John Lindhorst chased his passions into business ownership, and along the way, he’s discovered some unexpected success through his unique business.
John Lindhorst started a new chapter in his life in 2015, after retiring early. He opened Ukulele Station America, a small ukulele shop at 1000 W. Washington St., Oregon, Ill.
Lindhorst moved back to the area after teaching music in San Diego for 13 years. He had been back in Oregon for around a year and a half when he decided what he wanted to do.
Just 100 feet away from his front door, inside a small, stone-faced building that once served as a gas station, Lindhorst opened up a store befitting unique tastes.
“In San Diego, I had a ukulele club at the Felix Charter High School. I just had so much fun at the ukulele club, and I had collected quite a few ukuleles – over 100,” Lindhorst says. “I used to have a retail store in the ’80s here in Oregon, and I had a coffee house where I had sold some music stuff. So, I thought, teaching was great for 40 years, but retail, it’s kind of fun, too, and I have the building. So, why not?”
Lindhorst first picked up the instrument when he moved to Hawaii in 1995. He played it more when he started teaching in San Diego, where he introduced the ukulele to his public school students.
More performing opportunities arose after he began a ukulele club at the school.
“We were playing at Disneyland and Benson Center and all over the place,” he says. “It’s a really crazy, fun group of guys at the high school. All the jocks, the football players and the varsity baseball players, they all played ukulele.”
Back home in Oregon, Ukulele Station America has more than 100 ukuleles on retainer at all times. Most of the instruments are displayed in the cozy storefront, although some remain stored in boxes for safekeeping, says Lindhorst, who provides music lessons every Saturday. Information about those lessons is available at ukulelestationamerica.com.
“We have lessons available every Saturday morning, where people can just drop in for whichever level they choose,” he says. “I have a 45-minute lesson in a small group setting, very inexpensive. They can come when they want. They don’t have to commit to a full month.”
Lindhorst expected to have just a few sales in his first year, so he was surprised when he sold more than 100 instruments. Since opening four years ago, Lindhorst has sold more than 2,000 ukuleles to new and practicing musicians.
“Now, I’m selling over 1,000 ukuleles a year,” says Lindhorst. “I hooked up with major publishers and also added print and straps.”
Since seeing success, Lindhorst has moved forward with plans to expand his shop in new locations, while also updating the original. He plans to maintain the store’s charm, creating a similar look to what is there now, with the addition of more instruments, such as other folk instruments like dulcimers, banjos and guitars. He ensures the shop will still be Ukulele Station America, but “better than ever.”
In addition, there will be an additional space that will house more ukuleles and host a variety of activities and workshops.
The road to success always involves a few missteps along the way. Lindhorst believes one of his biggest errors was assuming he would attract the same market he had back in San Diego. When he led the ukulele club, around 55 kids would show up for practice. He thought the same would happen in Illinois, seeing as the store is located a block away from Oregon High School. However, Lindhorst quickly found he was drawing a much more “mature” customer base.
“It is more of the mature people who have time and money, I always say,” he explains. “Young people don’t have time or money. I really thought it was a good bunch of kids hanging out here, buying stuff. But it’s people my age and older collecting ukuleles, taking lessons and getting excited about re-creating the musical experiences, learning a new thing for their retirement and that kind of thing.”
It’s still a well-rounded customer base, and one that keeps on growing as Lindhorst gains worldwide recognition from amateurs and festivals alike. There’s also something about this quaint little store that creates a true experience for those who visit.
“People think, ‘Oh, I can just order it online,’ he says. “Well, that’s fine, if you’re buying socks or something. But if you are buying a musical instrument, I fill in that niche. People come in and they’re traveling a long distance, because they want to try to experience it. You can’t get that online. It’s like buying your groceries online – I want to walk up and down the aisle and see what’s available.
Then, all of a sudden, I’m reminded, ‘Oh, I forgot to write down that I needed that.’”
Lindhorst enjoys the experience of speaking to people in person and helping them achieve a unique experience. He wants people to experience something special when they visit.
“They come into my little store, and they go, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so cute,’” he laughs. “It’s so tiny, you know? And then they look up and they say, ‘you have a lot of ukuleles.’ And then I watch them home in on certain things, like a certain kind of ukulele or something unique that I have.”
The surprising success has made Lindhorst proud. When viewing his Facebook reviews, he sees comments praising his shop and showing appreciation for the impact he’s making on people’s lives by connecting them with music.
“They know that when they walk out the door with a ukulele, they’ve got an instrument that they really are going to enjoy and share with others,” he says.
Lindhorst believes the bottom line is that he has always done what he loves to do. He tells his students to “Find what you’re passionate about and it will feed and support you once you find that passion.”
“I’ve always been passionate about music, and singing is my biggest passion, along with writing songs,” he adds. “And with ukulele, as soon as I discovered it, I just fell in love with it. If you follow what you love, the money will come along. There have been tough times, too, but I’ve never not worked. It’s amazing. I’ve always had a job every year of my life, sometimes many jobs. I love to sing, and I love to play the ukulele the most. I enjoy the retail; I love meeting people. I think if you pick something you’re passionate about and if it’s what is meant to be, the money will follow.”