The death of the independent record store has been predicted as often as it has been discussed, and still there are numerous examples of how you can weather any storm, if you love what you do, if you’re smart about the changing environment you’re in and if you can think outside the box.
Many people have forgotten, that record stores were the places where bands got started, where vinyl-junkies survived on their support groups, where love blossomed, murder plots were construed and where you were able to discover a rich world beyond the TOP40. I have found many jewels by randomly rummaging through the shelves and falling in love with covers. Well, not in all cases, I might admit, and I’d recommend consideration of a few more selling points on the back cover nowadays.
Yes, record stores also have a terrible reputation of cruel elitism, and I have surely experienced my fair share throughout my musical adventures. In some of these cases the “standoffishness” of the record store owner might simply come down to a mix of nerdism and naked ‘retail-survival’. Something I have witnessed myself when I switched sides within the music industry and entered the colourful and adventurous world of music retail. Some of the daily encounters are simply not for the faint-hearted, and if you add a few more years to the bill, you have every right to become secluded and not wanting to shower every individual entering your shop with an overdose of affection.
Despite the unlikelihood of music enthusiasts dying, of people who still love to hold a record in their hand or be part of the whole story, starting with the songs on the record and ending with the artwork, the market is tough and the digital music landscape surely hasn’t made things easier.
How do some of these little troopers survive without biting the dust in a digital Fast-Food-World? The answer is simple and applies to all kinds of businesses out there:
By thinking outside the box.
By giving your fans something special.
By selling an experience rather than a product.
Let’s dig a little deeper….
Pay Attention to Your Customers
Know your regulars, but new customers alike. Pay attention to what they’re after, find the gaps and what they might look for. Be approachable and make them feel comfortable, a friendly “Hello” and a little attention if they approach you are often simply enough. Nobody expects you to engage in hourly talks about philosophy or to sell them your grandma – insincere and over-the-top attention is an off-putter anyway.
Up Your Service by Going the Extra Mile
I love going to the records store, buying a bunch of records and having the guy rounding the amount down for me. It’s not about the dollar I might save, it’s about the message this sends: that they value me, that they like me visiting, that they’re happy somebody is buying records. I love that!
Be the Expert
I have had the kind who was singing uncontrollably to me and who despaired deeply if I did not recognise the song immediately (which, technically and to my defense, was impossible in most cases). I had many of them in music retail – if you believe it or not! Sometimes you cannot save them all, but you can still know your stuff, know where to get imports from, recommend new things people might like, or even honestly warn them in order to save them from misery. All these are crucial ingredients of building trust and have people coming back.
Be A Value Provider and Keep Memorable
Don’t just sell records, offer customers an experience instead so they become loyal followers. People love that stuff (myself included) – I wear merch to death if it supports places and people I love. Other ideas could be newsletters with some exclusive stuff or loyalty offers, celebrate highlights with your friends by putting on a special event in your shop like a barbecue and/or a special music theme night, get bands to play shop-window-sessions, reserve special releases for your regulars who might like it – let them be part of your passion and enthusiasm. Again: all these little things are crucial ingredients for success that can be implemented by pretty much every business out there! It’s the little things that count…
So: when was the last time you bought a record or a CD in a shop?
Without record stores the musical landscape would be a sad one indeed… Make sure to support these little shops by dropping by at least now and then.