Vinyl’s Return to Retail

Vinyl’s Return to Retail

By: Alexandra Gladu

With vinyl sales up more than thirty percent this year, it seems that not even the most advanced digital technology can bump the vinyl record from its iconic place in history.  And although you probably never thought you’d see them again when the CD came out, vinyl records may soon be coming to a grocery store near you.

Vinyl records have long been a staple item at indie record stores because of their iconic image and niche appeal.  In 2008, the first-ever Record Store Day brought national awareness to these independent music retailers and turned that niche appeal into full-fledged profits.  Thanks to Record Store Day, vinyl sales more than doubled from 990,000 units in 2007 to 1.9 million in 2009, and the trend has only strengthened since.

It’s a trend that has even caught the wandering eye of catch-all big-box chains like Whole Foods and Target.  Unlike the indie music stores that have developed years of expertise in vinyl sales, these national chains will stock any product that promises to bring in a buck – and right now, they’re banking on vinyl.

“Seeing Target and Whole Foods taking a look into selling vinyl is typical of corporate behavior, reacting to a trend instead of creating it,” says Garrison Snell, artist management consultant with Red Dog Music Group.  “I like to choose independent businesses because of their ability to start trends.  It’s like an oil tanker versus a jet ski.  Small businesses just can act quicker to adopt new, trendy waves in culture.”

Try as they might, the big-box stores just can’t compete with the specialized knowledge and professional experience of indie music stores when it comes to vinyl sales.  Music labels remain wary of dealing with the inexperienced chains because of the demands these businesses bring to the negotiation table and the significant expense that comes with producing vinyl records.  Whereas indie retailers understand the vinyl business, national chains try to apply their big business practices to the niche vinyl market.

“I won’t call records products,” says Eric Levin, president of the Alliance of Independent Media Stores, co-founder of Record Store Day, and owner of indie retailer Criminal Records in Atlanta, Ga. “They aren’t simple widgets and can’t be treated as such. They need experts to sell them and educated users to handle them properly. Chain stores can’t handle that kind of product without foregoing service.”

From magazine racks at the cash register to sidewalk displays next to cart corrals, big-box chains continue to put vinyl where it doesn’t belong in order to reintroduce it to their consumers.  Many indie retailers, on the other hand, have never stopped selling vinyl, and thus have generations of experience with the medium.  Thanks to dedicated music lovers, hesitant record labels, and the annual Record Store Day celebration each April, the resurgence of vinyl record sales has struck a profitable chord with indie retailers nationwide.

Alex is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is double-majoring in Public Relations and Spanish.  Since becoming an intern with Independent We Stand, she has fully adopted the ‘buy local’ lifestyle.  Her favorite indie business is Sugarland, a bakery in Chapel Hill, N.C, where she has been known to go a little cupcake crazy. She hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in nonprofit or political communication.