How Can a Tiny Record Store Survive in 2010? Hoodlums Music Owner Talks Strategy With State Press

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Hoodlums was packed during a recent vinyl art show, just one of the many special events the store's owner hopes will keep it afloat.
Let's say you own a record store post-Napster. Now, let's say that record store burns down.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't consider re-opening it for more than a split second. Actually, I'm guessing I'd blow town with the insurance money so fast investigators would suspect I'd been taking business advice from Paulie in Goodfellas.

It's impressive that Steve Wiley didn't do that with Hoodlums Music, which was lost in a fire at the old ASU Memorial Union in 2007 and re-opened last year at McClintock and Guadalupe in Tempe.

Why carry forth in an era when Best Buy, iTunes et. al seem to be killing the mom 'n' pop record store? Wiley answered that question for the State Press last week. His gameplan seems like a good one to me -- as good as any plan involving the sale of physical music can be, anyway.

Here are the five main points of Wiley's business model, as best I can tell:

1. Special order stuff like crazy: "You can't afford to have tons of random titles, hoping that the one fan of a band will come in and see it," said Wiley. "You have to be able to special order."

This seems counter-intuitive to me since I use eBay, Amazon and ISOhunt to find anything and everything I need, right down to the super-obscure pre-N.W.A rap records I've been playing while working on The Posse Project. However, a large portion of the general population is either too lazy or stupid to figure all that stuff out, which is why people ("pickers," they're called) can make a living off eBay in the first place. Helping someone's grandma find a weird Christian record is good business.

2. Build your business on the record fetishists: "He is selling to the collectors -- people who need to hold something in their hands to feel an attachment to the music they love. 'The thing about [the MU] store is, no matter how much you loved us, you're gone in four years," he said. "Here we can build more of a customer base.'"

Personally, with very few exceptions for favorite bands who I've followed for years and years, I don't give a shit about the physical manifestation of music. Since I don't own any home stereo other than my computer, it'll need to go on there to be heard anyway. Not everyone is like that, however, and those old-school types are a gold mine if you can keep them off eBay and in your store. Since a lot of these guys (yes, they're all guys) are looking for some sort of human connection (yes, they're all desperate to talk about their collection with strangers) it makes sense that they'll want to come in to your shop if you can hook them up as well as eBay can.

3. Work the lucrative used record market as well as possible. "We get way more used product out here," Wiley said. "You're not going to carry nine pounds of records in your backpack. Here people can pull their cars up with nine crates of albums."

Unbelievably to me, the value of physical CDs has not totally collapsed on itself the way I remember cassettes doing after CD players became ubiquitous. However, the sellers, who've presumably gone digital, probably retained a copy of the music anyway, and thus don't care about parting with their records for a buck or two a piece. People are accustomed to paying $12+ for a new record at the store so they're happy to pay $5-7. Buy low, sell high has always been a great business plan, right?

4. Host as many awesome special events as possible. "Our goal has always been to be involved with the community. It's just a different community," said Wiley.

What does that mean in practice? Well, for example, the store held a Broken Bells listening party last week and hosted a showing of RiP: A Remix Manifesto which I loved a few months back. Stuff like that gets people in the door to buy records and is something no other non-brick business can compete with. Signings, showings, etc. are going to be a huge part of the record-selling business in the years to come.

5. Ride out this recession as gracefully as possible and see what happens on the other side. "The new Hoodlums opened right before the current economic slump, so Wiley said he still doesn't know his store's full potential is. 'Who knows what could happen if [the economy] turned around tomorrow,' he said."

Wiley is absolutely right in saying that no one knows what people will send their money on when they feel like they have it again. My question: When will that be? I'm at the pessimistic point where I wonder if metro Phoenix will ever recover, but Wiley is ready to bet on us and I thank him for it.

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