A musical instrument shop and a computer repair venture, both in Spokane Valley, have formed what might seem like an unlikely business alliance, but the businesses' owners say their collaboration has proven to be a good fit.
Andy Lovato, owner of Apela Violins & Guitars, and Chet Doan, who owns Complete Computer Solutions, run separate business operations but share a 1,000-square-foot leased space in the Opportunity Plaza, at 12623 E. Sprague.
Lovato and Doan have shared a storefront for three years now, and they say that their informal partnership has been successful because they frequently refer customers to each other.
Lovato's shop specializes in the sale and repair of guitars, violins, and ukuleles, as well as music lessons in guitar and ukulele. Meanwhile, Doan's business mostly focuses on computer repair and data recovery.
Says Lovato, "Musicians always need their computers fixed as far as recording goes, and Chet's in here. It's worked really well."
Doan says he and Lovato opted to share a business space after building a rapport during a few sessions of guitar lessons that Doan took at Apela several years ago. He says he was looking for a space to open his computer repair business, and that Lovato offered him the option to move in with Apela.
At the time, Lovato says, Apela was located about a half a mile west of where it is now. The businesses moved about a month ago into their current space because the old storefront wasn't visible or easily accessible for customers, he says. Since moving the shop into the new space, he says, both Apela and Complete Computer Solutions have increased their sales.
Lovato says he opened Apela about six years ago after leaving a job in the construction industry because of a lack of work. The luthiera person who repairs or makes stringed instruments says he then decided to turn his love for music into a full-time career and has been successful in that venture since.
In addition to repairs and sales, Lovato also teaches lessons in guitar, bass guitar, and ukulele.
While he doesn't make instruments, Lovato studied the art of being a luthier under the apprenticeship of another Spokane-area luthier. He says he also learned much of what he knows about repairing stringed instruments from reading books about them, as well as being an avid guitar player for more than 35 years.
"It helps when you play the instrument because you know what they are supposed to feel like," Lovato says.
That said, he also repairs and sells instruments he doesn't play, such as the violin.
Apela offers a variety of guitar and ukulele classes, Lovato says, and he teaches students at any level and in a variety of music genres, including country, rock, jazz, and classical. Lovato says he's also involved in a couple of bands on the side, including a Hawaiian group and a country group.
"I'm interested in all styles of music, and I've studied music theory, so I thought I would give lessons," Lovato says. "I love to teach kids and adults," he adds.
For the students taking lessons from him, Lovato says he recommends that they attend one half-hour session each week at a cost of $20 per session.
"We teach beginners to advanced students," he says. "We start with exercises to get their hands working and then go into chords, and the advanced students get into music theory."
Currently, 35 students take music lessons at Apelaan ideal number, Lovato says, that allows him to balance time between lessons and repair services.
Though he recommends that students come at least once a week, Lovato says he's flexible with class times and his students' schedules. He says if two children in a family want to take guitar lessons together, he'll offer them a discounted rate of $30 for a one-hour session.
If parents of young and aspiring musicians are hesitant to invest in a guitar, Lovato says Apela has ukuleles for $30 to start a child out. A ukulele has four strings instead of six like a guitar, and is about half of the size.
"That way you don't spend a lot if they aren't interested in it for long," he adds.
Apela also offers instrument rentals for young students taking a music class at their school.
For musicians who are upgrading to a better instrument or who might change their mind about learning, Lovato says Apela has a consignment program.
Like Lovato, Doan says he also will sell on consignment his customers' old computers if they're seeking to upgrade a system.
Doan says he's been working in the computer industry for 20 years now, and that his interest in computers began at age 17 when he landed a job at MOR Manufacturing Corp., a Post Falls-based circuit board manufacturer, he says.
"I was building computer components, so I got a real fundamental knowledge of the things in the computer and what they do, which has helped me to where I am now," he says.
Together, Doan and Lovato have combined their respective expertise in technology and music to record tracks for a number of local musicians. For some of their recording sessions, Doan says he's even built custom computers that have the ability to accommodate large amounts of audio input.
In the past several years, Doan and Lovato say they've both been able to maintain a steady stream of revenue for their businesses, despite the economic downtown.
As Doan's business becomes better known in the community, he says he'd like to possibly hire an additional employee to do offsite computer repairs so that he can stay at the store.
"My goal is to take care of the everyday user and the small businesses," Doan says.
Lovato's goals for Apela are similar. By keeping his business small, Lovato says he's able to establish one-on-one relationships with customers and students. That connection with patrons, he says, is an important aspect of his business model.
"My goal is to grow a little bigger as far as business goes, but not to the point where customer service would suffer," he says.
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