Mike and Miriam Risko: “Take your special talent and use it to make the world a better place”

Take your special talent and use it to make the world a better place. Do business, but make time to contribute to the community where you live. People who own small businesses have a lot of connections and a big voice. It’s so important to use that influence to help others. I had the pleasure to […]

Take your special talent and use it to make the world a better place. Do business, but make time to contribute to the community where you live. People who own small businesses have a lot of connections and a big voice. It’s so important to use that influence to help others.

I had the pleasure to interview Mike and Miriam Risko. For 25 years, Mike Risko Music, located in Ossining, New York, has been a place to study and play music, to shop for musical instruments and gear, and to interact with working musicians. The business has two components: a school that provides a space where musicians of all ages and levels can connect, learn, and grow, and a store that features instruments selected by expert musicians who also use them on stage and when teaching lessons. The goal of Mike Risko Music is to be a one-stop shop for musicians and future musicians. Our focus is on providing customers and students with everything they need to fulfill themselves musically. As musicians themselves, owners Mike and Miriam Risko, who actually got married in their music school on June 3, 2000, also bring music into the community with their outreach programs, musical theater productions, and their band, the Mike Risko Band.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Mike: When I was a teenager, I worked at a local gas station. There was a regular customer, who owned Ossining Music Center, and he often stopped by to get gas. He noticed me practicing guitar between customers. The next time he showed up at the gas station, he brought me a beautiful new guitar and an amp to borrow. He said he would be back in a few weeks to pick it up. A few years later, he hired me as one of his guitar instructors.

Eventually he decided to stop offering music lessons in his store, but encouraged me to open my own teaching studio. In 1995, I made the leap and opened Mike Risko Music not far from Ossining Music Center. In 1997 Miriam (now my wife) and I were playing in a band together and I asked her to teach voice and piano at my school. We started to grow the school quickly, adding more teachers along the way, as well as new offerings like camp programs and different classes.

In 2009, the owner of Ossining Music Center decided to sell his building, so we jumped at the opportunity to buy the property. We moved our school into it and opened our music store.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Growing the business has had its share of challenges and buying a building and opening a retail store was a new venture for us — it was like we were starting from the beginning. In addition to owning a school, we also had to learn all about the retail components of running the business, while also managing our school and attracting new students.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

It’s simple. We really love what we do. We really wanted to have a retail store in addition to a school and we knew that if we worked hard enough, we would learn these new skills and have a successful business. We can’t imagine doing anything else, so it really drove us to push forward.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

If you look up the definition of “grit,” you’ll find many references to courage and that’s something we have had a lot of over the years. We truly believe that in order to succeed at something, you have to have courage and you can’t be afraid to fail. If you fail, you have to be courageous enough to stand back up and try again. Sometimes you try different things and if they don’t work, your strength is tested but it’s courage that keeps you going. Now in addition to a retail store and school, we have a huge online business too!

So, how are things going today? 🙂

We are very proud of the business and the brand we have built. We now have a successful music school, store and band. We still work really hard, around the clock, but we have built a solid foundation. People in the community know and trust our brand. We enjoy finding new and exciting programs and products to offer our customers.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We believe in having strong relationships with the community and our customers. Giving back is something we have done consistently since our inception, and we will always continue to do that because we feel strongly about contributing to the community that supports us. We have a cover band which gives us a unique opportunity to help local organizations to raise awareness or funds. We allow local organizations like Education Foundations or PTAs to use the band for an event or a fundraiser to help their cause. This will be the 4th year that we have donated a night of live music to the Pocantico Hills Education Foundation for their annual gala. This enables them to provide funding they need for programs in their school.

We have also created a musical instrument drive in which people donate their gently used instruments to us, we repair them and donate them to a local school along with lessons, so the kids know how to play them. We are currently working with the Ossining Children’s Center on a guitar program. We were able to donate 14 guitars and weekly lessons to the children’s center. The kids have already learned a song and we are planning a showcase for them.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Don’t ever give up. If one thing doesn’t work, try something else. Having a failed attempt at something is an opportunity to learn something new and have a success.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Miriam: My mom has been there for us every step of the way. We never could have built this business without her support. She helps us every day with our kids and enables Mike and me to work hard and focus on our business. She also helps with various things for the business, which is invaluable, and never says no to our requests for help. She always brings us over things like paper towels and other things we really need, without asking us!

When we are playing music, my mom is in the audience cheering us on — she’s our biggest fan!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We believe that music brings people together in so many ways and can change the world. Whether we are playing music, teaching music or giving someone a musical instrument, we hope that we are making people smile through music one note at a time.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

1. Forget ordinary, be extraordinary: Be the best at what you do.

2. Have a plan.

3. If things aren’t working, you can always build them back up again.

4. Don’t let anyone stand in your way.

5. Keep smiling. Keep making music.

These are things that can help you develop grit, but also really important points that we teach our own kids. It can apply to business and life in general.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Take your special talent and use it to make the world a better place. Do business, but make time to contribute to the community where you live. People who own small businesses have a lot of connections and a big voice. It’s so important to use that influence to help others.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and you tube.


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