CHAPTER 5: Testing a Young Man's Character
During the years following C. F. Martin, Sr.'s death, the fortunes of the Martin Company rose and fell with the business cycle. Company records, while incomplete, indicate that sales flourished during the Civil War, due in small part to the fact that many guitars were destroyed during the course of the war. A currency crisis following the war caused something of a panic among the populace and dampened Martin's sales. However, by that time, the organization had been built to a level where it could withstand fluctuations in the economy. In 1888, C. F. Martin, Jr., died unexpectedly, leaving the business in the hands of his 22-year-old son, Frank Henry. Young Frank Martin's abilities as a businessman were put to the test early on in his career as he took over a company faced with a severe distribution problem. At the time, C. A. Zoebisch and Sons, a New York-based importing firm, was the sole distributor for Martin guitars.
The primary business of Zoebisch and Sons was the distribution of band and orchestral instruments, and Frank Martin felt that consequently they did not devote sufficient effort to promote the Martin guitar. Martin was also continually aggravated by Zoebisch's reluctance to handle new products, particularly the mandolin.
During the 1890s, with the massive immigration of Italians into the United States, the mandolin (an instrument of Italian origin) became increasingly popular. Frank Martin decided to terminate the distribution agreement, a large move for a young man with limited experience. Severing ties with Zoebisch was made even more difficult due to a long-standing bond of friendship that had existed between the Martin and Zoebisch families.
Upon assuming distribution of its own products, Martin enjoyed a tremendous boom in the sale of mandolins. In 1898, Frank Martin's personal records indicated that the firm produced 113 mandolins of various styles. Production in the previous year had totaled a mere three units. Given that the company's guitar production for the previous three years had been approximately 220 units per annum, the addition of mandolins to the product line represented significant growth for the company.
In the absence of a distributor, sales of Martin guitars and mandolins were handled by various direct mail advertisements in local newspapers and through the efforts of Frank Martin. On an annual basis, he made extensive sales trips throughout upper New York state and the New England area, where he personally sold the majority of the company's output to music dealers.