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Case Study: Lessons From Martin Guitars: Three Ways to Survive a Downturn

by Kimberly Smith  |  
January 26, 2010

Company: C. F. Martin & Co.
Contact: Dick Boak, Artist & Public Relations
Location: Nazareth, Pa.
Industry: Musical instruments
Annual revenue: $93,000,000
Number of employees: 825

Quick Read

Economic downturns come and go—every 11 years or so, according to Dick Boak's calculations. He's a historian at heart, and during his long tenure at C. F. Martin & Co., maker of fine guitars, he's seen a few dips—perhaps none as titanic as 2009's. But as keeper of the archives, he understands that the current downturn isn't the first, nor the last, the company must endure.

And endure the company has, for 177 years—through the Great Depression, World Wars, and a Civil War—outlasting countless fads and trends to become the oldest-surviving acoustic-instrument maker in the world.

The keys to its success? High-quality products, adaptability, and a willingness to learn from the past—all of which came into play during the plight of 2009.


Founded in 1833, C. F. Martin & Co. is the oldest-surviving acoustic-instrument maker in the world and largest producer of acoustic guitars in the United States. The company is known both for its fine instruments and for its innovations that have become industry standards.

Martin guitars—which regularly sell for several thousand dollars apiece—are handmade, often using the same design and techniques introduced by the company founder in the 1830s, and there are no plans to change or fully automate that process.

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via

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  • by Wayne Tue Jan 26, 2010 via web

    Wonderful case study! The historical perspective is welcome in an economy where long term planning means next quarter! I wonder if the ascendency of China this century will bring a more historical perspective to business.

    I have expressed this 'larger picture' perspective with similar case stories and lessons at Is this a perspective that others value?

  • by Lorna Wed Jan 27, 2010 via web

    What a well-written case study! This can be applied across disciplines - even into politics - under the notion that if history tends to repeat itself (as Mr. Boak pointed out), then what was successful back then may be applicable today. This case study carries an important message many marketers, I think, forget. You don't need to reinvent the wheel with each campaign or each obstacle. Take time to do some research, read relevant case studies, and pull ideas from those who have been successful in the past to aid you in your problem today.

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