At a glance
Location: Durham, NC
Industry: Retail Music
Number of employees: 5
Conversion date: 2016
Professional support from
- Carolina Common Enterprise
- Shared Capital Cooperative
- Electric Violin Shop – Under New Ownership: EVS Converts to a Worker-owned Cooperative
- LEAF – Electric Violin Shop: A Worker Co-op Story (video)
- UNC-TV – Electric Violin Shop (video)
May 16th, 2016 looked like any normal busy Monday at Electric Violin Shop. Our small staff worked in concert to address email inquiries and ship e-commerce orders taken over the weekend in between answering the usual barrage of customer phone calls. This group of employees has the day-to-day of running our small company, which does a global business, down to a science. So efficient was the operation that one would never guess this was our first full day under new ownership. That’s because three days earlier on Friday, May 13th, Electric Violin Shop founder Blaise Kielar sold his ownership interest in the business to three of our long-time employees–Chris Guin, Duncan Monserud and Susie Sneeringer–who restructured EVS into a worker-owned cooperative.
A Brief History of EVS
Having catered to such high profile electric violinists as Jean-Luc Ponty, Boyd Tinsley and Lindsey Stirling, as well as serving thousands of other professional and amateur musicians, Electric Violin Shop is the top source of high quality amplification gear and expertise for bowed string players. EVS grew into our present role as world leader in amplified strings quite organically over several decades. As early as the mid-1980’s Blaise was an original dealer of ZETA electric violins. By the late 1990’s growing interest in electric bowed strings prompted calls for advice coming from around the world. Blaise soon decided to focus his specialization in this area and Electric Violin Shop, with our accompanying e-commerce website electricviolinshop.com, was born.
“Little did I know when I moved here to open Chapel Hill’s first violin shop in 1978, that I would remain in North Carolina and serve the musical public for my entire career.” –Blaise Kielar
For years leading up to his retirement Blaise has fostered a flat management structure, empowering us with a large say in running the business and delegating to us responsibility for sales management, procurement and marketing. We’ve all made key business decisions and represented the business at trade shows and conferences around the country. This level of involvement has allowed for perfect continuity as we take ownership of the company we’ve helped grow.
Becoming a Worker Co-op
“I am so grateful for the financial organizations that support the community enterprise movement. Without their funding, we could not have turned Electric Violin Shop into a worker-owned co-op. This has allowed me to retire and my loyal staff to own the business.” –Blaise Kielar
As employees it’s exciting not only to take ownership but also to be able to extend cooperative owner-membership to new employees as our company expands. We are very appreciative of several entities and individuals who helped make the worker-owned cooperative conversion a reality… Management consultant Anne Claire Broughton of Broughton Consulting, LLC, who suggested the idea of a co-op conversion when Blaise came to her looking for help with his transition. Thomas Beckett, co-executive director at Carolina Common Enterprise, a non-profit that assists in the startup or expansion of cooperatively-owned businesses, was instrumental in guiding the early co-op formation and connecting us with lenders. Financing for the employee buyout of the business came from two Community Development Financial Institutions, Local Enterprise Assistance Fund (LEAF) and Shared Capital Cooperative. LEAF has promoted human and economic development for over 30 years by providing financing and development assistance to cooperatives. Shared Capital Cooperative provides financing to cooperative businesses and housing throughout the United States. We are also grateful to the Duke Law School Community Enterprise Clinic and the Start-Up Ventures Clinic for providing excellent pro bono legal services, with lead representation by student-attorney Dani Glazer.
Over our staff’s many combined decades of experience we’ve compiled an encyclopedic knowledge of amplification solutions that just doesn’t exist in any one other place for string players. We’re so thankful to be able to carry on doing what we do. We’ve always prided ourselves on working together and sharing responsibility for ensuring highest standards of quality, service and integrity. Electric Violin Shop will continue to carry forth Blaise’s mission to promote and expand the field of electric bowed strings while providing expertise, the highest quality gear and excellent service to string players.