How To Run A Record Store

Joy Convenience Store "A"

I once happened upon a record shop that was, upon opening the door, a non-stop horrorshow. This isn’t the first craptastic record store I’ve visited (by the way, by record I mean vinyl moreso than CD’s), but it has led me to reflect on the good stores I’ve been to, and what makes them successful.

But first, a brief account of my poor experience at that store. Walking into the store, the first thing I noticed was the reek of tobacco. Not the occasional-cigarette smell, but full-blown chain-smoking-grandma smell. After leaping over boxes of comic books and assorted junk, I’m in the record section. There’s a huge wall of records, and a fair number of boxes littered around the section that I would assume have records as well. It’s dim - there are no lights. Searching through stuff I couldn’t quite read for five minutes, the clerk watching Star Trek first notices me. I couldn’t have been hard to find, since I was the only person in the shop. Spying a Psychic TV remix record with no price tag on it, I ask the clerk the price, with him answering 6 bucks. Fair price, but I was a university student with little cash at the time, so I passed. Going through the records I find that roughly 1 in 30 records have a price sticker. The records aren’t in any discernible order at all.

I struck a conversation with the clerk, who it turns out owns the store (?!). He brags about the amount of records he has (25,000, a number I found dubious), telling me that there used to be an organizational system when he opened the shop seven months ago. Since then, his stock of records exploded (“I’ll probably have twice as much in another 7 months!” he gushed).

Searching for a good 20-25 minutes, I come out with Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” and Gary Numan’s “The Pleasure Principle.” Both look in worse condition than the stuff I get at the Salvation Army for 50 cents. There’s no sticker on either of them, but I figure they shouldn’t be too much. “I’ll give you 3 for the both of them,” I said.

“Heh, they’re not all 3 dollars each,” the owner says. I scratch my head, wondering if he had heard me right. “I’ll give em’ to you five dollars each.” I take the records from him, return them to the shelves, and leave without a word.

This store owner is a clown. He doesn’t know what he’s selling, and had he only been dealing in records (he also sold video games, comic books, and action figurines), he’d have been cooked by then.

Fast forward a year, and I returned to the store. The records are all gone; not a single one left. The owner has liquidated all the records, and he’s using that space in the store to sell video games and comics at ridiculous prices.

The store is now out of business. He could have made a pretty penny off of his vinyl stock, but instead he took a beating for it.

I made a list that a person can apply to their own own record store (this is for vinyl, but can really be applied anywhere):

Doing these simple things will bring you much more repeat business. The businesses I’ve seen who do these basic things have far better longevity and sales, as well as a coterie of loyal patrons.

One of my favourite stores is Strange Maine, on Congress St. in Portland, ME. They have this formula down, and in turn have a fiercely loyal following. They’re over 5 years old, and are thriving despite the pressure many record stores are feeling. Another good record shop is Sloth Records in Calgary. I highly recommend going to them if you’re ever in the area.