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Meet the Builders - Jamie Deering, Deering Banjos

Jamie Deering, daughter of Janet and Greg Deering, the founders of Deering Banjos, grew up around the factory and held positions in production over the years, and in 2019, she became the company’s CEO. She spoke with us about her role at Deering, the challenges they faced during the pandemic and the future of the company.

Carrying on the Tradition
Jamie has been a part of Deering Banjos since she was five years old. “I went to festivals and hung out around the booth and learned to answer questions early. I worked events with my mom when I was about fourteen years old. I always knew I would be part of the future of the company, I just didn’t know how.”

She says she never felt pressure to be in the family business. “I was in theater growing up and could have done anything. I studied communication and organization and traveled. I was always an ear for my mom in my twenties. I grew up hearing all the challenges and how they were resolved, so I always had a deep understanding of what it all means, what our business is and the values.”

Trial by Fire
When Jamie became CEO of Deering she “definitely got trial by fire. What timing – a pandemic! Every week my mom has said ‘I’m so glad I handed it over to you!’ But it was good because I handle stress and dealing with a group very well – that’s one of my strengths.” Even when they had to shut down and temporarily furlough their crew - “one of the worst days of our lives” -  she knew they were going to carry on. “Exactly how or when – no one had that answer."

Nine staff members, including Jamie, stayed on to do the have-to functions of the business. Then within a week of everything shutting down “our internet sales went crazy. Dealers were calling and saying ‘I need product’. We realized people were turning to music as a source of therapy, joy … it was so amazing, what a thing for people to be able to do while they’re dealing with this upheaval in the world. We had to provide because this was so important. It was one way to alleviate what was happening in the world.”

Luckily, Deering had what they call “the supermarket,” a supply of already-built instruments available should someone need them quickly. “We just started shipping those, but they were gone within a few weeks. One of our builders knew how to do almost the entire process by himself, so he started taking mostly finished instruments and assembling them to ship. The motivation was this is what we’re going to do to help alleviate what everyone is going through - get these instruments out the door. Luckily, we were able to bring everybody back six weeks later. We had kept all our crew on medical while they were out and I’m so glad we were able to keep going.”

Deering Live
During the pandemic, people brought out their instruments for the first time in years and realized they weren’t set up or were out of tune and didn’t know what to do. That’s where Deering Live started. “We were getting emails, phone calls and questions on social media about what to do. We have a lot of how-to videos and they were getting watched like crazy, so Chad (Kopotic, Deering’s Master Builder) and I started doing Tech Tuesdays on Instagram and Facebook to answer questions. That turned into Deering Live. We weren’t doing any of the festivals or events, so that was our way to stay connected and service everyone at home. Moving forward, strengthening our community, our internal team – we got to know everybody at a different level and I value that. It makes you deal with your business differently. And it’s fun.”

Part of the Banjo Community
Jamie feels lucky to serve musicians and share what they’re doing. “One of the things that’s so awesome in the banjo industry is that banjo players tend to be very nice people. I have a lot of respect for banjo players as human beings, and really all instrument players.

She’s also “gotten to know our music stores. I’ve visited the Denver Folklore Center and they are such wonderful people. The store is so welcoming and it has that kind of magic created by people who have a passion to provide music to their community. It’s special people that do that. Yes, we make the instruments, but that helps them do what they do for the community. That’s not lost on any of us. It’s important for us to support each other. How we can do more of that over time is on my mind.”

And Deering has long-lasting relationships with other instrument builders. “It's been nice to watch our friends in the industry also do well. We’ve never had a competitive feeling in our industry. We don’t function that way. Tanya and Chuck Ogsbury (OME Banjos) … my dad has known Chuck since before they got started.”

The Future of Deering
Jamie says Deering’s purpose is to “make musical instruments that bring joy into the world. That’s always been the motivation. That’s why we have over two hundred versions of our banjos - we listen to our customers and want them to have the banjo they’ve always wanted. We’re not just a business trying to earn money, that’s not us.”

And she’s excited about the future. “I’m forty-three, so I have years ahead of me. I’ve built a great team. I love the guys that have been here for so long, who are just amazing craftsmen. And to work with them and see this place grow and become more of a cohesive team is really exciting. I enjoy being part of that.”

There are also some upgrades coming. “There’s a lot of handwork that goes into every banjo and that will never change. But the jigs that we use to do the parts … using those for twenty years, they have done their job. We are in the process of updating that. We’re also looking to make improvements to the Goodtime line. We’re always looking to add value to what we can provide.”

“What we’re doing now is looking to the future and taking steps to ensure stability for us and our crew. No matter what the market does, choices we make now will make that easier or harder. We’re looking into improving sustainability. We want to put out an even better product but also a sustainable product. We have some new products on the ProPick brand to release. We’re really excited about events and shows coming back, like RockyGrass - to see shows selling out is huge! There are so many possibilities.”