Trading Stories: Vinyl shop owner Ray talks on the record about music business

Trading Stories: Vinyl shop owner Ray talks on the record about music business

Queues outside in Douglas on record store day

How did you get into this business?

I worked for Golden Discs from 1994 to 2001 - a nice company to work for and I have some very fond memories - and I was managing their branch in Wilton from 98 to 2001. A brochure came in the door addressed to the manager for a new shopping mall about to open. I took it home and mulled over it a bit. I suppose I was meant to send it on to my boss, maybe I wasn't, but it didn't go there anyway!

After a load of visiting and loads of debating in my head, I decided to try and give it a shot. I had no money though, so I got £10,000 from the credit union, got a leasing deal from the bank and my older brother got me a loan of another £15,000 by remortgaging his house.

So, not 27 years old yet and £25,000 in debt. I put a lot of the money into stock, mainly CDs and videos with some DVDs and accessories. I was like a child at Christmas or a rabbit in headlights. A bit of both. I vividly remember the morning I opened, I was nervous as a kitten and a builder came in, breakfast roll wrapped up in his hand, and said, "any AC/DC CDs?". Some of the Sony stock hadn't landed yet, including AC/DC. I was gutted and thought I would never see a customer again. Then a lady approached soon after with a Bridget Jones Diary soundtrack and we were off. But I made a note to myself - make sure to keep AC/DC in stock.

What's your role in the business?

I suppose I am the finance director, marketing manager, sales assistant, customer service manager, and bookkeeper. The one thing I'm not is the IT department for Bobby and Shane, the two music graduates from UCC who work with me, look after most of the website stuff, like search engine optimisation or updating new products, which there is normally about 30 to 40 a week. It can be very dynamic. I write a weekly blog/newsletter which tells life from the perspective of an indie record shop owner and the lads upload it on the site. It comes more natural to them, the computer stuff. So, I buy all the stock be it new releases, back catalogue or special orders for customers, pay all the bills and look after our brilliant customers and the lads do a lot of the IT stuff.

How did you get into this industry in the first place?

I was working part time in McDonalds while I was dossing through college. A good friend of mine in McDonalds got into Golden Discs on Patrick Street and we all loved our music and I said to him if anything arose there to keep me in mind.  True to his word as he still is to this day, he got into the guards and was moving on so I got his full-time job there. 

Why do you think records have become so popular?

Personally, I think records were always popular. I think people always loved them. The amount of people three or four years ago who said to us, 'my records are in the attic' or something similar was incredible. People, in general, didn't throw them out. They meant something to them emotionally. The industry itself killed them. The CD was the new up and coming product and the supermarkets were starting to get more and more involved in music retailing back in the late 80s and early 90s. You can fit more CDs on a shelf so the supermarkets wanted an easier, smaller product. It's all about the dollar, whether it's a sliced pan, a pair of socks or a CD. So, the record companies started making 40-gram vinyl records, where nearly 1 in 3 would crack. The industry itself told the world it was a substandard product and the world believed it. In my opinion, people always enjoyed LPs - be it for the sound quality, warmth, artwork, liner notes, or tactileness. People, especially young people of a certain age, make an emotional attachment to bands and records and I personally feel that's a really important thing.

Queues outside in Douglas on record store day
Queues outside in Douglas on record store day

What are the best selling records in Cork?

The best selling records, be it CD or LP, would probably still fall under the rock and pop banner. Guitars would nearly always be in hands, be it the old classics like The Beatles, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, U2, or Queen, and the newer classic bands like Radiohead, Blur, Arctic Monkeys, or the White Stripes. There is always new and good stuff being released. We do really well with our local wall in the shop. There is such talent around the city but people are not being exposed to it. The likes of Mick Flannery and The Frank and Walters are probably the best known, but there is a brilliant undercurrent bubbling under the surface with the likes of John Blek and The Rats, Jack O'Rourke, The Shaker Hymn, Anna Mitchell, Marlene Enright, Talos, Crojayn, Clare Sands, and Ian Whitty. We at would be very passionate about supporting the local music scene, but one gripe I do have is that I feel radio in the city could do a bit more to support it.

What's in your own personal record collection?

I would have a nice collection, a very eclectic taste, everything and anything. Things like The Doors, The Stone Roses, The Cure, The Smiths, Sufjan Stevens, Belle and Sebastian, and U2 and all the local stuff I love too

How do you source the stock in your store?

We deal directly with all the record labels and record companies. We would have built up very good relationships down through the years. Dealing directly makes us very competitive on price and gives us bespoke pieces of vinyl also. I would see us as being super competitive on price. For example .there is a new GORILLAZ record out Friday. We have it for €24 and a massive online competitor is selling it for the equivalent of about €28 or €29. The government should shine more of a light on .ie website. They must be losing a fortune on VAT when a sale goes to a massive online operation rather than an indigenous .ie who pays VAT here on the sale.

How did Record Store Day go?

It went great. It truly is a special day. There is a beautiful atmosphere in the shop. People are there to support the shop, the industry. It truly is special. We are more like a big club. A lot of the folks in there I would consider friends and we would know about stuff going on in each other's lives, so all the club shows up on that day, it's humbling really. It might seem like a scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest if you're passing by but there are some great people coming into us and the local musicians make it even more special. This year we had performances from Raising Jupiter, Jack O'Rourke, Marlene Enright and her band, Anna Mitchell and her band, Crow Black Chicken, Milky Teeth, Crojayn, and We Cut Corner. We gave out a load of freebies to our club members that day and new members are always welcome.

What's the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is turning someone on to new music that they never heard of before, especially the younger generations. I get such a buzz out of a kid buying a record and I also love the banter in the shop. There is a lovely atmosphere in our shop. We feel it's different to most shops. It's easy going, relaxed but professional, and efficient also. We certainly have no notions about ourselves. We love what we do and we think we let that show. If your choice goes from wee Daniel to Cannibal Corpse no one here is going to judge you here in any shape or form either.

What's the best thing you've learned here?

It was probably always in me anyway but its cast iron now - treat people honestly and fairly and do your best for them. They will see that and see through you if you are not like that. So, be genuine and people will come back to you. Hopefully again and again. 

What's in the future for this business?

That is the magic question. I believe streaming and physical consumption can be good bedfellows, but we are probably a niche business. The industry moguls speak of buzz words like multi-channel consumption, but the way I describe the music retail business is like this: In a restaurant, people may choose beef, chicken or salmon, but we are probably the vegetarian option, but I feel we will always be an option. If we can sustain with rent hikes and other costs, my ambition would be to keep the shop open. It was never about the money. I need my wages obviously but being rich doesn't really interest me. I would like to be more comfortable obviously and I would like to create a 'good' full-time job for one of the lads, but my core aim is to stay open. The rest would be great. I believe we serve a purpose. We shout from the rooftops about our local talent and that alone gives us a great sense of purpose. But, to answer that question, as Brian Wilson might say, "God only knows".

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