Heartbeat: The Early Years 2003 – 2009. It started in 2003 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. After a frustrating experience purchasing a drum kit for the church that he was attending, Noel Walker was challenged to do something about the process. As he left the music store, Noel was complaining to himself that there should be a place where ministry folks could go and get proper information and education on the right products for their application, and then be able to purchase those products at a better price. He thought since ministries typically raise all their funds through donations, then why couldn’t they get a break on instruments and gear instead of paying regular retail?
What he didn’t expect was someone to answer him with a question. “How many times am I going to give you a great idea and you are going to say: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if somebody did something’ about it?” Stopping on the sidewalk, Noel knew the thought wasn’t his own and his spirit acknowledged that he was hearing a divine voice. Quite perplexed about the encounter, he thought about it driving home. Questions were bombarding him, such as: “What could I do about it?” and, “Did I hear correctly or was it just a random thought.” Then a more startling question: “Wait a minute, Lord, what do you mean, ‘How many times?’ What else have I missed?”
Later that day Noel told his wife Phyllis about the encounter and asked her to pray. He fully believed that the response would be something like: “You are crazy.” But, the next day it was a surprise. “You need to look into this further,” she said. And so it began!
Where to start? Noel needed a formal business. After learning about the legal process of starting a company, the Heartbeat name was secured and the company was created. As a drummer, it was logical to start with drum gear. A logo was born… a beat shaped like a heart coming out of a drum. Now, where to get products to offer to ministries? They had to be good quality. And Heartbeat had to be able to offer them at great pricing.
The only place to start was to contact companies that were making great products that were already on the market, but not available in Canada. It seemed illogical that a major manufacturer already with distribution in Canada would be interested in supplying an individual to sell their product directly to non-profit businesses. That would compete directly with their distributor and retail selling outlets. Heartbeat needed to be the exclusive Canadian distributor, purchase goods at distributor pricing, and then would be able to supply those products to ministries at pricing that might be equivalent to what distributors of other products were selling them to stores.
The search for manufacturers began. After contacting a number of different brands, the one that said yes to Heartbeat was Peace drums from Taiwan. Peace was one of those companies established to manufacture musical instruments for other brands to market under their own names. Products ranged from student level to professional level drum sets, brass instruments and percussion products. After discussing a potential deal to sell their products in Canada and especially target ministries and churches, there was a lot more to consider. How to import products? Where to keep them? How to do sales and marketing? It was a busy planning time.
The next challenge came when Noel went to order products. He thought he should order a few drum sets to start and see how it went. But that’s not what he was being prompted to do. It was to make a more serious commitment. Heartbeat became a member of NAMM (North America’s music industry trade organization) and Noel went to Anaheim in January, 2003 to visit the huge NAMM trade show. A meeting there with the USA Peace management, sales team and some of their artists helped determine which products to first order.
Shortly afterwards an order for a container load of drum kits and hardware was in place. Learning importation procedures, documents, shipping, receiving, duties, taxation…. all of the behind the scenes administration was next on the agenda. Plus, locating a facility to store the drums. It all came together.
It wasn’t the initial idea but it made sense to see if there was a cymbal line available so Heartbeat could offer a full set up. Certainly cymbals didn’t take up as much room and would be an easy add on. The search process moved to cymbals now that drums were arranged for. While at NAMM, Noel met with various cymbal companies, and while some were not interested, one definitely was.
While there were many drum brands available in Canada and the USA, there was limited cymbal availability, apart from the big three brands. The timing was perfect to bring back to North America the traditional Turkish hand crafted cymbals that were so popular in the 1950s to mid 1970s, before the Zildjian K plant in Istanbul was shut down. More and more cymbals were being made by machines and the special craftsmanship from the original Turkish cymbalsmiths seemed to be drifting into obscurity. While there was a small distributor of mainly guitar focused products on the east coast of the USA representing Istanbul Agop, there wasn’t much else.
So with a similar agreement that was made with Peace, Heartbeat was now to distribute the Istanbul line of cymbals in Canada. The Istanbul company was formed out of the ashes of the Zildjian K factory, with some of the staff and machinery from the Zildjian plant (Zildjian cymbals were now being made in North America). To start, 200 cymbals were ordered, most of which in the classic design of the older Turkish Zildjian cymbals. Soon shipments of drum gear from Taiwan and cymbals from Turkey were travelling by boat across the Atlantic and Pacific and by rail to Vancouver, Canada.
Noel’s wife was still in support, even with the shelving full of cymbals now in the rec room of their home. After all, how could she complain as she had already given her blessing to start the business?. The first official sale was in August, 2003 for a drum set complete with hardware and a full set of cymbals. It was starting!
Was Heartbeat afraid to challenge the big name companies for customers? Noel had already found himself in that situation in previous businesses (industrial and automotive), so it was not new to him, nor was it a concern. Plus, there is a popular Biblical story about a young lad who took on a giant and defeated him with just a rock and a slingshot. But, it was never Heartbeat’s intent to copy or compete with other companies or products… it was just to work towards fulfilling the original vision. It was Noel’s job to be obedient to his calling, and let God do the rest. Which ever way it went, was find with him as long as he was obedient and followed the leading. Proverbs 3:5-6 states clearly that one should trust in the Lord, not one’s own understanding. And God would make the path straight.
Over the next few years the business grew. Local drummers would pop by the house and try out cymbals or drums. What surprised Noel was that touring and recording artists had heard about what we were doing, and started ordering cymbals. Sometimes bands would stop in at the house while they were in town on tour. Phyllis would make them coffee or snacks or just let them nap while the drummer picked out his gear.
In addition, Heartbeat was not only supplying churches, but musicians from all genres were anxious to get their hands on cymbals from Turkey. After all, they were missing the craftsmanship of hand made cymbals that they had been used to hearing and playing from the past, and were settling for cymbals that did not meet with their expectations. Times were changing. Stores across Canada were interested in both Peace and Istanbul products. Heartbeat started shipping products to retailers in Canada for resale. In 2004, Istanbul started their own distribution company in the USA.
As Heartbeat continued to pursue its original goals and develop its specific vision and mission for its purpose of existing, its popularity started to grow south of the Canadian border. The concept of providing high quality products at a great price to the worship community interested the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) community. Heartbeat began to partner with prominent artists/bands such as Chris Tomlin, Leeland, Casting Crowns, David Crowder Band and others.
In 2004, Heartbeat added Superlux microphones to the line up. Superlux is a company based in Taiwan that, like Peace, started off manufacturing products and components for other big name companies. Superlux was their own “house” brand of products. Adding a line of microphones for drums, instruments and vocals was an easy and welcome addition. In 2006, adding Aquarian drum heads was another easy addition and blended perfectly with what Heartbeat was doing.
Stage Ninja products were added in 2008. Products included retractable cables and other stage accessories designed to make things work more easily and with less clutter. Ideal for churches, and even more so for churches on the go in rental facilities. Impact drum cases and Hornets drum sticks were also added into the Heartbeat family.
As the business grew, it was getting more difficult to operate it from Noel’s house. It was time for a change. Noel and Phyllis started looking for a small warehouse facility that was dock level to make it easy to unload a container. That turned into a more difficult task than expected, as most small warehouses only have ground level access for shipping. But, they did find a few, and chose the current Heartbeat location in Surrey, B.C. At the time it was only ten minutes from their home so that made it very convenient.
Some renovations were made to create a new office area and show room/lounge/display area in addition to improving mezzanine storage. Heartbeat also expanded to add a part time and later full time employee. Shortly afterwards, a part time bookkeeper joined the family. Noel adjusted the company name to Heartbeat Distributors to cover the new range of products that it represented.
Times change. Life happens. As Heartbeat’s US counterpart Istanbul distributor built up their business, they did not want Heartbeat soliciting any business in the USA at all. Plus, they did not want to be so closely associated with the Christian music industry, fearing it would negatively affect their business in other genres. Noel entered into negotiations with Istanbul Turkey to resolve this issue, as so many of Heartbeat’s drummers were American. Some sort of agreement or solution had to be reached.
On the home front, Noel’s wife had battled and overcame breast cancer in 1995, but the disease returned in the form of bone cancer and brain tumors. Was it time to pack up Heartbeat and walk away? Supplier issues, family issues. The road ahead looked a little unclear. What did that verse in Proverbs 3 say? Something about trusting in God, not ourselves, and something about a straight path ahead? The Bible never said it would be an easy route. 2010 was going to be a challenging year.
Heartbeat: The Rebirth Years 2010 – 2014: The Heartbeat Story Part Two