International sales are becoming an important development for Reuter Pipe Organ.
Reuter Pipe Organ Co. began exporting organs overseas about six years ago. Last week, the longtime Lawrence company opened its first branch office in England, demonstrating its commitment to the international organ business.
Albert Neutel, Reuter president, said he expects the British market to be as successful as the Asian market has been for the company. Right now, the overseas market can be as much as 15 percent of Reuter's annual sales, but Neutel said he expects international business to grow in the coming years. The company has also been selling organs to companies in Canada since 1957.
"Overseas is where the real growth is, I think," Neutel said. "While the churches are getting emptier in this country, just look at Asia. Their churches are filling up like crazy."
Churches average between 5,000 and 9,000 seats in Asia. One church that Neutel is familiar has as many as 57,000 seats.
"Most of their people go to church once a week," which isn't true any more for the majority of Americans, he said. "There's also a real upsurge of church attendance in Britain."
Almost 95 percent of Reuter's business is from church organs. Universities, schools and individuals have been some of the company's other customers.
The U.S. market may be slowly shifting back into pipe organ use, Neutel said, but the current thrust is in Asia and Britain.
The new office is managed by Reuter employee Mark Buxton in Totnes, Devon, United Kingdom.
Neutel has been back and forth to England many times this year establishing relationships and making arrangements for the new office. Even though Reuter hasn't sold any organs in Britain yet, Neutel is confident the new venture will be a success.
"The No. 1 reason for the new office is the number of inquires we've received from that area. It is a country where the pipe organ is very highly regarded," he said. The pipe organ "plays a much larger role in the typical British church than it does in America."
What does the increase in overseas business mean for Reuter?
"Well, it gets a lot more complicated. I wouldn't call it a shot in the dark, but there's definitely a lot that's unknown. But we're eager to grow and see what happens."
All organs will be manufactured, assembled, tested and dismantled in the Lawrence factory. Then large pieces of the organ will be carefully packaged and sent via ship to the overseas countries. A Reuter installation group assembles the organ in about a week and it takes almost two weeks to establish the proper tones on the pipes.
The company has independent contractors in several countries working in its behalf, but this is the first time it has established a branch office. Neutel said it won't be long before he hires a representative in Germany.
Reuter Pipe Organ Co. was founded in 1917 and has been at its current site, 612 N.H. since 1919.