Independent record stores defying high street odds as fans boost sales
Figures show vinyl sales are climbing as consumers return to independent record stores
Economic conditions in the UK are finally improving, but the green shoots of recovery have arrived too late for some - Woolworths and Jessops are just two of the numerous casualties that famously failed to weather the storm.
Yet while well-established chains have fallen by the wayside, one group of retailers that still find themselves fighting against the odds are independent record stores.
They've undeniably suffered some substantial losses, and in some respects have been hit harder than most by the growth of the online sector - especially given the popularity of Amazon, iTunes and Spotify. But despite the challenges facing these businesses, many have found a way to survive.
Indie record stores have often faced difficulties, but the problems really started when digital arrived. While demand for their basic product - music - was never going to cease, the issue was the rate at which these shops were losing customers to cheaper rivals and online giants.
This price war was almost impossible for any small business to win, and the growth of internet piracy made matters even more difficult - many people grew increasingly accustomed to illegally downloading their favourite songs for free, with little or no fear of recrimination. As such, indie stores were forced to rely on something that's always been a facet of the industry - the public's passion for music, and the enduring nostalgia that comes with it.
Indie stores were forced to rely on something that's always been a facet of the industry - the public's passion for music, and the enduring nostalgia that comes with it.
Digital songs are all well and good, but nothing quite matches the satisfaction of picking up a physical album - nor the delicacy involved with lowering needle onto vinyl. There's an intimacy to buying and listening to a record that people don't get when they simply download tracks at the click of a mouse, and it's something indie stores have clung to.
Initially it has to be accepted that many went bust, but consumers soon realised the plight of the shops and stepped in, with independent businesses essentially saved by members of the public who made a conscious effort to support them.
Movin' on up
Sales of vinyl records have been steadily increasing since 2004, and in 2012 album sales were worth £5.7 million - up from £1.1 million in 2008. What's more, last year saw the launch of the Official Record Store Chart, which ranks singles and albums based solely on sales in independent stores - another reflection of the growing popularity of the smaller side of the industry.
It's the younger generation that is largely responsible for this surge, eagerly clambering to revel in the nostalgia of a musical past they never quite got to experience first time around.
Figures released by ICM earlier this year indicated that 18 to 24-year-olds are buying more vinyl than any other age group under 50, and a total of 389,000 records were sold in 2012. With youngsters helping to inject some much-needed life into a declining industry, stores have responded in kind.
See you later, innovator
Initiatives such as Record Store Day - held on the third Saturday of April every year since 2008 - have seen bands, shops and consumers all come together to celebrate independent music.
Days like this have served as an added stimulus for the sector, while one band recently took it upon themselves to establish a shop of their own.
Frankie and the Heartstrings opened Pop Recs Ltd in an old tourist office in Sunderland, and have helped lure customers through the doors with their own coffee blend and brand of beer. Selling more than just music is a tactic a growing number of independent record stores have employed, and it seems the move is paying off.
Long and winding road
But despite the obvious signs of improvement, it's vital to realise the industry isn't out of the woods just yet.
Doug Anderson, owner of Coda Records in Edinburgh, recently warned that independent stores could be extinct within three years unless they get the support and custom they need.
That means the rediscovery of vinyl needs to continue, that supporters have to throw their weight behind shops and that the businesses themselves have to be proactive in their efforts to keep getting consumers through the doors.
Dan O’Sullivan is Make It Cheaper's Web Content Manager, which means much of his time is dedicated to ensuring we have plenty of online material to help business owners understand the energy, insurance and telecoms industries. With years of experience working alongside SMEs, Dan is committed to making life as easy as possible for smaller firms. You can email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org