Drumming Up Clients With Schools, Shamans

The clients of Bill Talbot's Noisy Toys march, well, to the beat of their own drummers. Professional musicians, shamans, Buddhists and schools come to the small Westchester shop selling exotic and unusual percussion instruments. Talbot says he is comfortable serving his small niche, but he might prefer a slightly larger space to house the thousands of instruments that cram his Sepulveda Boulevard location, opened in 1996.

"I do everything here. I have an accountant for taxes and a Webmaster, but I do everything day to day to run the store.

"I sell African djembes, doumbeks and darbukas and bendirs from the Middle East, Brazilian pandieros, timbales, congas, bongos and frame or shaman drums. Our prices range from little German siren whistles for $1 to djembes from Mali for $340.

"We have three major distributors for things that are more mass-produced, but the bulk of our products come from mom-and-pop companies who travel to other countries and find the instruments. I don't do any direct business with people outside the country. I don't have the expertise or time.

"Everything I sell is made to be used. None of the instruments is purely decorative. We're big on people playing these instruments in the store.

"We started out very small. Everything was financed out of my pocket. It's grown every year we've been in business 10 to 13 percent every year.

"We do lots of special orders. A lot of our Internet business (about 15 percent of our total gross) seems to come out of New York and Texas. People see these items online or in magazines but they can't find them in stores.

"Most of my customers are not experts. They want to participate in drumming. Many want things for spiritual use, like singing bowls for meditation. There are also professional players: recording artists, studio musicians and 'foleys,' people who play special effects noises for movies.

"Teachers shop here for ethnic things they might be teaching about for example, during Black History month. There's a growing belief that percussion is easy for kids to get involved in. They can pick up a mallet and play, they don't necessarily need a lot of lessons."

Matt Myerhoff

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