Bella Vista man 'aims to squeeze'

MICHAEL HINKELMAN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Bulboff, holding a Baldoni piano accordion, says his company sells one or two accordions a day.
MICHAEL HINKELMAN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Bulboff, holding a Baldoni piano accordion, says his company sells one or two accordions a day.
Posted: May 31, 2013

MICHAEL BULBOFF, 32, of Bella Vista, owns a one-stop accordion shop on 2nd Street near South in Queen Village. He acquired the three-story former salon in January to house his growing business. Liberty Bellows sells, repairs and rents accordions, and gives accordion lessons. Its motto: "We aim to squeeze." Bulboff, a Princeton alumnus and Wharton master's grad, founded the business in 2009, and it has five full-time employees. He plays piano accordion in the band Polkadelphia.

Q: How'd you get into the biz?

A: I played an accordion when I was a teen and it became a hobby. I started the business because there wasn't a good infrastructure in the U.S. for accordions. There are only about 20 [accordion] stores in the whole country.

Q: Why do you like the accordion?

A: The accordion is an instrument you really connect with: You wear it, you feel the reeds moving and you become part of it.

Q: How did the business grow?

A: It grew organically. You start by giving lessons, doing repairs. Then you buy, trade or sell. When we built our website, we showcased instruments, did video demos, which no one else was doing.

Q: Your background is in computer science and finance.

A: Lots of things can go wrong with instruments, and a fundamental tenet of Internet commerce is: Do people trust you? We demonstrate everything on the website to show that it works and that we've repaired it.

Q: How much are accordions?

A: A new one ranges from $1,000 to $30,000. A used one at a thrift store could be $20 but may need $500 to $1,000 of repairs. We rent them for $30 a month, and lessons go for $15 an hour.

Q: How big a business is this?

A: We sell one or two accordions every day. Our revenues are $500,000 to $1 million a year. Demand has increased because baby boomers want to get back into accordions and legacy shops are closing. When supply is down and demand is up, that makes for a good business model.

Q: Who are your customers?

A: There are lots of accordion clubs. People who buy accordions or good used ones are pros, musicians and others are novices.

Q: Can you tell me some names?

A: Bruce Springsteen's accordionist, Charles Giordano, bought an accordion from us. We've worked on accordions for bands. One of my best customers lives in Silicon Valley and loves accordions. He's Philippe Kahn, inventor of the camera phone.

Q: Who are your competitors?

A: There are a couple of small shops in New York, but for this region and Baltimore and D.C., nobody does the scope of what we do. You have shops that only sell new accordions, ones that only repair or ones that only give lessons. We do everything.

Q: Do you do global business?

A: We import from Germany and Italy, and we export mostly to Brazil. South Korea is also a big export market.


Twitter: @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness

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