Mike Miltimore, 37, was literally made for the music business.
“My dad needed a helper for his store, Lee’s Music, and nine months later, there I was—though not quite ready to do complicated guitar repairs,” he jokes.
He now co-owns Lee’s Music, which caters to players of all levels, offers lessons and houses a full-service maintenance and repair shop. He’s also founded an acoustic guitar manufacturing company, Riversong Guitars.
That project earned the Kamloops, B.C. native runner-up honours in last year’s BDC Young Entrepreneur contest. “I’m always trying to figure out how things work and how I can improve them,” he says.
Case in point: while clearing a backyard sprinkler, the sun’s reflection off water misting from the hose got him thinking about the way the Kelowna Rockets—rivals of his beloved Kamloops Blazers hockey team—would descend onto the ice.
“They had a flame effect that the team would skate through, and I was trying to find a way to make one for the Blazers that was twice as good.”
With a few air compressors from his scuba diving hobby and some lights from Lee’s Music’s specialty business in stage engineering, he produced a computer-controlled effect dazzling enough to make the evening sportscast’s highlight reel.
“At first it was a fun project I did on a voluntary basis. It later developed into a job we did for them regularly.”
Watch Miltimore in action
Get a tour of Lee’s Music and see how his guitars are built. You can even listen to him play!
And so it’s been with his true passion: guitars.
“After many years of studying the intricacies of guitar design and manufacture, I figured out a better way,” Miltimore says.
He’s designed an acoustic guitar with a fully adjustable neck, allowing for a level of playing-action customization and precision serious musicians could, until now, only dream of.
Miltimore’s businesses are doing well—his personal net worth (outside of real estate) is more than $500,000—but money isn’t what gets him up in the morning.
“There are two types of entrepreneur: those who measure their success in dollars and cents, and those who are driven by passion for their work.
“I’m in the second group.”
On Lee’s Music
Our business reaches well beyond our bricks-and-mortar store. If you’ve ever been to a concert, you’ve probably noticed stacks of computerized sound equipment off-stage. Years ago we developed a specialty in sound-system engineering, providing both equipment and service for big events.
We also do high-end visual work like lighting effects and screens that capture action for people in the back row.
That service isn’t limited to the music business. I recently installed a 600-speaker sound system with almost 200 wireless channels on a train. We also do corporate functions and galas, covering everything from room décor to food.
Across all businesses, we have a staff of 30.
One of our clients is B.C. Wildlife Park. Every winter we put on the “Symphony of Lights,” a laser-light show programmed to music.
Years ago we flirted with the idea of setting up the audio-visual side as a separate business, but we found our branding through Lee’s Music was so strong it didn’t make sense.
What makes Riversong Guitars stand out
The neck on a standard acoustic is glued onto the body. Problem is, if it’s just a little off, the strings won’t line up properly and they can slide off the fret board.
In those cases, costly neck resets and other imprecise methods are needed to correct the problem.
My design uses locking pins and set screws that allow micro-adjustments to the entire neck, ensuring it’s perfectly positioned. It also allows finer customization to playing style: some players are aggressive, while others go for finesse.
I’ve also developed a manufacturing process that improves precision by 10%. Normally, there’s a great deal of sanding needed to get the various pieces to fit together. But this can be imprecise, so we’ve eliminated a lot of these steps.
With our proprietary method, every component and angle is exactly the same. And we do everything in B.C. and build the instruments with Canadian woods.
I have a great deal of respect for Taylor Guitars, a pioneering U.S.-based company that makes high-end instruments. It used to take at least two months [to cure] the wood. Thanks to their development of UV curing, it now takes only a couple of hours. I see myself as an innovator on this level.
Riversong’s projected gross sales within Canada and the U.S. over the next year are $2 million. We only started taking off in 2011.
I have several patents and multiple licensing deals in the works. I hired a strategic planner to help design and meet a three-year plan for ramping up manufacturing and developing a global dealer network. My goal is to take over the world, one guitar at a time.
My guitars are only sold in boutiques. They provide dealers with high margins—unlike the mass-produced, low price-point instruments that flood the market.
I just bought a new production facility and hired a manufacturing consultant to help with the transition. The new facility is large enough to accommodate further expansion as our three-year plan comes to fruition. Right now my biggest problem is producing quickly enough to meet demand.
About 10 years ago I invested a good part of my savings through my local bank branch. The advisor knew what she was doing—my investments grew a lot. It was a balanced portfolio with a U.S. equity component. Over the course of a few years, my initial investment grew by nearly 50%.
Then I made a big mistake. I switched to a more aggressive advisor and the gains I made quickly evaporated; but I pulled out before the losses started to hit my initial investment.
It left a bad taste in my mouth and I’ve been hesitant to pull the trigger on serious investing ever since.
I can’t say I have a positive image of the financial advisory business. And it’s not just the scandals in the headlines that turn me off. It seems like anyone can take a weekend course and become an advisor. This makes me nervous.
But if my accountant recommended someone, I would do it. She’s been a great asset to me and my business, and I have complete confidence in her judgment. She takes an active role and it’s clear she has my, and my family’s, best interests at heart.
Procrastination is another reason I’m not investing. The people at my bank call me about once a month to remind me I have a considerable chunk of money just sitting there, waiting to grow.
I know I should do something but, as soon as I put the phone down, it slips my mind because I’m so busy with the new company. Also, the advisor who helped me years ago isn’t at my branch anymore, so now I’m back to square one.
How can I be sure the people there now will be as helpful and careful as she was? These worries make it easy to procrastinate.
But I know the clock is ticking. I’ll need to do some serious investing soon. I’m having a sit-down with my accountant—hopefully she can vouch for someone.
Dean Dispalatro is senior editor of Advisor Group.