SUNSET PARK – Brooklyn is a hub-bub for entrepreneurs, with a wealth of opportunities for residents to start their own businesses.
Timothy Nuernberger is one of them. This 27 year-old Midwesterner initially hoped to be a performer. Instead, he owns Nuernberger Piano Company, a piano repair, restoration, and tuning service that boasts over 800 clients since its inception in 2013.
“I have a really high standard for the work I do,” he says. “Word of mouth is very strong in this business.”
At his shop in a garage-like space in the shadow of Industry City, at 107 27th Street, Nuernberger speaks firmly yet modestly of his success. As of now, he is working on three pianos, which is normal for him, each at a different stage of repair. One is nearly done, one is halfway complete, and the last he is just starting on. It takes him five to six weeks to get through one.
“Pianos are very tough instruments,” he says. “They’re built to last.”
Like many Brooklyners, Nuernberger did not plan on being a business-owner. He did, however, study piano performance as an undergraduate at Concordia College in northern Minnesota. He obtained his Masters’ of Music in the same discipline at NYU, and hoped to follow the route as a performer.
That all changed when, while still a grad student, an NYU tuner told him to go to the Piano Tuners Guild. Nuernberger had been exploring the idea of becoming a piano technician, and it was his apprenticeship with Lee Dobrins of Huntington, Long Island that led to Nuernberger Piano Company.
“I’ve always had a scientific mind,” he says. “I’ve always wondered how and why things work. With pianos, there’s a lot of physics, not mathematical, but numbers involved.”
He soon learned that the craftsmanship of piano tuning suited his temperament.
After about a year of doing his master apprenticeship – while also working as an adjunct at NYU, teaching classical piano – Nuernberger set out to do his own work as a piano tuner in the summer of 2013.
“I had a pretty good network,” he explains. “I knew a lot of pianists, and they thought I was very good at my work.”
For a few months, Nuernberger would tune pianos, mainly in the metro New York area. That means, tightening or loosening of string tensions so the piano would sound just right. But after six months, there was a noticeable growth of customers. Nuernberger took the opportunity, and started advertising his work. He built an online presence by using social media, particularly Instagram, to attract clients. It was something he learned as he went.
“I don’t know if trial and error is the word,” he smiles. “But you don’t need an MBA to use Google to know good practices.” He took the techniques dentists and other repair businesses were using, and built up his clientele.
By 2014, Nuernberger was almost comfortable in his work. He developed a routine of tuning, scheduling and discussing with clients their needs. A year later, he added repairs to his company’s services, which includes woodworking, repairing broken strings, refinishing of cases, and any other repair a piano might require.
Eventually, Nuernberger Piano Company grew so much, it hired its first employee – a fellow pianist, Chip Miller, who does most of the tuning these days while his boss does the repairs.
In about a month, Nuernberger’s business will include a sales division. He’s picked up pianos over the years through either Craigslist or eBay. Upon restoring them, the pianos will be for sale.
All in all, Nuernberger feels like he is successful. But, he adds, there’s always room for improvement.
“It’s not just suited for the customers’ expectation,” he says, “but mine as well. I wouldn’t leave a piano in a condition that I wouldn’t like.”
Long term his goal is to expand beyond New York, and attract clients from the tristate area. He also hopes to go nationwide. Already, Nuernberger has a client sending in a piano from California.
“It’s word of mouth,” he says. “And a little Instagram.”
So, with all that he’s achieved in a short time, what advice would Nuernberger give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Take deep breaths,” he smiles. “And be comfortable with uncertainty. Be very introspective. Be accountable to your customers. Without them, there’s no you.”
Do check out the Instagram: