For as long as he can remember, Wayne Erbsen has been fascinated by traditional American music. Whether it's an up-tempo Civil War marching anthem, a lonesome cowboy's lament, or a simple holiday song that delighted your great-great-grandparents, chances are that Erbsen has sung and played it many times.
Twenty-five years ago, Erbsen turned his passion of collecting, preserving, and performing these precious pieces of Americana into a business. While Erbsen was teaching American history and banjo at Central Piedmont College in Charlotte, NC, he compiled the music sheets from his classes into a book, Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus, which was an immediate hit at local music and bookstores.
Erbsen's new business, called Native Ground Music, grew as he added other instructional books, tapes, and CDs. Along with selling his products through local merchants in North Carolina's scenic Blue Ridge mountains, Erbsen would research and perform songs from a particular era or theme, then market the books and albums to specialty stores and catalogs. Operating from his family's century-old house near Asheville, Erbsen distributes a wide range of books, music, and historical lore via gift shops and his online catalog.
Although Native Ground Music was making good progress as a part-time enterprise, Erbsen knew that in order to take that proverbial "next step," he would need help expanding his distribution network. In 1994, he visited the Asheville chapter of SCORE and met with Dale Benjamin, a retired labor relations director with GTE Services Corporation. Although Benjamin's background in the telecommunications industry was a far cry from the world of publishing, his interest in Native Ground's success was music to Erbsen's ears.
Benjamin put Erbsen in touch with another book and music manufacturer who provided valuable advice about dealing with distributors. "That person was very friendly and gave me a lot of good advice," says Erbsen. "It was nice to get some insights from someone with experience doing something that I had just begun to learn."
"It's lonely when you're out there running a business for the first time," Erbsen says. "It certainly helps to have an older, wiser person to confide in. With Dale, I always felt like his door was open, and he'd be there ready to listen."
Even though Erbsen's business is doing well, he knows where to go in case his business hits a sour note. "SCORE is a good service," he says. "If I ran into a problem that I couldn't handle today, I would probably call on them again. It's comforting to know that they're out there."
Erbsen has since used his SCORE mentor's advice to bring his music to new markets across the country and around the world. When the time came to hire additional employees, he returned to SCORE for advice on incentive pay and benefit plans.
Erbsen continues to be a man of many talents. Along with running Native Ground Music, he serves as Director of Appalachian Music at Warren Wilson College, hosts a program at his local public radio station, and teaches classes in banjo, fiddle and mandolin.
"Dale had no experience in my area of business, but he was extraordinarily helpful," Erbsen recalls. "He was eager to learn about what I was doing, and locate the kind of help I needed."