4 minute read

Red Dragon Guitars keeps roaring

Jonathan Pugh is currently in his fifth year as owner of Red Dragon Guitars, which has been one of NAMM’s Top 100 Dealers for three years running. A guitar player since 1985, Pugh worked in textile screen-printing for 20 years, but gave up his business to care for a sick relative, and, upon his/her passing, used his inheritance to buy some guitars. “Mainly they were for my own collection, but then I said, ‘Maybe I should sell a few,’” recalled Pugh. And with that, Red Dragon Guitars was born.

The online-only shop has a presence on eBay and Reverb — both stores with ratings of 100 percent — and a 3,000-square-foot by-appointment-only showroom that Pugh runs out of the property where he lives. However, the store’s main focus and greatest success has been on Facebook, a site that Pugh first discovered in 2014.

“I went on Facebook for the first time, and what I saw was an opportunity to reach a worldwide audience,” said Pugh. “We do a lot of Facebook boosting to create a following, and it’s easy to talk to our customers via Messenger. I saw an opportunity there, and I took advantage of it to create an audience I could communicate with in real time.”

Being able to easily reach customers, and vice versa, is key to Red Dragon Guitars’ business model. “I started this business because the places I bought from gave me no real customer service experience,” said Pugh, who makes himself available to customers 24 hours a day, regardless of where they live. “I have customers from all over the world who call me at all hours. I have customers who call from places like Australia, Indonesia, France and Tokyo at their local time, and I have to be available to them.

“When a customer calls at 11 p.m. and I pick up, they can’t believe it,” Pugh continued. “I don’t treat people like they are a number placing an order, so it rarely takes more than 15 minutes for me to respond.”

Being cordial and responsive to his clients has helped build a strong word-ofmouth reputation, and Pugh has been able to cultivate a high-end clientele with whom he not only talks about gear but also more personal topics, including their children and families. He is able to update his customers on his inventory to the point where Pugh said that 80 percent of his inventory is presold.

“Most of my customers know what they want, so the goal is to sell a guitar before it comes into the shop and ship it directly to my client, untouched,” said Pugh, whose shop carries primarily guitars and amps ranging in price from $2,500 to $25,000, with a plan to expand into accessories in the near future. “We do carry some lower-end items too, just to have them available for customers who want them,” Pugh said, “but the focus is on high-end guitars that aren’t hanging in a store and being played all day long.”

Red Dragon Guitars has become the place to go to find products from independent luthiers utilizing exotic woods, exquisite paint jobs, custom airbrush work and other eye-catching attributes that buyers can’t find anywhere else. But in the early years, Pugh acknowledges that he was upset by the fact that larger brands were quick to dismiss him and his business. As a result, he got creative and found “smaller brands who were looking for someone to partner with,” including brands that were not yet well known in the United States. Today, Pugh works with more than 40 independent builders, including Claudio Rustignoli of Rusti Guitars, Sigg Braun of Siggi Braun Custom Guitars, Malek Moshkowski of Driftwood Amplifiers, Derek Bowen of Revv Amps, Luigi Valenti of Valenti Guitars, David Thomas Mcnaught of DTM Guitars, Giulio Negrini of GNG Negrini Guitars and many others.

According to Pugh, Red Dragon Guitars serves as the exclusive dealer for seven of his brands in the USA territory. “We help them grow their company together as a team,” said Pugh. “It’s important to secure that to not only help build their brand, but also to be able to control the demand versus supply and to help keep the buzz relevant. If everyone is selling the same gear,” he continued, “the intrigue of the brand goes away a bit.”

That’s not to say that customers can’t find name brands at Red Dragon Guitars. Pugh recently added Knaggs Guitars to his inventory, and he is one of the top U.S. dealers for Dean Guitars, which Pugh said was “one of the first brands to accept me and what I do.” One of Pugh’s bestselling brands is Jackson Guitars, which even supplied him with exclusive content at this year’s Winter

NAMM Show — an interview with Phil Collen of Def Leppard, which has garnered more than 50,000 views on Facebook.

“I’m looking forward to adding more major brands in the coming months,” said Pugh, who added that he has sold over a million dollars in guitars on Facebook alone. “I started out planning to sell two or three guitars per month, and now I sell two or three guitars per day. I see a bright future, but it wasn’t easy getting here.”

Over the past five years, Red Dragon Guitars has gone through its ups and downs, but Pugh is in it for the long term. Along with co-owner Joe Jarusinsky —a realtor and real estate developer from Austin, Texas who, like Pugh, came to the business with a long, successful career and a passion for guitars — Pugh plans to expand Red Dragon Guitars further into 2020 and beyond. Pugh puts his heart and soul into the company not because he needs to, but because he wants to.

“The main thing is that running this business has not been easy, but it’s been fun, and I enjoy what I do. It doesn’t feel like a job,” said Pugh. “Other dealers have to do this, while I do it because I love it. I’m very passionate about it, and I do it because I want my customers to be happy. When I do the customer right, they come back. I’m not in this for one hit; I want to build relationships.”

Red Dragon Guitars 188 Cedarbrook Lane Sparta, NC 28675 (336) 200-4480 www.reddragonguitars. com Jonathan Pugh, Owner

By Michelle Loeb