Tariffs could be ‘really tough’ for retailers supplying school music programs

Jimmy Edwards (above right), president of Marshall Music Co. in Lansing, Mich., says new U.S. tariffs on imports from China have already begun to affect a handful of the small items he sells like instrument cases or mouthpieces.

But what has him worried is what will happen if the tariffs are expanded to include musical instruments themselves.

“The bulk of our business is with schools, and they are not in a position for us to be able to pass on the added costs,” Edwards said. “Our concern is being able to continue to supply schools. Many of them are facing budget issues, and music programs only get table scraps anyhow. It’s going to be really tough if we see tariffs affect instruments. This hits at our bread-and-butter mission of supporting arts and cultural education in our schools.”

"It’s going to be really tough if we see tariffs affect instruments. This hits at our bread-and-butter mission of supporting arts and cultural education in our schools.”

Jimmy Edwards
Marshall Music Co.

Tariffs were one of the main reasons Edwards invited Representative Mike Bishop, R-Mich. (above left), to visit the company’s Saginaw Street store in Lansing last week.

The family-owned company, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, has about 300 employees at seven locations around the state. In addition to providing sales, lessons and repairs, Marshall rents band and orchestra instruments — many of them affordable beginner models made in China — to 28,000 students at 700 schools.

Marshall doesn’t just rent and sell to schools and their students. The company has been a leading advocate for music education in Michigan for decades, providing support to local schools, working with the state Department of Education and traveling to Washington to support federal funding of music education. Edwards praised Bishop as a strong supporter of education funding.

“It was great to tour the facility and talk with some of the 300-plus employees about tax reform and the importance of music education in the schools,” Bishop tweeted after the visit. “Our community is grateful for their investment.”

The event was the latest in which members of Congress have visited local stores in their districts across the country. In other visits last week, NRF’s Hero of Main Street award for support of the retail industry was presented to Representative Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, at a Target in Euless, Texas, near Dallas and to Representative Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, at Tire Discounters in Sharonville, Ohio, outside Cincinnati.

While musical instruments are not covered by the tariffs imposed on $250 billion worth of goods from China so far this year, the tariffs have affected some instrument cases and certain metal products such as instrument stands and mouthpieces. And in addition to the existing tariffs that have already taken effect, President Trump has said he is considering additional tariffs that would cover all remaining imports from China, a move that could add instruments to the list.

Edwards said tax reform that took effect at the beginning of the year has helped the local economy. Consumer confidence and disposable income are up, and he has seen an uptick in retail sales at the store and more customers buying higher-end products than before. But worries about what tariffs could mean for all sectors of the economy — not just retail or music merchants — is spreading.

“There’s lots of concern and wondering what’s next,” he said. “Concern alone can drive change and make people adjust.”

Hear more small business owners react to the imposing of tariffs. Watch the video series.