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


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


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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Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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