Monday, April 18, 2011

Record Store Day 2011

When I got there at 8:30 a.m. there were about 120 people in line. The first guy had apparently gotten there at 3:00 a.m. By the time we opened there was north of 250 people waiting to get in. I’ve been in retail for nearly 30 years and I have never experienced what followed. For the first two hours of Record Store Day I can only describe it as a sales nuclear reaction. It was astounding! It dwarfed the excitement and volume of last year, or any Christmas, or any instore performance I’ve ever seen. People were just insane to get their hands on this stuff. The hottest items for us- The White Stripes, Phish, Panda Bear, Foo Fighters, Pink Floyd, Mastodon/ZZ Top split, Deftones and Ryan Adams among others blew out of there in minutes. Many items that we didn’t get what we ordered like The Fleet Foxes, or Phish or Grinderman we could have sold out of in minutes rather than seconds had we gotten what we ordered. What kind of numbers am I talking about? Well on many of the bigger items we brought in 75, 60, 45, 30 or 15. In total we are probably talking about 3,000 pieces of vinyl in addition to CDs, shirts, puzzles, comic books, plastic toys and all other official RSD schwag.  We had over 1,100 transactions that day with almost 300 of them coming in the first two hours. The average sale was 61 dollars. The average customer purchased 5 items although many people bought huge amounts. We attempted to source every single Record Store Day release, including (pretty unsuccessfully) getting Record Store Day UK releases. It seems like if I could have gotten them we could have sold potentially hundreds of copies of many releases. Some things underperformed for us as well; Ray Lamontagne, Mastodon Live at The Aragon,Tom Petty Reissues and most surprisingly Sonic Youth, Dylan and Springsteen all did less than I expected. 
 From the budgeting point of view this brings up the obvious conundrum for independent stores of; how do you afford to buy all this stuff, even though you sell through much of it, there are all the ongoing costs of doing business and quite a bit of additional staffing expense for the day and I don’t want to even think about the potential for theft on a day like this. We also will be left with about twenty percent of the stuff unsold. That stock has to be paid for as well and none of it can be returned. There were hours where we-the staff-could not get near the product. Many people stood in line for well over an hour, even though we had five registers going the whole time. The day did not slow down at all until late afternoon, at which point it felt like a typical Christmas Eve. It stayed that way until about 9:00 p.m. when it finally slowed down. As we have in the previous 3 years we had an all day program of DJ’s (Arturo Gomez, Brett Ericson (DJ Segue), Professor Mikey, DJ Sam, DJ PETER BLACK and SOLE & the Skyrider Band) who all did a fabulous job. With the crowds the way they were it seems unlikely we could have managed an instore on this day. Throughout the day I estimate about 2-3 thousand people came to the store. All told it was the biggest day in the history of the store by a long shot and about 30% bigger than last year’s RSD.

The crowd was overall very nice and cooperative. There were the usual complainers, and prima donnas who just can’t believe it’s not all about them. There are also those who scam to get multiple copies to undoubtedly resell. Overall though I feel very proud to have gotten so many copies of so many different releases into so many different hands, and we were all impressed with the sweetness and good cheer of our clientele.

The biggest things to ponder for me are as follows;
-I understand that the labels are trying to preserve the special nature of this event by making the items very limited. In a sense they are absolutely correct that this is the surest way to stoke demand. On the other hand, there were plenty of items limited to 1,000 or less and when one considers how many stores are participating in this event, and coordinate that with the number of people I described it seems like not enough are being made. I don’t know how it was for everybody else, but we could have sold much more of nearly everything to different folks. This is a difficult one to figure. I think building to order needs to be combined with some kind of cap on any given store so no one can hoard, thus getting the numbers a little closer to the demand. If many of these items end up being sold on the internet by the customers who get them from the stores then so be it-that’s the way of the world these days, but I have to believe that the majority of this stuff is going home to be cherished. I know I spent a good couple of hours listening to my acquisitions last night. There are so many great pieces this year, but I am going to give my top prize to Ryan Adams. His double, gatefold, heavy vinyl, multi-colored, 7” defines collectible to me. Four great unheard songs, a beautiful package, a lyric sheet and a sticker-damn, this guy does it right! The Dylan at Brandeis LP is really special-a magical point in his career. The Phish Soundchecks 7” is really a special release-very different musically, and something their obsessive fans will really enjoy. I am relishing the Vanguard Lost Psychedelic compilation, Built To Spill covering the Dead-very fun. The Decembrist live at Bull Moose CD is also a fun and loose show. And Rome, the supergroup featuring Dangermouse, Jack White and Norah Jones makes me excited to hear the whole album. It goes on and on.
-How will we pay for all this. In the future we will continue to try and hone our buying to be more precise, but I fear it is impossible at some level.
-How can we make the experience better for the customer next year? Shorter, faster lines? Physically controlling the hottest items to keep unscrupulous collectors from hoarding? Food? Drink?

The bottom line is we are all drained and exhilarated by this tremendous event, which flies in the face of the prevailing wind that the record store is dead. That was an extremely animated corpse on Saturday.
Paul Epstein
Owner-Twist and Shout 

Paul Epstein with Andy Guerrero of the Flobots

1 comment:

Bret Helm said...

I live in Arizona, but loved reading your article. Next time I'm in your area, I will definitely stopping by. My RSD treasures were the Big Star Third test pressing, Syd Barrett 2 LP, Steve Earle 7", and The Gram Parsons split 7" of Love Hurts. Thanks for the great article and photos. - Bret