Moller Organ Co. is again piping music

WORKPLACE & MANUFACTURING

November 25, 1993|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

After a year-long intermission, the music is flowing again from the M. P. Moller Organ Co. in Hagerstown.

Moller, once the nation's biggest maker of pipe organs, collapsed in April 1992 under the weight of operating losses and a $2 million debt.

Its name, customer list and equipment were purchased from the bankruptcy court last February by Paul D. Stuck, owner of Recycled Office Furniture Systems of Chicago.

Now, a longtime Moller employee, D. Byron Arneson, is running the slimmed-down organ company.

And although the company hasn't been able to afford advertising, orders are picking up, Mr. Arneson says.

The company employs 30 technicians and salespeople, up from 25 last spring. The 117-year-old pipe maker once had as many as 130 employees.

But knowing the troubles other companies have had, Mr. Arneson isn't pulling out all the stops, because he is wary of growing too quickly.

The key to success in the organ business, he says, "is knowing when to say no."

Too many organ aficionados think of the Hagerstown company as the maker of "impacted Mollers" -- a reference to the company's tendency to indulge church organists' desires for too many pipes in small spaces, he said.

"The engineering costs go way up" on crowded pieces, Mr. Arneson says. Now, Moller will concentrate on building "elegant instruments, like Steinway."

Besides cutting its engineering costs, the company cut its health costs from about $5,000 per employee to about $1,500 by pooling with its new parent company, he said.

The new Moller no longer has a unionized work force but still pays the same hourly wage, about $10 an hour, he said.

The 64-year-old Germantown resident says he started preparing for his new job when he was a teen-ager.

In high school in Minnesota, he learned to play the organ and worked part time as an assistant to the local Moller organ repairman.

While at the University of Minnesota, he got bachelor's and master's degrees in organ music, with a minor in architecture so he could figure out how to fit organs into ornate church buildings.

He worked for two other organ makers, both of which have gone out of business, before shifting to Moller in 1977.

After Moller closed last year, Mr. Arneson said, he left the industry he loved, got a real estate license and started selling houses.

But he was happy to give that up when Mr. Stuck called.

Manufacturing in Md. still slow, report says

Manufacturing in Maryland continued to stagnate last summer, according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Va.

The Fed's index of manufacturing activity for the Maryland-D.C. area dropped 1.1 percent from the first to the second quarter of 1993.

The index, which seeks to gauge local manufacturing output by following factory employment and energy use, is still about 2 percent below the peak hit in the first quarter of 1991.

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