Bertrand Music Enterprises opened with an eye on the needs of music students in the San Bernardino area and, after three decades of growth and success, it remains a leader in the market and a resource for students and educators throughout the area.
Bertrand’s focus on music education can be traced to the background of its Founder, John D. Bertrand, who not only holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music education from Illinois State University, but also served as a band, orchestra and choral director for 13 years. Having seen the needs of the market firsthand, he said, “I wanted to open a music store that would serve the music-education industry, students and directors in a way that would enhance their lives and programs.” He continued, “I believe every child deserves an opportunity to experience music in their lives, mainly because music can have a profound effect on every individual as they grow and mature.”
Bertrand’s first store was a modest one, occupying just 1,200 square feet in a small retail strip center next door to a Sears Surplus in San Bernardino. “I can remember the first day I opened, as I sat there on a chair with my phone on a card table,” Bertrand said. He was one of only two employees at the time. “There was some product on the walls, but I needed to be open to be able to service the families of new music students with rentals.”
Given his good reputation as a music teacher in San Bernardino, Bertrand decided to name the store after himself. This proved to be a smart move, as his fledgling store was able to do 500 rentals in its first year. “I owe that to the fact that I was well known in the area,” Bertrand stated. “All the local teachers knew me, and they knew that I was an educator first and I was trustworthy. They knew I would have their students and their program as a high priority in my business model.”
Of course, name recognition can only go so far and, over the years, Bertrand Music Enterprises has been able to grow on the strength of its customer service, product knowledge and commitment to the music-education cause. Bertrand’s has grown from one store in San Bernardino to locations in San Diego, Poway, Mission Viejo and Pasadena. The rental program that started with 500 customers has grown to 7,500, which is attributable, in part, to a unique feature that allows parents to take up to three years to decide if they want to purchase an instrument for their child. They can use all three years of rental payments toward that purchase, should they decide to make one. In addition, 1,200 students take part in Bertrand’s music-education programs.
Bertrand’s employs 70 full- or part-time employees, including seven repair techs, “whom,” Bertrand noted, “I consider some of the best in the industry, as shown by Selmer naming us one of their elite Selmer Pro Shops for repairs a few years ago.” In addition, the store employs educational reps to service the Palm Springs and Palm Desert area, southeast San Diego County and southeastern Los Angeles County.
Staff members run the gamut, ranging from new college graduates to retired band directors and school superintendents. Over the years, the store’s customers and its staff have become one big Bertrand’s family. “Over time, I’ve learned to treat your customers and employees like family, and to let them know you really care about them and their success,” Bertrand remarked. “Always be truthful and honest with your employees and customers. When things get tough, instead of giving up, be creative and find ways to get through those tough times.”
Not only is his staff like family, but, in addition, Bertrand’s three sons—John Jr., Jeff and Joel—work at the store, as have nieces, nephews and grandkids over the years. Bertrand credits his sons with helping the store to grow, even as it remains true to its core philosophies.
According to Bertrand, “My three sons joined me in this endeavor, and they’re successfully carrying on the vision and dream that I had when I first opened up. That’s this: I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to experience music in their lives, and I believe that music in a student’s life is vital for their overall development as human beings in today’s society.”
He continued, “To carry out that vision, I designed the model of this business to reflect it in everything we do, from sales to service.” As evidence, he pointed to a variety of initiatives that are designed to enhance, support and improve local school music programs. Among them is the free Head Start Music Program: something that Bertrand founded approximately 20 years ago. Open to all students, the program offers group music classes that, Bertrand explained, “are taught just as if they were in their own school music program.” Indeed, he used to teach the program himself in the early days.
The store has also offered a valuable elementary school scholarship program for the past 10 years. Given to the elementary schools that the store services, the Bertrand Music Elementary Scholarship is good for one full year, and it covers the use of a band or orchestra instrument with supplies. “Many students who would not have been financially able to participate in their school music program were given that opportunity through the Bertrand Music Elementary Scholarship,” Bertrand said with evident pride.
Looking at his overall business model, Bertrand explained that his goals for the store today are the same as they were when he opened in 1983: “Our goals,” he noted, “are simple: to continue to give great service and great product, to affect students’ lives and to enhance school music programs.”