Ateliers Pleyel—one the world’s oldest manufacturers of pianos which has built instruments for composers from Chopin to Stravinsky—said that it was ceasing production

French Piano Maker Pleyel Plays its Final Tune

Company to Cease Production, Lay Off Its 14 Remaining Staffers

NADYA MASIDLOVER

Updated Nov. 13, 2013 2:06 p.m. ET

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An employee of Ateliers Pleyel works on a piano assembly line in Saint-Denis, Paris in this December 2010 file photo. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

PARIS—More than 200 years of French piano-making history is reaching its finale. Ateliers Pleyel—one the world’s oldest manufacturers of pianos—said late Tuesday that it was ceasing production at its workshop in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis. France’s only remaining piano maker, which has built instruments for composers from Chopin to Stravinsky, said it would lay off its 14 staffers because of “recurring losses and weak business.”Pleyel’s curtain call marks a new blow to France’s craftsmanship sector, which is suffering in the face of global competition, and adds to the string of recent layoffs announced in the country.

Last year, Pleyel recorded a loss of €1.14 million ($1.53 million) on revenue of around €728,000, according to documents filed with the local commercial court.

Pleyel Chairman Bernard Roques said “alternative solutions are being sought out.” The company will continue to sell pianos from its stock of finished instruments.

The company was established more than 200 years ago by Ignaz Pleyel, a musician, composer and friend of Joseph Haydn. After the founder’s death in 1831, his son Camille took over and sold pianos to royalty across Europe.

During this period, Pleyel also became the official supplier of Frédéric Chopin, who gave public concerts at the company’s salons.

Since the 1990s, the European piano-making industry has stagnated as Japanese and Chinese manufacturers invaded the market with increasingly high-quality instruments at bargain prices, undercutting European makers and their more costly workforce.

Many businesses in France’s craftsmanship sector are finding themselves forced to shift upmarket to attract new clients, or die, artisans say.

“To be successful in Europe, you have to be high-end,” says Brian Kemble, managing director of the Austrian piano builder L. Bösendorfer Klavierfabrik GmbH—which was bought by Japan’s Yamaha Corp. 7951.TO +2.03% in 2008.

Heinz Stroh, managing director of the German piano-technician association Bund Deutscher Klavierbauer e.V. said several German piano makers have sharpened their focus on the top end of the market in the face of fierce competition.

Pleyel tried the high-end route too. In 2007, the company closed part of its operations in the South of France and shifted back to Saint-Denis—home to the original workshop in the 1800s—to focus entirely on high-quality grand pianos. The company stopped producing upright pianos and made only grand pianos. Production fell from close to 2,000 pianos a year to around 20 more recently.

Its prices range from around €40,000 to €200,000.

But the transformation wasn’t enough to guarantee its survival. Pleyel’s new strategy came just as the global financial crisis hit, causing even the wealthiest consumers to tighten their purse strings.

In the following years, the image of the brand was raised, thanks to collaborations with artists and designers including Hilton McConnico and Andrée Putman, who helped the company come up with some modern visual twists.

But Pleyel’s business model was slow to adapt, says the person. High overhead costs combined with irregular orders made the company’s situation challenging, said a person familiar with the matter.

The piano maker was sold to French investment fund Développement & Partenariat Finance at the beginning of this year.

A Pleyel representative wasn’t available for comment. The investment fund declined to comment.

French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said Wednesday he is seeking to meet Pleyel’s owner to talk about how to save the business.

“It is not just a symbol,” said Mr. Montebourg. “It means a lot.”

In the U.S., Steinway Musical Instruments Inc. agreed in August to a buyout by billionaire hedge-fund manager John Paulson for about $512 million, or $40 a share.

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