Indie retailers on life during lockdown and the plan for Record Store Day

Indie retailers on life during lockdown and the plan for Record Store Day

It’s tough out there for indie retailers right now.

But as Record Store Day coordinator Megan Page told Music Week, many shops have adapted with online operations.

This week’s big physical release is from Sleaford Mods, while new albums from Gerry Cinnamon and Tom Misch & Yusseff Dayes have also helped stores in terms of online vinyl sales during the lockdown.

Music Week has spoken to indie retailers about business during Covid-19 and the new plan for Record Store Day to be split over three dates later this year. Here’s the latest from Banquet, Resident, Rough Trade, David’s Music and Stranger Than Paradise... 

How do you feel about the new plan for Record Store Day?

Jon Tolley, Banquet Records: “Obviously Record Store Day is about celebrating, but also supporting, independent record shops. If it's unsafe, or more likely impractical, to have social distancing, then we won't be encouraging people to the physical store. But it could be that what's okay in October might not be so in August. We just have to be flexible. A key thing often forgotten is RSD is a worldwide event. So the default should be to encourage physical shopping, as there might be some territories who can deal with it in a way I don't think we'll be able to in the UK.”

Natasha Youngs, Resident: “In all honesty, it’s not the solution I would have opted for. I was really keen for us to stick to the rescheduled June 20 date and move the whole event online. For one year only, have a big online event with the releases being sold and the artists promoting them online – a proactive response to the current situation, not a model for the future of RSD. I think it’s a shame to dilute the product offer across three days that feel like they are a long way off for us, the customers that want them and the labels that have paid for them. My personal preference would have been to get the stock out of warehouses, into customers' hands – get the labels paid and get the money into the record shops that the titles have been manufactured to help support in the first place.

“However, through the extensive discussions with other territories, it became apparent that there were a huge range of other factors to consider (financial, social, logistical) if RSD was going to maintain a unified global structure this year. This was the solution that the RSD organisers in the States felt addressed everyone’s different issues most fairly. There appears to be a mixed response from shops, so for every one of us that feels this was the wrong approach, there’s another that thinks this was the only way to go.

Resident is a resourceful and adaptable business. We will make the most of whatever opportunities come our way, so now we’ve come to terms with it, we’ll just roll with this decision. We will work with our suppliers and customers to find the best way to deliver all three sets of products. August is still a long way off and none of us know at the moment what the social situation will be by then. One thing is for sure though – we won’t be celebrating with our usual packed-out RSD party this year. We will be looking for the safest, most responsible way to get the releases to customers and it’s possible that we may employ a different mechanic on each of the three dates.”

Ashlie Green, David's Music: “I know it was a very tough decision for everyone involved, but I think this is the best outcome. The normal RSD [online sales] rules will be relaxed a bit to account for the unprecedented situation, so depending on what point we’re at with social distancing, we’ll adapt accordingly. We’ll do whatever we can to ensure customers and staff are both safe and comfortable.”

Nigel House, Rough Trade: “However it pans out, our focus, as always, will be to deliver the best experience we can to customers, be that over a Perspex-shielded counter, or online via our website. Thankfully, we’ve tremendous staff and loyal customers, so we’re confident that despite the altered conditions we can put smiles on faces, giving everyone a safe and rewarding experience.”

Noreen McShane, Stranger Than Paradise Records: “It’s definitely a solution we can work with. Our biggest fear was RSD 2020 being cancelled all together, so this is very welcome. We’re lucky to be based within a 10,000 sq ft space within Mare Street Market, Hackney, so there’s plenty of opportunity to social distance and manage crowds comfortably. We can also extend our hours over a 12-hour day, so everyone has the opportunity to come and shop safely. I guess record stores can look at how supermarkets functioned during the lockdown and marking out two-metre queuing distances and managing store capacity, I’m pretty sure the public is used to that by now. 

“It’s all unknown territory, so the main thing we need to do between now and the first RSD drop is to listen to our customers and the best advice to gain an idea on how they would feel secure and safe on the day. Being able to sell part of the allocation online is a large pressure taken away, customers will have the option to use our click & collect service too – picking up at their orders at their own leisure if needs be.”

How is your business coping during the lockdown?

Jon Tolley, Banquet: “It's certainly a challenge. We've always had a strong online presence, so we hit the ground running. But the whole process is more time consuming than normal times, mostly due to our social distancing measures, meaning only having one member of staff per room. So shift hours have changed, some staff are at home, and some staff our doing different work (our full-time sound engineer now packs mail order, our full-time shows rep now is in the stock room). Some people have been ill and some are isolating or shielding. Of a payroll of 24 people, there's only ever four people in work at the physical site at same time. Then there's the challenge of changing release dates from suppliers, for obvious reasons, but it's quite a juggle. But Let's keep perspective, none of us our on the NHS frontline, or bus drivers, and the like. We have it easy and we know it.

“We've spent a lot of time and money on improving the website. It's more back-end stuff about information flow more than customer-facing facilities, but it's the right time to do this investment and our programmer has a bit more time for us with other clients' business being quiet.”

Natasha Youngs, Resident:We’re doing okay, considering. We’ve been driving our mail order really hard and have retrained a lot of our team to help run this side of the business. The extra help and support we have had from artists, labels and suppliers to drive sales, incentivise pre-orders, put together cheap product offers and keep indie record shops in the public consciousness has been key.

It feels like we have to reinvent the business on an almost daily basis to cope with new challenges

Natasha Youngs

“It feels like we have to reinvent the business on an almost daily basis to cope with new challenges, changing demands and the ever-evolving staffing situation. We put on events and sell tickets, too, so there’s a lot of work going into postponing, cancelling or rescheduling events at the moment in the hope that they can still take place sometime. It’s a slog – no question – but we are very grateful to have a brilliant and resilient team and a strong online strand to the business that will hopefully see us through this crisis.”

Ashlie Green, David’s Music: “We’re currently completely closed for business, but we have some plans in place for when we re-open. Just before we closed, we were offering bike deliveries for local customers, which was very popular and is something we’ll reinstate for people who are still having to self-isolate after lockdown. We’re also looking at ways to expand our presence online to offer more ways for customers to shop with us.” 

Nigel House, Rough Trade: “With all stores closed apart from online, it’s clearly a very different business for us on some levels, but on others it’s business as usual - making sure we’re best serving the label community to the best of our abilities. Thankfully, our web platform is sturdy, our online reach is wide, so our resulting e-commerce sales are strong.”

Noreen McShane, Stranger Than Paradise Records: “Like everyone, we’ve had to adjust and adapt but we’re determined to keep going not only for ourselves but also to accommodate our customers. We closed our physical shop in Hackney, so we’re trading solely through our web shop for now. Thankfully the Royal Mail is still going strong and we’ve been able to offer a free-of-charge social distancing bike drop-off service within three miles of the store, which has gone down a storm! It’s been really positive keeping that personal connection and service with our customers during this crazy lockdown, plus it’s been great exercise!” 

What kind of boost to business do you expect from this new version of RSD?

Jon Tolley, Banquet: “My feeling is this year will be more focused on a cash injection of cold hard sales, rather than the celebration of those weird and kooky places we know as record stores. It shouldn't be the business model going forward, but as a one-off this can be okay. My personal view is this will allow those stores without online stores to get on it, as they're sure to be getting some pretty great stock over the coming months so the barrier to entry of ‘what's he point?’ will be gone.” 

Natasha Youngs, Resident: “It’s impossible to know what kind of response we will get. It’s certainly going to be a damn tricky RSD to buy for, especially bearing in mind that RSD product is all purchased on firm sale. We have to order quite a way upfront too. It’ll be interesting to see whether the demand will be evenly spread across all three days. Of course, much of this will be determined by the split of the products, which we are yet to see. We will do our utmost to embrace the days, work the releases as hard as we usually do and hopefully make a big success of it, regardless. We don’t want customers being disappointed or labels being burned by this.”

Ashlie Green, David’s Music: “It’s difficult to say what sort of impact this version of RSD will have. We’re very lucky to have very understanding customers, so I’m sure whatever form the day takes, we will have support from them. We’ll do our best to promote the separate days and the individual releases as normal, so even if a queue of customers is not possible, we’ll still be able to make it a celebration – albeit a different one than we’re all used to.” 

Nigel House, Rough Trade: “These are RSD ‘drops’, not an attempt to recreate RSD itself, so it’s inevitably a very different type of experience. How they translate into sales, only time will tell, but we’re hopeful that demand will be strong for the releases, with online inevitably having to play a much more significant RSD releases role than usual.”

Noreen McShane, Stranger Than Paradise Records:  “As a store owner, it definitely relieves the financial burden of not having to pay for the stock in one go and spreading the cost over the three months. Every year we see an increase in new customers around RSD and I don’t see this changing for the RSD drops. To be able to sell products online will compensate massively for the lack of footfall on the day, but sadly won’t contribute to the usual fun, party atmosphere like previous years. We had big plans for April with plenty of DJs, bands and even a big after-party in Hackney booked. Sadly, that’s now shelved, but we understand our customer's safety comes first and we’re grateful to have RSD in any capacity as there’s still such a demand for it from customers and stores.”

To read the magazine interview with Megan Page on the revised plan for RSD, subscribers can click here. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story, click here.

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