Andrew Oxley, owner of B-Side Music in Ashtabula, Ohio spoke with Get It On Vinyl about his store, what he thinks makes a great record store, and some of the challenges facing independent record stores.
The following interview was transcribed from an audio recording.
GIOV: Are you the owner there Andrew?
B-SIDE MUSIC: Yes, this is my shop.
GIOV: How long have you owned the place?
B-SIDE MUSIC: I opened in 2011. I had been working in a CD shop for years before this, for about 9 years, and then I had the option to buy the inventory when they were closing, so it started with 100% CD inventory. When I opened, I had always collected my whole life, CD’s and records a lot of CD’s at home, and never really been without vinyl. I’ve always had something you know. When I bought the inventory, and opened the shop, I said that this store needs some records. I was on my former employer since 2009, so I think I was a little behind the curve. I think 2007 seems to be that cresting with the wave building up, but about 2009 I was like what’s this Record Store Day thing people keep talking about? People keep coming in asking about “Do you have records?” and we had to tell them no, because we didn’t. So, in 2011 when I bought the CD inventory, I moved into a shop of my own and named it B Side Music and brought records in mostly of some old stuff that I had at home and now it’s a good portion of my business, about half of it is all vinyl and a lot of its new vinyl.
GIOV: So, vinyl wasn’t even in the shop when you first started then?
B-SIDE MUSIC: No, 2011 it went from basically 0% of my customer base, 0% of everything and now it’s all over the place. I have some vinyl only customers and people that love CD and Vinyl so it’s something all age groups, kids, adults, old people, young people, everybody. There’s something to love in everything.
GIOV: Are you still showing a healthy market for CD’s then?
B-SIDE MUSIC: Yeah, it’s smaller than it had been, but one thing I am seeing is more diversity. You know you’ve got your titles that back in the day before downloads, people had to buy a CD. Now they are choosing to buy the CD’s that they want, similar to how vinyl was. It was a while there when certain artists and certain styles of music that did really well on vinyl and the rest didn’t. Nowadays, your Lady Gaga sells on vinyl. 5-10 years ago, that probably wouldn’t have happened. You would have just had your Daft Punks and your hip hop and your alternative Mumford and sons. You always had people that were vinyl artists and now it’s all over. Look at Record Store Day titles. The Thomas the Tank Engine went out. The diversity is really there and I love it.
GIOV: What is your average vinyl consumer? Are you seeing a certain age group, or a certain demographic with that?
B-SIDE MUSIC: I’m in the middle. I’m 37 this year and I had records when I was little. I’ve always had records to some capacity. Some people my age didn’t. When I opened up initially I thought it’s me and older who had records and it’s a nostalgia and awesome, but the kids don’t understand it, and it turned out to be half not true. Half my customer base is younger than me. They’re 20-somethings, they’re teenagers. I’ve got one great kid that comes in and he’s in 5th grade, and he comes in and digs records. He’ll be in here with his cousin for hours, and find some really great stuff. There is no typical. From 5th graders to 70 some year old and everything in between all loving music. Music is timeless and ageless and crosses boundaries of what you would normally consider stereotypical things. If there’s one thing that the internet has really helped its discovery of these things. What’s a 5th grader going to know about electronic music without the internet? Then they find what they like and they are able to come in and pick it up and then with a record you’ve got it, it’s yours, you own it. You can discover it and experience it in such a better manner than just putting it on shuffle or something on a download, you can discover it. You pick up a record for two bucks, that would be two songs on iTunes, but you have the whole album. That might lead you to liking a whole new style of music or a new body of work from different artists. The vinyl format, it transcends ages and styles. You can take a risk on a two-dollar record that you wouldn’t have opted for otherwise and then once you know what you like you buy a couple new ones.
GIOV: What are your favorite parts about owning a record store?
B-SIDE MUSIC: Other then I can hang out in a record store all day? That’s probably about the best part. I have a cheesy saying, I tell customers I’m on this side of the counter because I want to be on that side of the counter. Because it’s true! I want to go to a good record store every single day. And if there wasn’t one or there’s no reason too, if I were working a regular 9-5 I’d still be in this place every day. That’s definitely the personal favorite. Just having access to it and seeing it. Talking to people about their musical experiences and learning something about that. It’s one thing with the vinyl experience that you just don’t get otherwise. People are sharing their stories about getting that record, the first time they got it, and how many times they listened to it. They flipped side a and side b back and forth. It’s the stories, the experience, my own and also my customers.
GIOV: What makes a good record store
B-SIDE MUSIC: I ask myself that a lot, almost every day walking in and out of here. Again, it’s one of those things that sounds cliché, but it’s true. I walk in in the morning and I say would I shop in this store? What would tip it off to being great? Personally, I love the diversity. I want a challenge. I want something new all the time and whether that’s a reliable band that consistently puts out the same thing or just something that’s way out there you’ve never heard before, so when I walk into a store and I see some stuff that I don’t know what it is, there’s a good sign. If you see all the same stuff in every store what’s the point in having so many stores? What’s the point in going to one store over another? To walk around and see some far out there stuff right next to the regular normal stuff. The number of sections can help. If there’s a reggae section, jazz section, hip hop, hard rock, metal, and country. If you don’t have a great diversity you better be really specialized. It should be either, if you’re going to cover one style you better have all of it. Otherwise to see diversity, to walk in and I challenge myself. I want to make sure that pretty much anyone that walks in through the door is going to find something. They’re going to see some classic album they recognize and they’re going to see some artists they’ve been wanting or walk in and see some faces, see some album covers that they’ve never heard before or have ever even heard of, and I think that’s a great challenge. I said to myself if I’m going into another store I want to find some stuff that I don’t know about. There are things that I call record store titles. Things that should be in a record store no matter what. You walk into a video store back in the day, it had better have Citizen Kane and Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. There are certain titles that no matter what, I don’t care if there is an inch of dust on top of that box, if it hasn’t rented in years it needs to be in there. There’s titles in here that I have because any good record store should have. You should walk in and find the Gorillaz and Deltron and Beastie Boys and your standards; your Pink Floyds and Beatles are easy, but to have something in there just because its hip, just because someone is digging that style, is going to find it in the good labels. Blue Note and the hip hop, Get On Down, or Sub Pop classic titles from the 90s, that’s the stuff that I enjoy. It goes to the idea that there should be surprising things and there should be things that might set the gauge. I don’t care if I’m looking for the Beastie Boys today, but if I see that they don’t have any Beastie Boys, am I going to judge the store on that? So, the diversity and also having those solid things that should be in a store that you’re not going to find in a chain store. It’s not going to randomly pop up on an Amazon suggested listening things. Its more catered, hand curated and such.
GIOV: What are some of the challenges facing independent record stores right now?
B-SIDE MUSIC: Some challenges that happened to independent shops in general and it’s kind of growth. How to keep the pace of growth funded and catered to the new people that come in all the time. The inventory has to grow at the same time the customer base is growing and at the same time the industry is growing and then things phase out. Talking about back in the day when cassettes or even records first kind of started declining, those are changes that have to be accounted for, and just having an active inventory. Growing is one of the challenges and outreach is another. I think in here it’s a good store, a lot of people do that travel here, and I have people that drive distances for it and I think they wouldn’t if there wasn’t a reason to. Independent stores in general, but specifically in our conversation, record stores, we need to cater to the changes, but stay consistent so people know what they can expect, reaching out when things like Record Store Day come around. I always joke that a record store could open up across the street and I would welcome that because they’re not going to do the same thing that I’m doing. They’re going to carry records, but they’re going to have different stuff, different titles, they might just be used. Here I cater to a lot of new vinyl, I like used, it’s awesome. It helps keeping a steady flow of new people coming in and hearing about it. Online helps. It’s not a huge thing. It’s not eBay flippers, I don’t see that as being where it’s at. Some are more catered than that. Really with the internet, there’s collectors all around the world who are looking for things and if we have them then we might be the place that they find it. You miss the record store experience, but there is that too, and that all comes from being an independent record store and stocking those titles that again, a record store should have.
GIOV: Do you sell used vinyl as well?
B-SIDE MUSIC: Yeah, I hand pick more than anything. There’s dealers who buy in bulk and just flip it on eBay or just put it in bins for just flat pricing. There are flat price bins. I like picking them a little more unique. The store is B Side Music, I like the b sides, I like the rarities, I like the imports. There’s plenty of things I don’t have but when there is a cool import of something I’m going to factor to that. You get the imports from back in the day, the old bootlegs and with things like Record Store Day and those types of releases that are limited, it’s great to see those special packaging, I love it. Even when you’re talking used vinyl or vintage vinyl if it’s some crazy die-cut that opens up some neat way or colored LP. How many white albums are there? How many presses on white vinyl? Those types of things and knowing which ones those ones are and why they are important, sometimes it’s just a cool aspect. That’s where I try and cater it. And then you have the bulk used stuff like we mentioned earlier about people picking up a record for about a buck two bucks a piece a stack for $20 and you go home happy.
GIOV: Is it getting hard as a store owner to find quality used records for a reasonable price that you can still make a profit?
B-SIDE MUSIC: Not really. Someone who has a box of records in their basement or they find it at grandmas house or something. There is still the understanding that just because somethings in vogue is the one that you have, is it really worth money? I think people in general understand that sort of thing. There are things that they’ve made millions of and those are harder to gain value. If those aren’t concepts that are understood, its easily conveyed is someone comes in with some records and we get to talking, it’s pretty straight forward when you can explain that they’ve made millions of these and everyone’s grandma has some in there. That said, I like looking at almost any collection because you never know what grandma used to listen to. Some of my favorite finds are from old lady collections. One lady came in and brought this box of records and I’m thinking oh there’s all those Time Life “Best Songs of the Summer,” different compilations that you see millions of. But then she opens it up and I find all these rare imports and stuff. I think one duty we have as record dealers is definitely being honest with those people coming in that may not know what it’s worth. I think in general people understand that not everything is going to be worth it. Its great seeing what people come up with. You can see what someone listened to and that they really liked this style of music or that style of music and that enters into the whole diversity aspect. Taking in used records, yeah, we have to filter out some of the junk that you’ve got five copies of, but it’s never really fully junk. As long as it’s in playable condition, or someone’s going to want one somewhere, it’s worth it. I like being a little picky, personally, because I have to put it up on the wall. I have to speak for it.
GIOV: Why would you say independent record stores are so important to a community?
B-SIDE MUSIC: The experience I feel is it becomes a hub of interest or a hub of culture and exposure to an area. The town we live in is fairly small. What we see is people getting excited when they walk in. People walk out the door and scream “yippee” with their hands in the air, and I’m like, I feel that way when I buy a record! You see a culture of music lovers and each style of music, each style of artist comes from a different place, a different time and a different culture there. To carry that kind of diversity in here, people know that they can walk inside here and hear something that they are not familiar with. I think being able to offer a community influx or an injection of culture is brilliant. For us kids from the 80s, MTV Raps was a window into a world that I wouldn’t have got by walking down the street. Hearing Grand Master Flash and Public Enemy talking about things, and now there’s the internet, but there is so much of the internet you don’t know where your point of reference is. Where is your point of concentration to be able to absorb something? Here you are able to walk in and pick up a record. You can easily spend 45 minutes to an hour just focused on what you are devoted on with the experience of listening to it and reading the liner notes and reading the additional material. These things can expose you to a world of everything. Every record has got something to it. The other is just being an independent business. I’m a neighbor to this guy over here and he’s a neighbor to the guy down there. That just comes with the concept of being an independent business. If I’m selling nuts and bolts, I’m going to do it with the same passion that I sell records. I think every town needs at least one more good shop that can supply them with what they are looking for. As an independent store, that is what I have to offer to our town and county and region and people traveling in, if I can bring customers from Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, there traveling here. They might buy pizza next door while visiting here or check out another neighborhood while in town and try some great coffee shops. The exposure that we can supply to the other people is just as important as the exposure that they can bring into here. Having the diversity of every record shop, being different, we are not the same Dominos or Wal-Mart that are in every town. Each record store has something to give that neighborhood and community. Even broader then a geographic thing all the people who shop with us on our Discogs page or contact us through Facebook or even call in and place an order over the phone, that sort of stuff is part of the community as well.
GIOV: If someone came into you and said I love B-Side music. I’m going to go back to my hometown and start my own independent record store what is some advice you would give them?
B-SIDE MUSIC: Everyone walking in is looking for something. Help them find it. If you don’t have it, order it in. Track it down for the. Do the legwork that they either don’t want to do, don’t know how to do, or just could care less to do. Be the facilitator of them finding the new music. Talk music with them. Listen to them. When they tell you about a band that you couldn’t care less about, listen to them. They know more about that band then you do. People will tell you about their musical taste, or about the concert they went to and they will tell you some neat thing about the album art that you wouldn’t have known unless you were a fan of that band or artist or whatever. Big corporate companies spend millions of dollars to find out what the customers want. The customer will tell you what they want. Sometimes all you’ve got to do is ask them. Sometimes you don’t even have to do that. If they are into something they’re passionate about it, they’re going to tell you all about it. If they’re telling you I want this CD, I want this record, can you get it in? Track it down and get it in for them. If two or three people ask for the same thing, go order it in and put it on the shelves. The bottom line is to listen to the customers because they are just as passionate about the music business as we are. Aside from that there is the normal business thing. If you don’t know how to do it, bring in someone who does. If I don’t find a lot of time for the social media, I’ve got someone that helps out with that. I’m not good with creative decor and design of fliers and logos, I enlisted my wife she’s good with that. If someone can do it alone, more power to them, but it takes a community bigger then yourself. Sometimes I joke with customers, this is their store, their stock on the shelves. They’re telling me what to put on the shelves. Listen to the customers. At the end of the day they are the ones paying your bills. Every single person that comes in for the first time could potentially be a regular customer who wants to shop a lot. Bottom line with anything is if you’re in sales, it’s to take care of those customers.
Anyone who runs their own business themselves will tell you that there’s a lot. You’ve got a budget to make, you’ve got to get orders out in time, all that stuff is always in play with an independent business. It might sound good to say oh, I’m going to open up an independent record store, but keep in mind it’s going to take a ton of effort. But on the plus side of that, all the effort that you put in is for your store. All the effort you put in, I’m doing this interview right now, it’s all for the store. It takes time, it takes effort. I just put something up on the shelf in hopes that somebody might see it. Every fraction of work that I put in is going right back into the store. If you do what you love you never work a day. Its hard work, you have to balance your free time. When you go home you need to spend it with your family or hang out with friends. I might listen to records all day at the store, but then I might go home and listen to them some more.