Grand Junction, Colorado
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
From their small shop in Mesa County, Dale Wright and his family handcraft custom instruments for harpists all over the world.
"It was one of those rare moments in life where everything aligns and seems like it's meant to be," Wright says of his family's decision to purchase Blevins Harps from its founder in 2018. "Prior to that, we were all doing separate jobs. We wanted to do something together." Reviving the custom harp brand -- along with its stellar reputation with harpists around the world -- has proven to be the perfect "something."
Wright and his son Jamin are both woodworkers by trade. Wright's wife, Laurie, and the couple's two daughters are harpists. Another son helps out with photography and videos, and yet another assists in the wood shop.
"We have a large family, and everybody is involved to some extent," Wright says. "We work out of around 1,500 square feet and fit very snuggly. Fortunately, the lumber we use to build the harps is short, so we don't need our machines a long distance apart for clearance. We can bring them in quite a bit, which allows us to have a smaller operation."
The family designs and builds everything from small lap harps to larger floor harps. "We didn't know this when we bought the brand, but Blevins Harps is well-known as a lap harp company," Wright says when discussing their bestselling models. "They're also known as therapy harps. People take them to hospitals and nursing homes and play for the patients. It gives them hope, makes them feel better, and brightens their day."
Wright says that Blevins Harps' hybrid harps are also quite popular. "They're lap harps built from carbon fiber and spruce," he continues. "It makes them very lightweight. If you have a lightweight therapy harp, you can stay on your feet and walk around longer, getting more done. The hybrid harps are very popular, so we sell a good number of those as well."
Every one of the company's 95 harp models can be uniquely tailored for the individual customer and take two months to manufacture.
The process starts with choosing the wood. Wright explains that it has to be a type of wood that will sound good as well as look good. While other harp builders may rely on standard types of lumber, Blevins Harps "gets creative" to satisfy customers. In addition to a lumber supply, Wright has a tree trimmer in Colorado Springs who sends him walnut and ash. He also uses spruce and is even planning a harp from his neighbor's apricot tree.
"A customer yesterday wanted an interesting looking harp," Wright says. "We did a FaceTime call so I could take her through our stock and show her the different kinds of wood we have. We found a quirky maple board that looks like it has little clouds in it. She really liked it, and we're going to use it to make her harp."
From there, the Wrights cut and shape the wood before putting a finish on it to increase its durability.
"The last step is the hardware," Wright says. "There are bridge pins, tuning pegs, strings, and levers. But before we put the final parts on, which are the tuning levers, we have to tune the harp and keep full tension on it for about 30 days. The strings are steel and nylon, so they need to stretch. And the frame of the harp has to take the tension. The wood has to kind of get used to that and adjust."
Harpists from around the world buy Blevins Harps from the Wrights. They work with two wholesale accounts -- one in Pennsylvania and the other in the Netherlands -- as well as sell harps directly through their website. "I sent five harps to the Netherlands yesterday," Wright adds. "The harp before that was shipped to Japan. We have a harp in the shop that's going to Australia and another that's going to Switzerland."
Challenges: Wright says he's a one-on-one people person and having so many clients who are so far away is a challenge for him. "I like to get to know the harpist as I take their order," he explains. "It can take months and months to come down to a decision because a harp is very personal."
To facilitate the connection long distance, Wright has taken to using modern communication tools like FaceTime. "I can walk them around the shop and show them different options," he adds. "I really enjoy that personal connection."
Opportunities: Wright says that Blevins Harps is going to manufacture more accessories this year. "Harps have been made for 4,000 years or more, but for some reason, there wasn't a good harp stand out there," Wright explains. "We've developed a new harp stand that allows us to store the lap harps upright. You can also play them from the stand more like a floor harp. They've been really popular and we're selling them to people who have other makers' harps, not just ours."
He also sees a lot of opportunity in the young harpist market. "Most of our customers are female and usually over 50 years old," he continues. "But a lot of youngsters out there are interested in music and different types of instruments. We're trying to connect with them through Instagram and Facebook as well as at harp conventions."
Needs: "Every day we get up and enjoy our work," Wright says. "We enjoy our customers. It doesn't seem like we need anything."