|Photo by Andy Gaines - www.andygaines.com|
It’s a sad thing to say, but often in the high-finance world of running a record label and reaching the heights of artistic excellence, we forget the delicate interplay between the customer and the webs of commerce.
And what is the location where customers can gain access to high art? It is the good ole record shop.
Some might question the role of the record shop in the digital era, but as we will illustrate, record shops are blooming, blossoming and multiplying at a bacterial rate across the globe. And one such shop is The Inkwell.
Located in the heart of the sprawling metropolis that is York, England, The Inkwell opened its doors last year and has seen its shelves stacked with Garage Rock, Psyche-Fuzz, Electronic Babble and a fine selection of 'pop-art' literature. And what's more, this stuff is SELLING. Fast.
So we tracked down store-owner Paul Lowman and plied him with these 10 Questions so as to ascertain the role of The Record Shop in the 21st Century.
1. If it would help boost profitability, would you enforce a staff uniform?
It’s a serious consideration. You can see how a staff uniform has worked well for some of the key organizations upon which The Inkwell business model is based; the Harlem Globetrotters, the Ghostbusters, Nuns. I wore a nurses uniform for a week in October last year, but that was really more of a personal thing. Still, I think people were reassured that if there was a medical emergency in store that there would be somebody on-hand with the relevant skills to deal with it.
This scenario did in fact play out when an elderly gentleman suffered a massive heart attack and subsequently died whilst browsing the folk CDs. They said that in the 16 minutes that passed between his heart attack and people realising that I wasn’t a “real” nurse that his life could have been “easily” saved with the appropriate medical attention, but with ambulance call-out times as they are these days I maintain the guy was pretty much a goner regardless.
If I’m being honest, I think the most important thing about that whole situation is that everybody present learnt a valuable lesson about not judging somebody by what they’re wearing – it wasn’t as though it was a very realistic nurse’s uniform, a point I had already raised in my email correspondence with sexxxycostumes.co.uk. Sure, I looked super-hot, but super-hotness is hardly a qualification for nursing, is it? Abi Titmuss had to train just like everybody else.
2. Do you prefer to say that you run a 'shop' or a 'store'?
Maybe you’re all about defining things in the narrowest terms possible so that they conform to existing social constructs, y’know, that’s cool, but I’m more about letting things develop their identity organically, and on their own terms. I don’t recognise ideologically-loaded labels like “shop” and “store”. If pushed, I prefer to say I have imagineered an Interactive Retail-Arts Kroop. What’s a “kroop?” Oh, that’s right – you only accept words The Man has authorised. No, you won’t find “Kroop” in the ‘dictionary’ (word-jail). It’s a more like a tonal thing, the natural sound of the business. I guess the nearest synonym would be something like ‘shop’.
3. Why don't you sell mobile phones, mp3s or eBooks?
Uh, yeah, and while I’m at it, maybe I should sell mobile waffle-irons, yq5s and dSplonks. C’mon, man. I can’t sell shit you just made up.
4. What is the longest amount of time that you have spent in your shop without any customers coming in?
That would be about 14 hours every night for a couple of weeks over Christmas, when I actually lived and slept in the shop. Pretty bohemian, huh? I’m like that. I think a lot of people presumed I’d been forced to live in the shop was because I was having some problems at home, like maybe my wife and I had had some sort of fight about how much time I was spending at the shop and she’d been all like “IF YOU LOVE YOUR DAMN SHOP SO MUCH WHY DON’T YOU JUST LIVE THERE???!!” and I’d been all like “MAYBE I WILL!!!”, and then returned home that night to find that she had had changed all the locks, and however much I screamed “PLEASE REBECCA LET ME IN IT’S COLD AND I’M MISSING ‘NAZI COLLABORATORS’ ON THE YESTERDAY CHANNEL!” she just wouldn’t let me in the house, but seriously, it was nothing like that.
People will always try and tell you that you can’t construct a functional bed out of piles of second hand records and old copies of Mojo, and while making a conventional ‘bed’ is admittedly difficult, I managed to fashion something more akin to a giant nest with relative ease. You think there’s something weird or depressing about sleeping in a giant nest? Don’t remember anybody saying that Big Bird was weird or depressing, do you? Exactly. He was a beloved character if anything.
5. What pose or facial expression do you usually adopt when a new customer enters the store?
Before opening the shop, I spent £1500 on a 12 week Business Course. In retrospect, 12 weeks seemed a bit much, given that the very first thing the tutor said on the first day was “If you only remember one thing from this course, remember that in business, first impressions last a lifetime.” Having committed to memory what was by the tutor’s own admission the course’s only essential piece of information, I pretty much tuned out for the remaining 3 months.
£1500 is quite a lot to spend on one self-evident cliché that any idiot already knows, but given that it was flagged as the course’s only vital advice, I have set about focusing on it in a really blinkered, excessive way, at the expense of almost all other standard retail operations. I guess you could say I’ve sort of made ‘the first impression’ my ‘thing’. As a history buff, it makes perfect sense for me to adopt iconic poses struck by famous historical figures. Early customers might have entered to find me waving ‘V’ signs like Richard Nixon, stretching my arms out wide like the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, or laid seductively across my counter in the style of the young Marilyn Monroe’s infamous Playboy shoot.
As my reputation for The First Impression has grown, I’ve constantly had to up my game, and those initial poses have developed into elaborate friezes, of which I am but one aspect. Most of my shop budget now goes on hiring costumes, actors and props for the purposes of these installations. Recently customers have been treated to reenactments of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the raising of the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima, and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster (I played a seagull).
6. Have you ever sold a product to a customer who you felt was unworthy of the aforementioned product?
I made a decision early on that rather than have an awkward scene at the counter, I would make a snap, unfounded character analysis of people immediately as they step through the door, and if I determine them to be not really “Inkwell people”, simply ask them politely to leave before they have a chance to even start browsing the wares. It’s better for everybody I think; left to their own devices, I imagine these individuals would just wander round the shop becoming increasingly frustrated at how every stock item is yet another depressing reminder of how totally lame they are, essentially turning the shop into a sort of private hell where every book and record appears to be titled “SUCKS TO BE YOU”. There’s only room for one person in the private hell of The Inkwell thank you very much, and I’ve got the lease until August 2014.
7. What is your favourite method of 'looking busy' whilst a customer peruses your wares?
If anything, I try to look as unoccupied as possible, like I’ve really got nothing else going on and desperately need to make a sale simply for the attendant human interaction it will generate as much as the razor-thin margin I will scrape from it. That thick, oppressive sense of desperation really creates a pressure-cooker environment for the customer, and amped up with some loud sighing and moaning I’ve known it to force reluctant purchases on items ranging from a 75p badge to a £1.50 paperback book. I don’t feel great about it afterwards, but at the same time I don’t see why cancer charities and the RSPCA should have the monopoly on using emotional blackmail to make a quick buck.
8. Do you have any item in your shop that you would be amazed if you'd ever sell?
Are you kidding? I’m amazed that I sell anything. Books and records? In 2012? In a recession? It’s not like I’m selling bread and milk here, man.
9. Why don't you sell any records by any artists currently in the top 40?
I guess I’d answer that question with a question: “Why don’t YOU sell records by any artists in the Top 40?” OH WAIT – DID I JUST BLOW YOUR MIND? Sometimes before you start pointing your finger at people and making judgments about what they do or don’t do, maybe you should point your finger at yourself, or at least stand in front of a mirror and point at your reflection so that the mirror version of you is pointing their finger back at you, or build a robot replicant of yourself and program it to point it’s finger at you – and in some ways aren’t YOU ALREADY A FINGER POINTING ROBOT that has been programmed BY SOCIETY to point at things? Also, I’ve yet to identify and build relationships with the relevant Top 40 distribution companies, a task which remains very much on the To Do list for The Inkwell in 2012 – stay tuned!
10. Would you consider changing your opening hours from 9am till 5pm, to 9pm till 5am?
This would only be possible if I made the same change at the Sydney, Australia branch of The Inkwell, where I currently work from 9pm-5am UK time / 9am-5pm Australian time. Currently I commute between the the UK branch and the Australian branch, keeping regular daytime business hours at both, and no, I don’t know how it’s possible either. Don’t need to. I get on a plane and that’s that. I’m not a scientist. Let Dr Poindexter Q Nerdington worry about that shit. I’m a man of action, a man of doing things. Reckless, mindless, pointless things. Asking me to explain quantum physics is like asking Steven Hawkins to explain how you calculate the break-even point of a small retail business, which I’m pretty sure he definitely couldn’t do. (FYI: Breakeven Point = Fixed Costs / Unit Selling Costs – Variable Costs . You think they teach you that at Space School or wherever Hawkins went? No way man. No freaking way.)
GET YOURSELVES TO THE INKWELL HERE