Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days?

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James_B
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Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days?

Post by James_B » Fri Apr 30, 2010 23:42

Firstly I realise this is ludicrously ambitious/ unrealistic/ naïve, and it's largely a pipe dream fuelled by watching High Fidelity too many times as a teenager and spending half my life and more than half my money in record shops... but running one has been an ambition of mine for years, is it even remotely viable anymore?

I guess having just finished university (likely with a less than respectable grade, if not an outright fail), I'm in no position financially to start up anything, not to mention I'm presumably too young (22) and inexperienced to be trusted with anyone elses money.

Having said all that, I probably fit the bill alright- obsessive loser but reasonably personable and more than willing to do something I love at the cost of being skint and leading a life of beans on toast and own-brand supermarket lager (as opposed to caviar, cristal and depression, I suppose).

I'm guessing that selling boxes of records at fairs/ markets and online is a safer first option than selling everything I own to establish a business I have no direct experience in, but even that sounds worryingly like something I might enjoy, which obviously makes it massively intimidating.

But is it all unrealistic?
I mean, I buy records in shops as do most of my friends, but I doubt we're a representitive sample of the population by any means, and the future of it all is worrying if articles referencing "the current economic climate" and iTunes all that crap are anything to go by.

I've lost my way here a little... You get the idea.

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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by Jangloid Mark » Sat May 01, 2010 00:09

Hi, James :)

I speak as someone who did indeed run (though not own) a second hand record shop for many years.

Firstly, it can be hard work - much more than you would expect, especially if you want to own it. Part of it can be great - it's a great way of meeting people with really cool music tastes, but, a lot of what you'll be doing will be graft....and for ever diminishing returns.

There are two problems that stand in your way. Firstly, go into HMV, and there are so many titles that you can buy for a fiver. You can also get CDs (which would be your bread and butter), even cheaper than that. (I recently bought Inspiral Carpets 'Life' on CD for 46p + postage).

The second problem is even more serious. Today's kids - for the most part - do not even have CD players (everything's MP3 now), let alone anything vinyl related. While, personally, I always buy the hard format, todays kids haven't grown up with that. Many people are still buying CDs, but, expect that to plummet in the next 5 years. Vinyl, in my opinion will keep it's niche market for a while, expect CDs to go the same way - to become a niche thing.

Selling online (what I do now) is even harder work - and more boring - and without the fun bit of meeting people. To set up an online shop that you could live off, in my estimation, you woulld need to carry a minimum of around 30,000 titles.

In short, it *can* be done (as things stand now), but, if you are just starting out, be prepared to lose everything you put into it.

I wish I could tell you something more positive.
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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by James_B » Sat May 01, 2010 00:31

Yeah, that's pretty much what I feared and expected to be honest.
30,000 titles is possibly a bit too much to keep in my mum's garage... Maybe I'll try and sell some used records on ebay on the side as a starting point and see how it works out.

But I kind of think that if there was any time to attempt something ambitious and potentially disastrous it would be now. I'm potentially in the last few years of my life where I'm responsibility free and yet to be sucked into a soul destroying career. It's also marginally more realistic than my previous life ambitions- professional footballer (age 5-13), rock star (13- present).

What shop did you run? I live Cardiff, I might know it...

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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by Wheatabeat » Sat May 01, 2010 00:41

Whilst not having any experience running a record shop, I'd guess your shop overheads would be far too high anyway to start from scratch. The ones that are successful have been in the same place for yonks so the established client base is what keeps said shop running and paying the leccy bills. In most if not all cases, said shops are supporting themselves by selling off stock online too. I'd say starting an actual shop would be fairly dead in the water before you started. A market stall, maybe. Just. But an actual shop? Nofrickingway.

As unromantic as it sounds, it's certainly viable as a online enterprise. In fact, if you've a pretty anorak-like disposition for vinyl and niche music, with a decent website and decent marketing skillz (basic SEO, knowledge of Amazon/Ebay) there's plenty of room for making a bit of cash. I've felt like doing it as a sideline and may still do, but the thought of actually leaving and running a business scares me too much.

If you've a good eye for finding records which you know will sell for a bit of a profit then I'd say dive right in. Just stick to eBay first and develop it from there would be my advice. I'd love to be able to spend 3-4 days a week trawling second hand shops and market places for records. Best of luck.
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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by Modern Antiquarian » Sat May 01, 2010 09:46

I don't know how true it is but I heard Oxfam are deliberately setting up new book and record shops near established independent ones to increase their market share - I suppose they can justify any type of sharp business practice so long as it's for charity..

The trend in the last few years has definitely been for small independent shops to move to online retail only as the overheads of running a physical shop just can't be met from any profits.

Maybe you could try thinking of a business plan for something like a bar / cafe / venue with books or records you could play on site and buy if you liked?
Running a bar probably isn't the easiest of trades to set up in either though..

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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by Jangloid Mark » Sat May 01, 2010 17:13

James_B wrote:What shop did you run? I live Cardiff, I might know it...
It was MoreMusic on St. Helen's Road.
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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by northernlight » Sat May 01, 2010 20:35

I think that running your own record shop would be a great thing to do.

However, it is fair to say that it would have been more viable, say, 20-25 years ago.

In he city where I live (Edinburgh), there is an independent record shop called Avalanche.

They actually have a notice in their window explicitly stating that they are struggling to sell records in their actual store, and then going on to ask if anyone has any ideas as to how to improve this.

Having said all of that, their stock does look really tired, and Edinburgh is a small place. In Glasgow, it is a different matter, where Mono does really well have steady sales throughout the day.

If you are to make a go of it in terms of a store, then choice of city would be important, I think.

Covering overheads would be a problem - but you could see if there is someone willing to share rent of a space where they do their thing and you do yours. That option has worked out for a few friends of mine doing similar ventures.

An example that springs to mind is a space at the Custard Factory in Birmingham - there was an Oxfam music store there once - I don't know if it is still there. Maybe Bham folk might be better placed to comment on that.

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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by Jangloid Mark » Sat May 01, 2010 21:38

Wheatabeat wrote:As unromantic as it sounds, it's certainly viable as a online enterprise. In fact, if you've a pretty anorak-like disposition for vinyl and niche music, with a decent website and decent marketing skillz (basic SEO, knowledge of Amazon/Ebay) there's plenty of room for making a bit of cash. I've felt like doing it as a sideline and may still do, but the thought of actually leaving and running a business scares me too much.
Sadly, that's getting harder to do now as well.

Your own website - no more than a handful of orders unless you're well established. The days when people bought directly from record shop websites have long gone.

In my experience, the amount of orders from the actual record shop website has fallen from around 65% 10 years ago, to well under 5%.

Amazon - Yes, this can be made to work (Currently around 75% of orders). Saleable stock will always sell here. The one thing that is against you is price fluctuation. Many of the bigger sellers have software that constantly compares and cuts the prices down to a specified minimum level. This is partly why you see common CD singles (and occasionally albums) on sale for 1p.

Also there are online sellers such as 'Zoverstocks', who have a massive catalogue and who do use this software.

On the plus side, if you're after something hard to find, and have a trashed copy, and they have it listed, you could list fyour trashed copy, wait for their software to kick in, then get a friend to buy theirs. I must stress I've never done this myself, but, it does go on.

Ebay - this is getting harder as well - unless you have something genuinely rare. There are loads of copies of many common CDs at any one time at 99p no bids. If chart CDs are your thing, then you can get so many for peanuts....but, not s good in terms of selling.

Finally, a lot of people just look at Amazon, or just look at ebay. I am aware that some people have made money by looking across ebay & seller sites and listing things that are expensive on Amazon but, cheaper elsewhere. If you go down this route, expect a lot of negative feedback and possible expulsion, as (1) your delivery times will be relatively slow, and (2) sometimes the copy you order elsewhere once someone has ordered your listing will not be available, or will not be in the described condition.

As a side note, a few times, I've been unlucky and had something ordered just after it had sold, but, have ordered a copy to send on to keep the fill rate high, and have still made rather than lost money.
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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by ketameaningless » Wed May 26, 2010 00:49

just talking out of my arse here, but personaly, i like GOING to record shops and hanging about. i'm one of those annoying fuckers who gets to know the staff and talks about music and shit.
maybe the future is in combined record shops/cafes/youth clubs/ where you can go buy a record, sit round drinking a brew and chat shit.
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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by Wheatabeat » Wed May 26, 2010 13:28

ketameaningless wrote:just talking out of my arse here, but personaly, i like GOING to record shops and hanging about. i'm one of those annoying fuckers who gets to know the staff and talks about music and shit.
maybe the future is in combined record shops/cafes/youth clubs/ where you can go buy a record, sit round drinking a brew and chat shit.
In the cold world of sales and marketing, people like yourself are a dying breed sadly.
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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by Paquito » Wed May 26, 2010 13:36

ketameaningless wrote:just talking out of my arse here, but personaly, i like GOING to record shops and hanging about. i'm one of those annoying fuckers who gets to know the staff and talks about music and shit.
maybe the future is in combined record shops/cafes/youth clubs/ where you can go buy a record, sit round drinking a brew and chat shit.
Which is why Mono in Glasgow is so great, where you can do all of the above and end up buying records from one S.Pastel esq. behind the counter in Monorail!
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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by ketameaningless » Mon Jul 05, 2010 10:11

can you imagine buying pastels records, or perhaps a copy of 'i don't like you cos you don't like the pastels' bu this many boyfriends, FROM ONE OF THE PASTELS? that would be fucking amazing
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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by timahall » Mon Jul 05, 2010 12:11

ketameaningless wrote:can you imagine buying pastels records, or perhaps a copy of 'i don't like you cos you don't like the pastels' bu this many boyfriends, FROM ONE OF THE PASTELS? that would be fucking amazing
I've bought Pastels records from Stephen Pastel several times, and yes, it is fucking amazing.

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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by boney » Mon Jul 05, 2010 21:54

ketameaningless wrote:can you imagine buying pastels records, or perhaps a copy of 'i don't like you cos you don't like the pastels' bu this many boyfriends, FROM ONE OF THE PASTELS? that would be fucking amazing
Do you ever buy records at gigs?

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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by grumpytimes » Tue Jul 06, 2010 09:23

ketameaningless wrote:can you imagine buying pastels records, or perhaps a copy of 'i don't like you cos you don't like the pastels' bu this many boyfriends, FROM ONE OF THE PASTELS? that would be fucking amazing
When i went to monorail i was too nervous to buy the 'unfair kind of fame" 12" because s pastel was behind the counter. Sure I buy records at gigs etc. - but there it's kind of expected.

Here in Auckland NZ a new record store was set up about a year that seems to be doing okay (well they haven't closed down) - they also sell zines/comics and operate as an art gallery (kid of similar to Made in Bristol if I remember correctly). As other people have been saying I think that is the way to make it viable - not just being a record store.

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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by Blank Frack » Tue Jul 06, 2010 09:32

grumpytimes wrote:Here in Auckland NZ a new record store was set up about a year that seems to be doing okay (well they haven't closed down) - they also sell zines/comics and operate as an art gallery (kid of similar to Made in Bristol if I remember correctly). As other people have been saying I think that is the way to make it viable - not just being a record store.
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Re: Is running a record shop even remotely viable these days

Post by PurpleHippo » Tue Jul 27, 2010 09:19

No.

I was talking to Alan of Alan's in East Finchley last week and he told me that many shops are struggling as he knew owners who were saying how terrible things had been in recent months.

I'd say you'd have a chance if you owned the property/shop and you went down the secondhand route. Online sales though would probably be your most profitable part of your business.

Alan's is an anomaly. He's very busy but then he specialises in reggae. He does stock a lot of 60's pop and soul as well as punk/new wave/indie but he makes most of his money by selling dance and reggae records.

He often travels to view collections so you'd need a car and also a good knowledge of every type of music, something that comes with years of experience.

I have worked in several record shops, starting back in 1981 when cds and downloads were a distant nuisance. By the time I worked in a secondhand shop in 1994 the outlook was starting to get bleak. Vinyl was in decline then but I think it's had a minor revival in recent years but not enough to sustain a shop.

Er, sorry for being so negative.
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