When Eugene Reinert and Howard Critcher met at Roberto-Venn’s intensive five-month luthier course in Phoenix, it was entrepreneurial destiny. Together, they saw an opportunity to turn their love for guitar-making and repairs into a business.
“We both were coming from different careers and wanted to do something different,” said Reinert, who was teaching lessons at the time. “That was our initial vision.”
That vision became a reality in 2008, when Reinert and Critcher teamed up to open Guru Guitars in Raleigh, North Carolina.
But, just like with any new business venture, it wasn’t easy at first. They had no gear, no students and less than ideal space. So, they rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
Their first mission was to transform the showroom into a space where customers could come and spend time together.
“It was an old building, originally a packing and shipping place,” Reinert noted. “That was challenging because we had never done something like that before.”
Once the grueling, weeks-long renovation project was over, it was time to hang a handful of their custom builds and gather vintage and used gear, including pedals, amps and effects. Gradually, it all came together.
“We started the business [based around our] guitar building, which is extremely challenging when you’re doing it one at a time,” Reinert said. “Having the repair shop really helped, and then retail grew slowly over time.”
Since then, Guru Guitars has moved across town and now operates out of a 2,700-square-foot facility filled with vintage and used gear, ranging anywhere between $100 to $2,000.
“Most of it comes to us. We’ve been here for a long enough time. We’re one of the few places that buys used gear,” Reinert said. “And since we do repairs, we can buy things that need work and look to fix them. We have a little bit broader perspective when we’re buying things.”
While having a full-service repair shop comes in handy when buying vintage gems, it’s the company’s largest revenue driver.
“It’s the one thing that we don’t advertise at all, and we’re always backlogged,” Reinert said. “I’m just trying to keep my head down doing that. We have one employee who is full time, Zech Thompson. He’s like family to us.”
Additionally, Guru Guitars’ has seen its lessons program grow to more than 50 students who are taught by Reinert and two other independent instructors.
When asked who they teach, Reinert quickly responded, “Anyone and everyone. Our student base is made up of little kids, up to working professionals who just want to do it for a hobby.”
With the motto “The humble home of tone,” Reinert is proud to call Guru Guitars an old school guitar shop and credits the company’s success to a variety of services.
“The way that we survive is by diversifying. We do lessons. We do repair work. We sell new accessories, but we do mostly used instruments,” Reinert said. “I feel like it has ebbed and flowed over the years. Sometimes repairs are the thing that keeps us going. And then other times, retail will pick up. It’s been an up and down, back and forth kind of a thing, which has been good.”
For now, Reinert and Critcher are taking a break from custom-build orders to focus more on repairs.
“We hope people will appreciate the customer service side of what we do,” Reinert said. “With any business, you want it to grow and do better, not just financially but reaching more of the community.” MI