they were again in need of space, and the company eventually landed in Sterling, Illinois. Then, needing more space still, they opened a second location, returning to Crestline Drive. This location’s large showroom allows for ample showcasing of products and music, while the spacious warehouse is ideal for shipping and receiving. In 2003, a third branch opened in Bloomington. All three locations are still open today.
This spring, the Peoria store added 2,700 square feet of additional studio space to enhance its commitment to music education. The new digs feature seven studios for private teachers and a large rehearsal space for clinics, Kindermusik classes and in-house recitals. “We hadn’t had lessons until we moved to our current location,” explains company president Beth Houlihan, “but we’ve always believed that music education is part of students’ well-rounded education.”
A Lasting Mission
Beth, daughter of Jim and Ede, has had a hand in the family business since the age of 16, when she began helping her parents out part-time, but her passion for music started much earlier. She and her brother were always encouraged to pursue their own passions, but for Beth, it was music that stuck. Growing up, she played the clarinet, piano, and took voice lessons. Her brother, Matt, chose a different direction—he’s been working in the State’s Attorney’s Office in Ottawa, “putting bad guys in jail for the last 11 years,” Jim says proudly.
Beth didn’t always know she would eventually become president of her parent’s company. Her first dream was music therapy, but as she started her studies at Bradley University, she opted for music business, as succession plans at the store fell into place. She speaks passionately about her current position overseeing the Sterling and Bloomington stores and managing inventory, instruments and personnel.
“I don’t think there is any greater variety in retail than in the music store,” she claims. “From introducing kids to music through [our] preschool tour, to…prepping them to try out for band or orchestra for the first time, or assisting the professional musicians that come in, there are a lot of great people and long-term relationships here.” And her commitment to music extends beyond the walls of the store. She serves on the National Association of Music Merchants Board of Directors and is involved with groups like the National Association of School Music Dealers and the American Music Conference. She also sings with the Morton Civic Chorus.
“Every family business has a unique set of circumstances, but here, everybody sort of has their place,” Beth explains. “Whereas my father has been the face of the organization, calling on schools and speaking with band directors, my mother has always been in the back room managing cash flow… It’s always worked out really well.”
Over the years, Ede has meticulously kept up a three-ring binder full of stories about Kidder Music. The scrapbook details the decades gone by and pays homage to Beth’s childhood and passage to president. And though she’s unsure who will take over the company when she’s ready to retire, she’s not yet worried. “I’m not going anywhere,” laughs Ede. Blank pages lie ahead…ready to be filled with the next chapter. iBi