When Janet Deering took an aptitude test at the conclusion of her high school career, she was told agriculture or sales were the best fits for her. “Sales? Anything but sales, I thought,” said Deering.
A test cannot determine a career. And, in Deering’s case, fate had made some decisions well before Deering graduated from high school.
“I was the third of three daughters and I had a brother who was five years younger than I was,” Deering said. “When I was 12, my dad needed someone to help him add on to the house. My sisters were teenagers and they wanted to lay out in the sun. My brother was simply too young. So, I was the only one who could help. So, I spent my summer using table saws, handing my dad nails, helping with plumbing and woodwork. I had a lot of woodwork training. You don’t realize how important that is. I took a lot of craft classes in high school.”
Deering decided to take a woodshop class. “Girls didn’t do that in those days,” she said. “I helped the boys with their projects because they didn’t understand some things. My dad was so proud of me taking woodshop. When a person he knew wanted to turn a closet into a walk-in closet, my father recommended me. I was 17.” Deering did the job. She made some money. Deering thought woodworking was fun. But would she build closets, or something else, with her important skills? Fate had already decided that answer, although Deering didn’t know it. “A tall man came to our house to teach my sister how to play the guitar,” Deering warmly recalled. “I was 14 and answered the door in my bikini. I had just been laying out in the sun.”
Growing up in the San Diego area makes lying out in the sun a cinch, so wearing a bikini when opening the door was perhaps much more common. The man providing the guitar lesson was Greg Deering. “He was four years older than I was,” said Deering. When you’re in junior high, four years is a lot. He taught her guitar and her sister played in a band with Greg Deering. “When my sister was about to get married, I told my sister, ‘Jenny, I would have married Greg Deering.’ She got really mad at me and told me I couldn’t say that.”
“About a year later, Greg was running the high school youth group in our church,” Deering continued. “We hung out and talked about the future. He said, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ I said I wanted ‘to have a family business and make something that will be valuable and handed down from generation to generation.’”
Greg Deering inched in close to Janet and said, “I want to have a family business also, but I want to make banjos.” Janet looked at Greg and asked what a banjo was. Greg responded it was the round instrument he played when not strumming guitar at church. “Right after that conversation, I wrote a letter to my sister who was married and lived out of town. I told her, ‘I think I may want to marry Greg Deering. We have the same goals in life.’ She saved that letter.”
The future Deerings only went out on six dates because they were so compatible. They wed shortly after. “My parents knew Greg really well and, out of all of the guys at our church, he was the guy my parents hoped one of their daughters would marry,” Deering said. “When I told my parents we were engaged, they were blown away.”
The Deerings had a son, Jeremiah, in 1974. At the time, Greg had been working for the American Dream, along with Kurt Listug and Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitar fame. Deering was one of the founders, in fact. But he really wanted to manufacture banjos. Taylor and Listug bought out the American Dream and Greg Deering was looking for work. “Bob and Kurt said, ‘We’ll hire you’,” Deering said. “But that only lasted six months when Geoff Stelling, who had a banjo patent, made Greg his partner.”
Janet Deering thought the idea of building banjos was perfect. It fit her goal of making something that could be handed down fromgeneration to generation. At the time, however, she was taking classes at Mesa College.
After six months in business, though, Greg knew he needed another set of hands to help with the fledgling business. Janet was the obvious choice, given her background. She worked on the banjos and kept the books. In case the business went south, Deering joked she had a backup plan. “I grew a garden and raised chickens, so, if the business didn’t work out, I knew we’d have something to eat. That’s where the aptitude test and agriculture came in. It was perfect!” [Laughs]
The Deerings first teamed with Stelling to make Stelling Banjos in August 1975. The partnership only lasted six months because Stelling got an earful from an attorney whom he trusted that partnerships don’t work as business models. So, Stelling told the Deerings they should now incorporate as Deering Banjos and he would subcontract a lot of work, include selling and assembling Stelling parts.
A couple of years later, Deering began making banjos under their own name. The Deerings had a daughter, Jamie, on December 11, 1978. Jamie got an immediate taste of NAMM shows by attending her first at the tender age of one month.
Deering said she rarely was treated differently than others were, even though she was one of the few women in MI in the 1970s. “I never worried about that,” she said. “I was in sales for 15 years here and only one or two retailers had a problem because I was a woman. I remember there was one dealer I had to hand the phone over to my husband because he couldn’t deal with a woman.”
However, Deering said being a woman provides her with a different perspective. “One of the great things about Greg and I running Deering Banjos is you get both a male and female perspective,” she said. “Both perspectives are equally important.”
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