It's been a long journey to reach the stage where we are at right now. Sometimes the best journeys are due to the wrong turns we make.
In 2011 a friend of mine was looking for a specific guitar that wasn't available in the country. No music store in the country had it and I offered to help him find it. I was in the midst of starting a new business, one that was not related to music at all, but my friend had serious G.A.S. and I really wanted to help him out.
With a little scouting, e-mails, Google-fu and persistence I was able to get him the guitar within a month, at a decent price. Brand new. Little did I know this one turn would end up bringing me back to my roots and my passion, which is music.
Working out of a nondescript office on the top floor of a building in Damansara Uptown with nothing but a plastic table, two stools and my trusty laptop I started getting requests from other friends to help them source for their musical needs. I didn't mean to help them, but because of my love of music I did what I could to get them what they needed.
The other business that I was starting up was sidetracked because the requests for guitars kept coming and I kept bringing it in for them. Soon I realized I was making a decent amount of money from this and my focus switched to fulfilling guitar orders.
I knew there was something in this but there was a fear of the unknown as I had been away from music for at least ten years and opening a music store wasn't really something I had a lot of experience in.
But I woke up one day and had an epiphany. I met up with another friend and told him I had a dream. In this dream a huge, bright neon sign kept flashing in my face and in that sign were the words "Bald Bear Inc.". It was then and there that I told him I am going to start a company by that name.
Then I did it. I went all in. I registered the company as Bald Bear Enterprise (they wouldn't let me use Inc.) and decided to open a music instrument business. I gathered whatever savings I had from my previous jobs, sold an apartment and spent some money upgrading the danky office into a small but presentable showroom.
I didn't want to bring in guitars and guitar accessories that were already available in the country at that time. I felt we needed exposure to new brands, even though at that time I felt it was suicidal as the market might not be ready for it and it would take a lot of work to get these brands known in Malaysia. Opening a music store is not the best option to make when starting a business. It still isn't.
With the money I had I scoured the world for interesting guitars and brought in a few rare items to get the business going. I have a thing for guitar picks and I had - and still have - a decent sized collection. I brought in Clayton picks from the USA and Graph Tech Tusq picks from Canada as the first two new brands to introduce to Malaysia. Through referrals and contacts my little store gained a small following.
Hold on. Let me admire two guitars I brought in that was special to me.
May they bring joy to the current owners. I loved those guitars.
With Graph Tech manufacturing primarily parts and upgrades for guitars, I eventually brought in their parts which in turn forced me to offer upgrades and repair services for my customers. Things got overwhelming managing everything by myself so I brought in my cousin Ronnie to help me out with the workshop part of the business.
We worked hard in that top floor showroom/workshop and soon were making a decent living doing something we love. So a decision was made to register the company as a Sdn Bhd (Private Limited) company and started planning to expand our operations and find a new location for our business.
As it turned out, as we were looking for a new place the unit on the mezzanine floor below us opened up and it was twice as large as our current space. It was right above a popular cafe and as we were already comfortable with the area and moving only entailed carrying our items down a few flights of stairs we decided to stay in the building and move to the lower floor.
By the way, I'd like to thank all our customers who climbed the zillion steps to our top floor showroom to support us as we were starting out. It's not easy lugging heavy guitars and amps up and down that stairwell and for that and their dedication I will be forever grateful.
The new space had good potential and enhanced visibility and with a big bold sign we knew we had the right spot. This area, back when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s was once a hot spot for music and music stores. Behind this row was a mom and pop music store called Harmony Music, a place I cherish as my G.A.S. started there when I was young. They're still around and if I could achieve even half the longevity that they have achieved I would claim it as a success.
The new space was huge compared to the space we were working in. There was a lot of work ahead to be done and Ronnie and I knew we needed more help. In came Azim, an acquaintance of mine and he decided to join our cause.
But as things were looking promising a personal tragedy struck me, one which I have not recovered from. My health deteriorated badly at that moment and it caused a lot of problems and delays in our move. What started out as an exciting next step suddenly turned into a Sisyphean task due to my inability to work.
I had to figure out my condition and get well. It was causing an unbelievable amount of stress on us, our project and I'm sad to say my deteriorating health was taking its toll on my family. But we had to push ahead. We had a goal and these setbacks just meant that we had to work harder. Which we did.
Finally, at the tail end of 2013 we managed to open the store. It was a low key affair but our big bold signboard outside the store was unmissable to all who drove past the area. What kind of a name was "Bald Bear Guitars" and why was the sign so huge? Soon we started to get new walk-in customers. Our bold sign and name piqued their interest.
At this stage we were full on retail. Our list of brands and products started growing and our fan base increased positively. We added Sakae Drums to our family and soon specialized strictly in guitars, drums and its related accessories and parts.
We wanted to give the place a homely feel, one where people will feel relaxed and comfortable and with a design, service and environment that gently whispers to your ear with a soothing smoky voice, "Welcome to our home, welcome to your home".
As the business grew at a steady pace, we were figuring out what our purpose was in doing this. I mentioned earlier that this all started by accident, through a sudden detour in my journey in life. We had passion for music and the business, but we knew there was more to this.
It hit me one day when I started noticing the joy in our customers, young and old, new and experienced, as they departed our store with an instrument that will begin or enhance their own musical journey. The smile on the kid as his parents bought him his first guitar, that glimmer of sparkle in someone's eyes when they find that rare item they've been looking for.
I knew then that we were not doing this for us. We were doing this for musicians and potential musicians. We were happy when we made a sale but that feeling pales in comparison when we are able to play a part in beginning or advancing a person's musical journey.
It was then that we knew we were in the business of making musicians and making musicians great. We wanted to leave our mark by helping our local music industry grow and pledged to support musicians of all kinds reach greater heights. Sure, we were just a music store but we knew then that we had a bigger purpose and this is what drives us until today.
It is the end of 2016 now and as with many businesses there were plenty of ups and downs. More downs than up, to be honest. But it's interesting that from a one man operation with a plastic table and two stools we are now a music instrument retail and distribution company.
A number of people have been part of the Bald Bear family since then but right now I've found my band. I found a great team of people, namely Azim, Jon & Jimmy, who share the same passion and ideals as me and are willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to reach our greater goal.
We each excel in different things and together, it adds up to a beautiful melody. I could not have found a greater group of partners in doing this thing of ours.
So we're now moving on to the next stage of our journey. With a little bit of sadness we will be moving out of our current location and into a new place in 2017. We intend to hit the next level and make some freakin' noise. We always strive to do better and our next location will allow us to bring the music back to music stores. Keep up with us for updates on our new place as it is going to be exciting!
It's going to be a busy time for us right now and to top it all off we are having a moving out sale and selling our items off at ridiculous prices to ease the burden of relocating. The Botak Sale (literally The Bald Sale) has already started and will continue and end just before Christmas.
We hope you take this opportunity to grab the great deals we are currently running and for those of you that have spent a decent amount of time in our store jamming, talking and just plain hanging out, this will be the last time we'll get to do that here, so it'll be great to see some familiar faces in the store before we leave.
We consider this place your home too.
Thank you everyone for believing in us. We believe in you too and we will feel nothing but extreme pride when it is your name we see in big neon lights.
A dank office with a plastic table and two stools. Who would have thought that would lead to this? What a long strange journey it's been.