Business Opportunities in the Suddenly-Sexy Ukulele

When I was a teen nearly everyone I knew wanted to learn to play the guitar or the drums. Apparently today’s youth have something different in mind—channeling Lawrence Welk and Don Ho, instead of Jimi Hendrix and Ringo Star.

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Really. Musical Merchandise Review magazine reports the surge in ukulele sales were “fueled both by hit songs from the likes of Train and Jason Mraz, as well as the diminutive size and price of the four-strings, which made them popular during the recent recession.” In fact, according to the National Association of Music Merchants, ukulele sales in America alone jumped from 581,000 in 2010 to more than 1 million in 2012.

But what about today? The magazine recently polled retailers to find out if the ukes’ popularity were holding up post-recession. And it found more than 50% of participating retailers reported ukulele sales were up from the same period last year, and an overwhelming 92% expect sales to either remain steady or increase this year.

But the ukulele is not the only unlikely instrument to enjoy a resurgence. The Los Angeles Times recently proclaimed accordions are making a comeback, “thanks in part to its adoption by influential musicians and bands, such as Tom Waits, Gogol Bordello and Mumford & Sons.”

Local Los Angeles accordion star Gee Rabe, who also teaches music at California State University at Northridge, told The Times she “credits the Internet and freer access to different accordion music styles—not just ‘the older Italian man playing some old Italian song’—with the reputation shift.”

There are several business opportunities (aside from regular sales) that can spring from the new-found popularity of both instruments. If you’re interested in jumping on the ukulele bandwagon, consider focusing on the education market as well, since some schools are now ordering “classroom sets” (30 instruments in a set) of the instruments.

Or don’t forget about repairs. In fact, one accordion shop owner told The Los Angeles Times he’s “inundated with repairs” as people all over the world send their accordions to his shop to get fixed.

There’s a bigger lesson here as well. The Times noted part of the accordion’s popularity can be attributed to “a general trend of branding the once-weird as hip.” Underscoring that thought, famous accordionist Weird Al Yankovic, who cracked the Billboard top ten lists (for an album and a single in 2oo6—about 30 years after launching his career), told The Times, “I like to think that I've helped to bring sexy back to the accordion.”

If ukuleles and accordions are now considered quirky and cool, what other products can be transformed from geeky to great?

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at, follow her on Google+  and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.