After spending the last 15 years building their name among for axe-slingers and guitar manufacturers across the globe, Jason and Stephanie Lollar of Lollar Pickups are putting themselves on the map locally.
The Lollars, whose guitar pickups can be found pre-installed in some of the top guitar brands in the world, as well as in instruments as aftermarket upgrade, are leaving the low-profile they’ve maintained tucked away on Vashon Island for a bigger space in the south end of downtown Tacoma.
“Anytime you start a new company it’s a crapshoot. You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Stephanie said. “It was just kind of a surprise to us that we grew as fast as we did. Every time we think about it, we go, ‘Wow.’ It wasn’t expected. Buying a commercial building in Tacoma or Seattle wasn’t something on our mind 10 or 12 years ago.”
Business has been booming from day one for the ex-wife and –husband duo who opened shop in 1999. They maintained 25 percent growth for the first 10 years and five percent growth during the recession.
Their new space at 2312 A Street, behind U.S. Bank building on the corner of Pacific Avenue and South 24th Street, will give them significantly more room to build their pickups, a part in electric guitars that takes the string vibration and it turns it into an electrical signal that can drive an amplifier.
The building is about 8,000 square feet, a sizeable upgrade from the near 2,500 square feet they have between two large-scale and several smaller buildings on their property in Vashon.
It’s also better designed for the Lollar’s large-scale manufacturing operation than their existing location, but they’re still making major improvements to accommodate their needs.
The inside, as well as the outside, will look much different by the time the Lollars begin their move in April.
Crews, who began construction on Jan. 6 are replacing the electrical, heating and cooling, plumbing, windows and roof, as well as repairing some of the brickwork. They’re also lowering the second floor by about a foot.
Construction is expected to wrap up by April 8 and the Lollars hope to be fully operational by May.
Pickup success a surprise
The success and soon-to-be realized expansion have been more than the Lollars expected.
When Stephanie and Jason built a shop on their property on Vashon Island, they thought it would be a place Jason could build guitars in limited quantities by hand. But all that changed when Jason wrote a book to help make a name for himself.
“Basic Pickup Winding,” though, gave him a name as a leader in the guitar pickup market rather than the guitar making industry. To this day, it’s the only book in print that shows the procedure of making all the parts and winding the coil.
“Within a few years of the book’s release, there were enough requests from guitar manufacturers for me to build pickups that I had to quit my day job to keep up. Within another couple years, Stephanie had to quit her job. We had both been putting in four to six hours after working a full day,” Jason recalled. “I had set out to be a guitar maker but the book about pickups ended up determining the direction we would be going.”
The Internet, though, compounded the book’s influence on business.
“At the same time we were getting the business started, people started really using the Internet to search for and research products. I don’t think this would have ever happened as quickly as it did for us without the advertising capabilities of the Internet. It used to be a lot harder to build up a national let alone international clientele,” Jason said.
Selling pickups direct to well-known guitar manufacturers like Nash, Collings, Fender and Gibson helped, too.
Luckily for the couple, Jason, who attended the Roberto Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix, had the manufacturing experience, and Stephanie had the background in accounting and finance, to get the company up and running quickly.
They hired their first employee in 2001 and now have 14.
With increased capacity at their new space, they’re hoping to be able to hire more to keep up with demand.
“We have actually had to hold back growth for most of the years we’ve been in business to allow us time to get our policies and systems down, including training our pickup builders,” Jason said. “We have an apprentice program to train employees. It’s not really a skill you can advertise for.”