Guitars and Vinyl – Sometimes it’s a Marriage that Leads to a Deep and Lengthy (Customer) Engagement

by Dan Daley • in
  • January 2018
  • Last Word
• Created: January 29, 2018

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Chocolate and peanut butter, fish and chips… Here’s another couple of things that seem to go together well: musical instruments and vinyl records.

A few shops here and there have made that connection, and it’s been a synergistic one.

The poster child for the combination of guitars and vinyl is Gordie’s Music, in Victoria, B.C. Gordie Budd began his MI retail store conventionally in 1998, after a career as a recording and performing musician, himself, selling a variety of instruments until it became clear that guitars, amps, and accessories were his sweet spot in this west Canadian island-city market. And so it was until a decade later, when Budd made room in a corner for a few used vinyl records that some customers brought in. The corner grew even as the demand for guitar sales cooled in the last 10 years, to the point where, as Gordie’s Music prepared to close its doors for the last time in December due mainly to soaring rents, the vinyl was bringing in more revenue than the guitars were.

“One day I looked up and realized, ‘My God, I’m running a record store here,’” he recalls.

There wasn’t an overt connection between the two product categories other then the fact that they were both obviously music related. However, he did discover a deep emotional connection between the two – one that had the practical benefit of bringing MI customers, who might otherwise have visited once a month for strings or biannually for a new guitar or amp, into the store on a weekly or nearly daily basis, looking for new (used) vinyl treasures. It’s not so much that guitars became secondary to the customer relationship; rather, it’s that the vinyl became the connective tissue that linked customers to the store in between their usual visits. The records, says Budd, became something that customers and staff could focus on that didn’t require a purchase of more than $20 or so, and whose liner notes provided grist for deeper conversations than those engendered by the wording on a pack of super-light strings.

When Gordie’s Music closes, it’ll leave a void (literally as well as figuratively, if landlords all over continue to leave street-level stores vacant as they pursue unrealistic retail rents), but it will also have proved the power of pairing music’s most iconic format with music’s most iconic instrument, helping create a true parlor atmosphere that reinforces the intimacy of the independent shop. It’s a combination other MI retailers may want to consider.

It’s a good fit. A Billboard analysis from 2014 shows that indie record store owners in the U.S. collectively account for about 50 percent of all vinyl sales. However, Alliance Entertainment, a wholesaler that sells vinyl to accounts like Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and Trans World Entertainment, also includes the Guitar Center chain among its customers.

GC began testing vinyl records in 2013 and now carries a mix of classic and new titles in more than 200 of its stores.

The thing is, while upscale lifestyle chains, including Whole Foods (now owned by Amazon, the single biggest seller of records and, apparently, everything else) and Starbucks, helped drive CD sales back in the 1990s, they also had the unintended collateral effect of undermining those same sales at independent record stores. And how many of those are left now?

Correlation does not mean causation, of course, but independent retailers are an endangered species in more than a few verticals. Just as independent stores are the backbone of MI retail, they’ve also become the foundation for vinyl sales. Connecting the two in the same store can produce some positive synergies.

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