A Day In The Life of a Record Company Sales Representative
Graham Jones is the author of such books as The Vinyl Revival And The Shops That Made It Happen and Strange Requests and Comic Tales from Record Shops. He has arguably been to more record shops than anyone else. Here, our vinyl correspondent Graham writes 'A Day In The Life' of a record company sales representative.
A Day In The Life
I could not believe it was 15 months since I last paid a visit to a record shop to sell product. I have been selling to UK independent record shops for 36 years but thanks to Covid I had an unwelcome hiatus so instead of visiting the stores I had been working from home.
I could not wait to get back visiting the stores. Harbour Records, based in the Hampshire seaside town of Emsworth, was to be my first call. It is a three-hour drive from my home in Dawlish, so it was an early 6am start on the road. In fact, so enthusiastic was I, that I arrived before co-owner Ken had even opened. It gave me time to have a coffee and take a walk around a town full of independent shops. Chicago may have been Frank Sinatra’s town, but Emsworth certainly is mine.
The shop itself has a funny history, as Ken and Rob ended up buying it as a Christmas present to themselves one drunken evening down the local pub. Ken is one of the true heroes of music, when he is not working in the shop, he is promoting gigs in the local area. I always enjoy visiting Ken as he has a wealth of comic anecdotes about the customers that pop in.
Ken told me about the lady looking through the punk section who could not disguise her delight at finding a rare album by Pauline Murray’s cult band.
‘Oooh, I do love a bit of Penetration’ she said, in a rather loud voice, to which a lady at the rear of the shop looked up and replied, ‘don’t we all, love’.
Here are a couple more recent customer classics:
Customer - ‘I see that Charlie Watts has died’.
Ken - ‘Yes, very sad’.
Customer - ‘The hospital reckoned there was something wrong with him’.
On another occasion, a customer asked, ‘Are your CDs in alphabetical order?’
Ken – ‘Yes, they are’.
Customer – ‘Where will I find the C’s?’
Ken – ‘Err…after the B’s’.
It never ceases to amaze me what record shops manage to sell. Ken told me he had a copy of the 1970’s actor and comedian John Inman’s LP called ‘I’m Free’. Personally, if it was free, I would still leave it in the racks; Ken not only sold it but had another customer gutted when he found out the record had sold it as he had wanted to purchase it too.
It was a sixty-mile drive from Emsworth to Poole for my next stop, at Boiler Room Records. I had called on the shop around fifteen years ago, however the owner had wanted to carry on just selling second-hand records.
Luckily for me, as a seller of new product, the shop had since changed hands. New owners Mark and his son Ren have done a fabulous job of transforming it into one of the best record shops in the South, with an excellent selection of both new and used.
The shop is called Boiler Records because its original location was in the boiler room of Poole market. It was a bizarre sight to find a record shop dominated by a giant boiler.
Owner Mark is a massive David Bowie fan. At the age of eight he bought his first record – Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes. Since then, he has seen his idol live on stage 55 times. He is the first to admit that music runs through his veins.
Mark and Ren made massive ‘Changes’ to the shop. So far everything is ‘Hunky Dory’ with the duo being on a ‘Fantastic Voyage’ running their own store. They have also found ‘Fame’ with local music fans. If you are in town pay a visit to these ‘Heroes’ of record retailing for providing the music fans of Poole with a super record shop.
I headed inland for my next call an hour’s drive away to a new record shop that had only just opened: Beat and Track in Sherbourne, Dorset.
Although I had never met owner Paul it was like greeting an old friend as we had been communicating via email and phone for quite a while, and he had already bought a lot of stock from the company I work for, Proper Music Distribution.
One of the nice things about doing this job and writing books is that so many shops tell me they were inspired to open after reading one of my books - Last Shop Standing and The Vinyl Revival and the Shops That Made it Happen - or watching the films based on each of them. Paul had found the latter particularly helpful as it has a chapter titled ‘How to Open a Record Shop’.
One of the new albums I pre-sold to Paul was by the aptly named ‘The Vaccines’. It was probably what influenced me to ask him why he had opened during a pandemic? Here is his thoughtful reply.
‘Throughout my youth I embraced all kinds of music from being a nine-year-old skinhead being obsessed with Madness and the Specials, to moving on to be a metal head at age fourteen. This is when I started deliberately collecting vinyl, including Metallica singles on every format possible, Slayer albums remastered, original Hendrix and anything by Cream and later Jack Bruce.
Owning a record store has always been a dream but I somehow found myself in the motor trade and having a career as an aftersales manager for nearly thirty years.
As with many people, the pandemic has made me re-evaluate things and ultimately decide to do something that I enjoy and am passionate about. With the support of my partner, family, and friends I’ve started the journey with The Beat and Track.
Sherborne is a small town full of independent shops and I already have a great relationship with the coffee shop opposite, ‘Bean Shot Coffee’, and ‘Elemeentum’, which is a gallery and book shop next door. Us independent shops need to stick together and help each other’s businesses. The whole town has been very supportive, having already interviewed me both for a local podcast and at the local radio station.’
The shop is beautifully designed and one thing that I liked was the shop adopts a ‘Try before you buy’ policy on all used albums.
I am confident that Paul will have a fine future. I feared that the pandemic would force some of my customers to close but what it largely did was to help them focus on how to improve their business model. Many who did not have a website started one and those with one improved it. Online sales for record shops are booming and here at Proper Music Distribution our sales with them are massively up this year. The sector is thriving.
It was time for me to head off to visit another newly opened shop just nineteen miles away in Dorchester called The Vinyl Van.
If ever a shop has blown me away at first sight, it is ‘The Vinyl Van’.
Superbly located in Brewery Square, the first thing you see when you enter the shop is the counter made from a VW Campervan - how cool is that?
Charming couple Mark and Helen own the shop and started The Vinyl Van in 2019, selling new and preloved vinyl from their VW Campervan at local festivals, events, and markets.
In a quest to find a popup shop they stumbled upon the current premises and opened in December 2019. It has been a turbulent first couple of years of trading for this dynamic duo thanks to Covid and lockdown, but I feel the future is brighter than the colour of their beloved campervan.
They have done a fabulous job of designing the shop, but you might need to wear your sunglasses due to the brightness of the yellow colour scheme. They have so many quirky music related artefacts and merchandise including some funky retro clothing.
Whatever you do, do not leave the shop without purchasing one of their sunny yellow tote bags. Not only are they cool for carrying your records, but you are unlikely to be hit by a car if out carrying their bag on a dark winter’s night.
The great news is the Campervan is not retired and still attends music events. Check out their social media to see where you can pay it a visit.
I can see this shop not only being a great record shop, but a tourist destination in its own right for any music fan passing through Dorset.
The last town I visited on my first day back on the road was one of my favourite places, Bridport.
The first shop I visited was Clocktower Music owned by Roy Gregory. I always enjoy my chats with Roy as he is a fellow Tranmere Rovers fan. We always discuss the ups and downs of our club though alas it tends to involve more downs than ups.
Roy had just opened a second shop in the town selling cheap CDs, so I had high hopes of doing big business.
His vinyl shop was voted by the British public as being the best independent record shop in the South and the third-best in the UK. Looking around the shop, you can see why. It is a feast for your eyes as Roy has some very collectable stock as well as a vast collection of memorabilia. Do not leave the shop without having a go on his pinball machine.
The other shop in the town is Bridport Music Centre, owned by local musician Ben Wain and his wife Jane. It continues the legacy of ‘Bridport Music’ which had been owned by Piers and Steph Garner who retired after serving the music fans of the town for decades.
Bridport Music not only provided me with anecdotes for my three books but also one of the highlights of my life. Andy Warhol once said ‘In the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes’. I produced the first ever batch of Worcester Sauce flavouring for crisps back in the 80’s when working in a factory that made flavours for crisps and savoury snacks. I thought that would be my 15 minutes of fame but not so. Years later I dismissed Imran Khan, the current president of Pakistan, first ball in a charity cricket match. Both however pale into insignificance after the day I was in Bridport Music and one of my musical heroines PJ Harvey was there and asked me if I would sign a copy of my book The Vinyl Revival and the Shops That Made It Happen. Life does not get much better than that!
All my books are filled with anecdotes from record shops. Here are just a few from Bridport Music:
One day whilst I was visiting the shop an elderly woman approached the counter and asked, “Do you have any Gene Krupa?”
Piers: “Yes, “I have this compilation and it is only £9.”
Elderly woman: “Oh, £9.”
Piers: “It has all his best tracks on.”
Elderly woman: “It is for a friend of mine who is not very well, and I thought it might cheer him up. The only problem is he is so unwell that he may not pull through. I think it is best if I wait a couple of weeks and if he survives, I will come back and get it.”
Piers and I looked at each other, unsure if we should laugh. Surely, an ill friend is worth £9 of anybody’s money. She never came back, so I guess he didn’t make it.
This incident started Piers off, and he was soon regaling me with some more crazy happenings from the shop including the tale of the customer they nicknamed The Crow Woman after the following conversation:
Customer: “Have you got any classical music for crows to dance to?”
Piers: “I am sorry madam, we do not have any classical music for crows to dance to.”
Customer: “Ok, can you tell me what other type of music you stock suitable for crows to dance to?”
The shop also had a visit from the world’s least knowledgeable blues fan:
Customer: “I am after a CD by a blues guitarist and I think his first name is Jose.”
Piers: “Jose Gonzalez?”
Customer: “Not him.”
Piers: “Jose Feliciano, the guitarist famous for his version of The Doors’ ‘Light my Fire’?”
Customer: “Not him either.”
Suddenly the man’s face lit up as he had a lightbulb moment.
Customer: “Got it, I think his name is Jose Mourinho.”
Piers pointed out that he used to manage the Blues as opposed to playing them.
It turned out, after some brilliant detective work by Piers, that it was none other than Joe Bonamassa that the customer was after.
Not long after, the world’s least knowledgeable metal fan also visited the shop.
Customer: “Do you have any metal albums in by Maidenhead?”
Piers was not sure if this was a new metal band that had been named after a Berkshire town. It turned out he was looking for Motorhead.
Not long after, they had a visit from world’s least knowledgeable disco fan.
Customer: “Do you have a CD of disco classics?”
Piers showed him the disco compilation section. Each time he picked one up he would study the track listings before placing it back in the racks.
Piers: “Is there a disco track you are looking for?"
Customer: “‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ by Glen Campbell.”
After completing my business, I went for a pizza with Roy from Clocktower and Steph from Bridport Music. An enjoyable hour was spent swapping music anecdotes. I then drove back home, listening to England winning at football on my car radio.
To be back on the road selling lots of product, meeting some great characters, selling loads of product and England winning reminded me of Lou Reed’s song ‘Perfect Day’.
It was good to be back on the road again.
Huge thanks to Graham Jones, our record store correspondent! Check out his books, The Vinyl Revival And The Shops That Made It Happen and Strange Requests and Comic Tales from Record Shops. Graham has previously written for us about his time working at HMV.