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Lessons From A Vinyl Shop Owner

Feb 28, 2017 | Tax Planning

“What came first, the music or the misery?” – John Cusack in “High Fidelity”

Last week we discussed how entrepreneurs can distinguish themselves from the competition, and we established that simply offering low prices was a strategy to avoid. Instead, you should focus on what makes you different or an authority in the industry.

Afterward, I recalled a business success story that perfectly illustrates this idea, and I wanted to share it here.

I have family friends who are major music fanatics. This husband and wife duo are a bit older than me and owned and operated a vinyl records and memorabilia shop in New York. Due to some health reasons, they relocated to Las Vegas in the early 1990s.

I wasn’t yet a college graduate, but remember thinking that there was no way these old Brooklyn curmudgeons would last five minutes in the desert. The husband was a terrible salesman who was horribly disorganized. He would follow customers as they browsed and say things like, “Nah, you don’t want to buy that,” but never offered an alternative. It was his wife’s responsibility to make sure he was not the public face of the business and to shoo him away so that he could focus on making other deals with major collectors. This was the norm, and it took its toll on the business — what kept them afloat was his ability to satisfy the needs of major collectors, which was typically done by phone and later online.

About 10 years ago, despite their deep knowledge of music and the market, this counterproductive pattern was killing their business. The bad online reviews detailing the incessant schnorring were becoming the nails in the coffin. The story almost ended there, and I was expecting them to ask me about how to partially retire and move the remnants of the inventory online.

Then, one day when the store was empty, the door opened. Instead of tumbleweed, three people entered:

A beefy security guard,

A personal assistant,

and finally, one of the most famous living pop musicians of the last 50 years.

This is a really famous singer — everyone loves or at least knows the lyrics to probably about 20 of his hits. He humbly made his way in and began browsing through the rows of vinyl first pressings. Even though the husband knew exactly who this artist was, he was still true to himself and started his ball busting. His wife practically tackled him to not repel the customer and probably to keep the security guard from decking him.

As the musician browsed, they talked about music, vinyl’s resurgence and the changing industry, and apparently, there was very little butt-kissing. Maybe since my friend was a real person and this artist is used to people rolling out the red carpet all the time, he found it comforting and endured it to get his hands on music that was very special. The artist made his purchases, took their card and told him he wanted them to be his “Vegas connection” and procure more original pressings for the next time he passed through. My friends took a picture, showed their gratitude and let him go, figuring they’d never hear from him again.

Later that night, the musician told his sold-out audience about his “experience” at my friends’ shop. The following morning, a sizeable percentage of that crowd ignored the bad online reviews and made their way to the shop. The business had to open a separate bank account to track this referral-based activity. From that day on, their likeable son replaced the father as an operator, and dad was relegated to online deals-only.

The musician was true to his word, too. It’s a little bit funny — he continues to pay top dollar for hard-to-find vinyl and sometimes stops by when he’s in town. The surge in business based on his fans, often follows, too.

So what have we learned from my friends?

  1. Entrepreneurs can thrive if they bring something special to the market.
  2. It’s good to have a business partner who can tolerate certain shenanigans, be the face of a business and keep you in check.
  3. Even if you have all of the above, try to tone down some of your “charm.” Let your customers browse.
  4. Just because you’re an owner doesn’t make you a good business person. If you can’t engage customers, hire someone who can generate some good PR and repeat business.

Contact Brinen & Associates to discuss how you can leverage your expertise in your industry.


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I formerly worked as a satellite employee from my home state of New Jersey. I ended my employment with my former employer in 2016. In 2018, I was sued by my former employer for $1.1 million in Illinois State Court. I was referred to Brinen & Associates, LLC by a friend who is a client of the firm. Brinen & Associates, LLC came highly recommended. I contacted Joshua Brinen and then had a consultation at his office with his colleague Mark White. Together, Messrs. Brinen and White explained my options...

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