Since opening its doors in 1964, Royalton Music Center has focused on family. The store’s President and third-generation Owner, Lauren Haas Amanfoh, has made it her mission to serve the music-making needs of all the families in northeastern Ohio: from Kindermusik-ready infants and toddlers, to school band members, to parents learning to play, and everyone in between. It’s not surprising, given that Amanfoh herself comes from a family with deep ties to music.
“My grandfather, Richard Eleck, was a musician, and he made his living as such,” Amanfoh explained. “But, when swing music went out of popularity and polkas became the big thing in the area, he decided to use his business degree.”
It wasn’t long before Eleck “missed music terribly,” Amanfoh said, “and he wasn’t content being an accountant.” So, he and his wife, Ida Rose Eleck, decided to open a music store, “where students could learn and folks could buy or rent a high-quality instrument at a fair price.”
As the years went by, Amanfoh’s mother, Sheri Eleck Haas, eventually took over the store, her two siblings having become music educators. Amanfoh began to work alongside her mother when she was just 10 years old, but she branched out after college, moving to New York City to work in artist management for a non-profit organization.
“When my mom got sick, I had a decision to make: stay in New York, or come back and run the store,” Amanfoh stated. “So, I left my new husband back in New York and I worked with my mom in the hospital every day for the last months of her life, learning the Owner side of our store.”
Seven years into her tenure leading Royalton Music Center, Amanfoh has worked not only to carry on the legacy set by her grandparents and her mother, but also to put her own stamp on things. Utilizing her background in marketing and promotions, she was able to brand each facet of the business, creating what she refers to as essentially five stores in one: lessons and education, rentals, sales, repairs and “Professional Suite by RMC,” an elite collection of step-up and professional instruments.
“My grandmother and mother used to joke that, just like a diamond, the business is made up of many facets, and that helps us to sparkle,” Amanfoh recalled, noting the irony that all three women have April birthdays and, therefore, have diamond as a birthstone.
Bringing all those different facets together under a single roof was another challenge for Amanfoh, who, in 2011, moved the store for the first time in 47 years from the shopping center where her grandfather had originally built a 500-square-foot store. Now, the business occupies a customized, 14,000-square-foot building that Amanfoh owns.
“The business was the impetus for the additional expansion at our new space, too,” Amanfoh revealed. “Our lessons program had grown to 600 students, and all our studios were full. We actually had a waiting list. So, we had to decide to either cap it or build more lesson rooms. It was the same thing with our rentals and professional division. We needed more space for every aspect of our growing business.”
The new building was an empty shell, which allowed Amanfoh to design the store with her customers in mind. “When we designed the store, the thought was to make a musical Panera,” Amanfoh enthused. She changes her showroom displays every quarter to keep things fresh. “We use warm, inviting colors,” she added. “The store is bright and clean, with high ceilings. We also offer free Wi-Fi.”
Amanfoh’s goal is to make sure the families who come into the store are comfortable, whether they’re shopping for gear themselves, bringing their children to Kindermusik or, perhaps, waiting for a child to finish a lesson in one of the 25 lesson rooms, which Amanfoh designed with movable walls for additional flexibility.
“At the old store,” she began, “I noticed that parents weren’t hanging around. They would drop off their kids and then come back later to pick them up. Now, though, they stay.” She continued, “I wanted them to be here, and to be involved. That means the teachers can talk to them before and after class, and there’s more communication.”
Royalton Music Center focuses not only on music makers of all ages, but also on those with special needs. Amanfoh continues to run a music therapy program that was started by her mother in the 1990s. Three therapists in the program assist children with autism, Down syndrome, and other physical or social disabilities.
Music therapy sessions are held in a large room at the back of the store. It has its own entrance and a handicap ramp for optimal accessibility, although most students come in through the front door. “It helps with their social skills to say ‘Hi’ to the counter staff and have them respond back,” Amanfoh noted. “We see the program affect both their parents and their own lives. We’re working to make their lives better, and that is very rewarding.”
Royalton Music Center’s reputation for helping its customers, and for caring about the community, has helped the store stay afloat, even as local competition fell by the wayside. Examples of community involvement include RMC’s annual Christmastime Giving Tree, fundraising efforts, sponsorship of band bleachers for the local marching band and more.
“My grandparents weren’t passionate about selling; they were passionate about helping people become musicians. It was the same for my mom, and it’s the same for me,” Amanfoh declared. Underscoring the point, her staff does not work on commission.
“It’s not a high-pressure sales environment here, and I’m not about just selling whatever I got a good deal on from my suppliers that month,” Amanfoh continued. “When you want it, we’ll be here. I want to help you and educate you. If we don’t make a sale today, I’m confident you will come back. We are here for the long haul. It’s a special job to bring music to people, and I’m blessed to do it every day.”
Three generations on, Amanfoh—along with her family and her staff—continues to chart her own course through the ever-crowded waters of the music industry, proving that, in her words, “Sometimes, where you’re going truly is because of where you’ve been.”