In this section, we let the professionals do the talking. Each of these talented individuals possesses a vast amount of experience, knowledge and know-how within their respected fields – from production to DJ-ing and other professional activities in the music biz. By letting these people elaborate their craft by a simple list of personal tips, all you inspired followers can learn from the best. Whether you’re serious about building a career in the business, or just interested in a good read, these experts explain their craft like no one can.
In this first episode, we travel to what many claim to be the best record store on Belgian soil: Music Mania, a store famed for its extensive selection and wide variation of titles across all music genres. Vinyl lovers, young and old, all share a mutual love for this place in Ghent – and that’s in no small part because of Karel Van Audenaerde’s impressive dedication, who is running Music Mania alongside Lorin Deforce, Adriaan Denorme (aka Borat), Ziggy Devriendt (aka Nosedrip) and Siel De Block. If there’s anyone out there toying with the dream of opening up your own record store, Van Audenaerde has this to say…
Take a breath and think if this is really something you want to do.
A record store isn’t something you just start out of thin air. You have to be a passionate vinyl collector for a long time before you even think of taking this step. I would recommend to learn the in-and-outs by getting some experience by working in a shop first, or frequent as many vinyl markets as you can – or organize them yourselves, like I did before I started Music Mania.
Make sure you have sufficient funds.
Opening a record store is no walk in the financial park, so get a reliable accountant. Stock, rent, furniture and taxes all cost way more than you would expect. The small margin you make must be immediately returned as investment in the store – that’s the only way to grow as a business. Back in the old days you made most of your money on selling lots of copies of certain releases. In order to match those numbers now, you have to offer a larger number of different releases, but each with way less copies sold.
Location is everything.
Even though I live in Oudenaarde, I would never think to open a record store over there. The context of a dynamic city is important, as this is where most of your potential buyers are. Make sure your shop is located centrally – or at least in a place where a lot of people pass by. Proximity to cultural hotspots (as is the case with us and Kunstencentrum Vooruit) is a bonus.
Build your brand.
A good name and logo will take you very far, great ones will take you further. So choose wisely. This job is never finished. Even after all these years we’re still building our identity. Work to make yourself different, so people will know what you stand for.
Prepare to do a lot yourself.
From putting together DIY furniture to putting thousands of stickers on every piece of vinyl in store, prepare to get your hands dirty – even if that means staying late to fix the clogged toilet.
Don’t just be a ‘shop’, create a ‘community’.
Music fans in your area should be able to call your shop as ‘the’ to be for discovering new music. It’s not just about your selection in store, but also about the ability to create a space where like-minded enthusiasts can make a conversation – with you, or amongst each other. That means that you should always be open to suggestions from the regulars. In a way this resembles managing a bar, because upholding good relations with your customers is essential.
Keep the selection fresh and interesting for the regulars...
Don’t just follow the trends. Keep challenging yourself to diversify your stock in order to keep even the most dedicated music lover coming for more, whichever niche they follow. Your selection and your ability to select only quality items is key to develop your own style, which people will know you for in the long run. Try to get unique pressings or get your hands on some quality second hand collections – the connoisseurs will appreciate that.
… but stay open for all kinds of buyers at the same time.
Obviously you also got to sell some more known records in order to survive. But try to find the balance with your specialities – this is not a zero sum game, a lot of stuff is ‘popular’ and great music too. For example: we sell Fleetwood Mac albums every single week. Expand horizontally, by which I mean that you should offer more than just one genre in order to avoid being completely dependent on it. Fans of pop, funk, hip-hop, jazz and electronic music should all have the feeling the store caters to their needs. When people come in your store looking for a certain record, regardless of whether you have it or not, you should be able to get them interested in other stuff too.
Offer knowledgeable and friendly service.
This speaks for itself, but it’s particularly important in this business, although this definitely wasn’t always the case when I started buying records. Many potential buyers (especially people without much experience) will rely on the advice of the staff, so you best make sure the advice is good. Your employees (and yourself in the first place) should not just be music fans, but music fanatics – preferably each with their own specialty so they can contribute to the store’s differentiation of the stock.
Go with today’s technology.
Ok, I admit, we may not be the best example as we only just started developing our webstore – but nonetheless it has become more and more important to give attention to the social media accounts of the store. Offering your stock online is a logical development in this digital world, but that should not mean you can buy everything online. Keep certain releases ‘store only’, to make sure your clients are still actually going to your store, physically.
Make your own kind of Record Store Day.
Yes, as a record store you cannot ignore this global initiative – but instead of just stocking in all the overpriced RSD-releases, you could do your own thing. Put up a special event, invite local DJs or bands that you support, etc.
Work together with other players in the local music scene.
Organize events with nearby concert venues or bars – like we do with Kunstencentrum Vooruit or Democrazy for example. Joining forces will only strengthen the local music scene.
Build a network of suppliers.
And I don’t just mean maintaining good relations with distribution players. As you gain credibility as a record store you become a destination for a lot of golden vinyl collections from people that might not need them anymore. As long as you keep the quality control on your second hand business high, you should allow trusted collectors to see your store as a place where they can get an honest buck for their black gold (and where it will be taken care of).
Running a record label of your own helps.
It’s not necessary, but it definitely adds to the story you’re telling.
*Pictures by Mathias Lambrecht.