September 19th, 2013
When these lifelong choral singers launched a community chorus, they didn't know they were also launching a music folder company.
What is your choral music background?
Robbin Rose: Both Jon and I were vocal performance majors at the University of Montana. I went on and got a masters degree in palliative music, which is using music in hospital settings for comfort. I had conducted church choirs and both of us sang with a madrigal group that performed together for about 20 years. We had both worked in summer theater companies and also sung in various symphonic choirs. Jon is also a trombonist, and we toured a couple of times in Europe with his trombone group. We’ve always had music in our lives, and our girls also studied music. One is a violin and general music teacher in San Francisco and the other is a violinist who just graduated with a degree in theater technology.
That is quite a musical legacy. How did that expand into the choir folder and choir apparel business?
Robbin: In the summer of 2001, my husband and I and two other friends had just started the Missoula Community Chorus. As part of that process, we joined Chorus America and found a huge amount of really helpful information. We had been involved in music as professional musicians but we had never organized a group from the ground up.
We had scheduled our first rehearsal for September 12, 2001, and then, of course, 9-11 happened. We decided to go ahead with the rehearsal, because even in Missoula, people were pretty shell-shocked with what had happened the day before. Instead of the 60 people we were expecting, we got 125. That choir has continued to stay at between 90 and 100 members.
We decided that we needed to get some different things for the choir, including music folders, but they were pretty expensive. At the time my husband worked for a golf bag production company and would travel several times a year to South Asia to work with the golf bag factories. One of the factory managers said, “I can make those folders for you.” The trick was that we had to buy the materials to make 1,000 folders—not just 125.
So we discussed it with the board of the choir and decided to buy 1,000 folders. We donated the first 125 to the chorus and sold the remainder, with the profits going to underwrite the chorus. That really did help the chorus get a good start. And it wasn’t so hard to do. So we ordered more folders and I think it was a year and half later that I quit my day job. Then five years ago, Jon was able to retire from the golf bag company. We both work full time now with mymusicfolders.com.
Why do you think the company took off so quickly?
Jon Rose: The biggest thing was that my friend Tim at NorthForkmedia.com volunteered to do the website. Before we knew it, the 1,000 folders were gone and we ordered another batch. And then pretty soon people were calling to see if we could make marching band folders and swing band folders with extra deep pockets. So we branched out and started advertising on the Internet. These were the early days of the Internet and my friend was pretty much a computer geek. By the time Google was a major force we had been up on the Internet for some time and had a history of consumers finding us through searches. So when we did our search engine optimization we didn’t have to do any tricks to get good ratings. We sell all over the world, and we have been amenable to working with people to develop something specific for their needs. We talked to Les Brown Junior and his Band of Renown and Vince Giordano of Boardwalk Empire fame about their folder requirements. That's how we got into making folders for swing bands.
So everyone needs a different kind of folder?
Jon: We have six different folders specific to choirs, ranging from a fancy model with real leather that holds massive amounts of music all the way down to a lightweight version that is great for church choirs that only need to hold a few pieces of music.
Robbin: It’s kind of funny. We started with one folder and called it the Deluxe Folder. I thought it was everything you would ever want in a chorus folder.
Jon: We talk to customers on the phone all the time and we observe our own chorus to judge the folder’s usefulness. If there is something specific to improve, we will do that.
Robbin: I think it would be really interesting to start an album on our Facebook page asking people how they customize their folder. I, for one, always keep a little pad of sticky tabs in my folder. People have asked, "Why don’t you put in a small plastic pouch where I can stick two cough drops?" This year we put in an extra stretching pencil holder because some women said they wanted that to hold their reading glasses.
Jon: Or it could hold an oversized mechanical pencil.
Robbin: Some of the adaptations people want are kind of quirky, but the things that have sounded more universal, we try to change the folders to accommodate that. People send us pictures by email of how they have adapted their folder and suggestions of what to change.
You probably never guessed you would be in the music folder business.
Robbin: It was good fortune that we started at time when the Internet was still developing. And, this sounds cheesy, but we were doing what our souls were calling us to do. We were doing something because we were making the world a better place. In starting a choir, we felt it was going to help our community in so many ways. The times in my life that have felt truly magical have been those times when I have done something that isn’t really just for me. There is purpose in doing it. Our business was one of those things where the path was laid out in front of us and we were able to choose that path.
Jon: Supporting our chorus was a higher goal and we wouldn’t have chosen this if it had not unfolded that way. We wanted to be involved in the music community because that is what we love to do. The Missoula Community Chorus is now in its 13th year. We are both on the board and it’s doing great.