Meet the owners
It may be Cambridge’s oldest independent music shop – with more than 165 years’ experience selling top-quality instruments from around the world – but Millers Music is far from old fashioned. In fact, innovation has been the key to transforming Millers to meet the needs of a nation in lockdown.
Managing director Simon Pollard explains: “The whole business has had to be completely re-engineered since the pandemic hit. Pre-lockdown Millers was very much a physical retailer, with a small website, so our web sales were under two per cent of our total turnover. But we’ve launched a new website, put in place better contact management systems with our customers and developed a dedicated warehouse to deal with all our procurement, so we’ve really evolved. Now we offer a far more extensive online range, and our web sales represent 50 per cent of our turnover as of this March. It is crazy how much things have changed!”
Millers Music, which has a showroom on Sussex Street, specialises in pianos, organs, string instruments, woodwind and brass, as well as offering a rental and piano tuning service.
“We sell everything from a £3.99 kazoo or harmonica, which are very accessible instruments, right up to a £90,000 Concert Bechstein Grand Piano,” says Simon. “We source from the world’s leading manufacturers in Germany, Czech Republic, Spain, Japan, Indonesia, and China – and we visit the factories to see how the instruments are produced, so we really understand how they work.”
Though music runs through the very fabric of Millers, it began life as a bonnet shop in Victorian times. But when founder Albert Tubelcain Miller sold the family piano to support the business, it evolved into a piano and organ store.
By 1911, Millers were producing the first portable gramophones, used by soldiers in the trenches, and in 1954, they displayed the first working televisions in Cambridge. Rumour has it that in the seventies, Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour was a regular visitor and would rush to the downstairs music booths to listen to the latest releases. Simon said:
“He references Millers as a source of musical inspiration, which is lovely. Supposedly he bought his first guitar from us, though we’ve got no proof, but we like the story nonetheless!”
Simon joined the business in 2012 and has been integral in spearheading its modernisation.
In 2016, Millers acquired Cookes Pianos of Norwich.
Last year, Millers added another string to its bow, taking on traditional family business, Foulds Music of Derby, which was established in 1893. And last month the new-look, user-friendly Millers Music website launched, offering a new direction for this much-loved Cambridge business.
“Lockdown has been tough; we’ve had to change a lot, but hopefully we can now look forward to a future where more people can access our products, as we can now sell right across the country, which we couldn’t do before,” explains Simon. “So far, we’ve had new customers from right up to the Shetland Isles and right down to Cornwall, so that is fantastic.”
Love Cambridge are working with Velvet Magazine to showcase some of Cambridge’s best independent businesses, read their latest issue for more local interviews like this one.
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