Faced with the health crisis, a manufacturer of musical instruments is playing for survival
From Sidney Bechet to the Republican Guard fanfare, his clarinets and drums have toured the world. But now silenced by the health crisis, the centuries-old manufacturer of instruments PGM-Couesnon “is fighting to survive”.
The global shutdown of musical life, festivities and concerts caused orders to drop by more than 50% for this SME in Étampes-sur-Marne, in Aisne, one of the last two companies in the sector in France. For 2021, turnover is expected to drop from 520,000 to 270,000 euros.
“We are fighting to survive,” laments Sophie Glace, co-manager with her mother, Ginette Planson. With a production of brass and percussions intended for 80% for export – in particular the military bands of Africa and Latin America – “when there was a crisis in France, we fell back on abroad but there, it was impossible ”.
In the workshop, a worker cuts a trumpet flag out of a brass plate, before rounding it, another sharpens the trombone flag with a chisel.
Nothing to do with the pre-crisis activity, when all the workstations were turning, boiler making, pushing, turning, scraping, stretching, bending, plunging.
– “Safeguarding know-how” –
The nine employees, all multi-skilled workers and musicians, are on partial unemployment until the end of the year. Trained “on the job”, the trumpeter Bruno Villain, 21 years of seniority, even obtained the agreement of the management to work punctually for the competing company, in Mantes-la-Ville (Yvelines).
“As a musician, being able to create an instrument from start to finish is magic,” he smiles. However, for a few months he had to change the register, when, “to continue to hold on”, the company diversified, in particular manufacturing lighting for a great designer.
“Africa has been a little less affected, so there is at the moment a thrill, a timid recovery of quotes”, hopes Sophie Glace.
But in France, where the SME notably sets the Republican Guard to music, and despite the health pass, “musical groups are still in reduced tonnage and also affected by a drop in revenue”.
For his mother, 78, however, there is no question of giving up: “We must at all costs safeguard this know-how perpetuated since 1827”, insists this ex-worker.
– “Asian road roller” –
World leader in the manufacture of wind and percussion instruments in the 1900s, with six production sites in France, including 600 employees in Château-Thierry, Couesnon was reborn after the Second World War, driven by the boom in jazz.
Sidney Bechet, Alexandre Lagoya, Roy Eldridge, Bill Coleman, the big names in music praise his instruments.
But in 1979, an arson ravaged the factory. “We were 165 employees, the bosses kept only eight,” recalls Ginette Planson, then dismissed.
She took over an activity of manufacturing instrument covers in the basement of her house and created the company PGM, inventing in the process “fiberglass drums, more resistant and lighter, it worked very well”.
So much so that in 1999, she bought Couesnon, then in liquidation, assisted by her daughter, BTS in international trade. Today, her granddaughter also wants to join the company, “three generations of women to continue fighting”.
But even more than the pandemic, the threat comes from the “steamroller which floods the market, the Asian giant Yamaha”, details Sophie Glace.
Their instruments are ten times cheaper, she admits, but with a caveat: “Metal is much less resistant over time, and above all, this creates a uniform sound, which becomes terrible in the world of music. ”
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