All That Jazz doing fine despite doom in music industry
June 29, 2008
Steamboat Springs — For the past 10 years, music magazines have been flooded with articles about the death of the record store.
Joe Kboudi – who opened Wednesday with twice the floor space at a new location for All That Jazz – apparently has not read those articles. Or at least, he doesn’t believe they apply to his store.
The new All That Jazz location has roughly the same music inventory as the old one. Used vinyl and CDs have moved from crates on the floor to standing bins, and Kboudi said he plans to supplement used records with new, 180-gram LPs of classic and recent music.
Much of the store’s doubled square footage will be home to an expanded selection of women’s clothing, accessories, handbags, jewelry, gift cards, socks, belts, and rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts and paraphernalia.
While nonmusic merchandise in the store has been part of the business plan since it moved to 635 Lincoln Ave. 18 years ago, Kboudi said All That Jazz is sticking to its original message, and has tried to make a statement by keeping diversified merchandise inside the realm of rock ‘n’ roll.
“In this small of a town, you cannot make it on CD sales or DVD sales alone,” said Kevin King, All That Jazz general manager.
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Offering product outside of physical music is something successful independent record stores have been doing for years, said Don VanCleave, president of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores.
“That’s what’s happening with a lot of record stores, is music is a driver and they make a lot more profit off of everything but music, and it’s a delicate balance,” VanCleave said. “Fifteen years ago, you could do really well just selling music. And about 10 years ago, we all figured out that we needed to start going into other areas.”
Of the 30 record stores in the coalition, VanCleave said most are stocking their shelves with about 30 percent nonmusic product, if not more. Stores that are surviving made a conscious decision how to do so years ago, VanCleave said.
“I think that indie record stores are poised to stay around for the longest, because they cater to that collector and music fan,” VanCleave said. Gas prices, shaky record labels and an uncertain economy might make the future of record stores hard to forecast, but VanCleave said indie stores have benefited from larger retailers leaving the game.
“The physical product isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. There’s a whole generation of people who prefer it. And as long as there are stores to provide it, they’ll sell it,” he said.
Kboudi sees offering a wide variety of merchandise as a way to stay in business, to draw a broader range of customers and to give the store a fun, inclusive atmosphere. Still, music sales account for at least 60 percent of the store’s revenue, he said.
“If we think that our customer can handle more music, then we’ll put more music in,” Kboudi said. “And we think that with the layout we have, it’ll be easier to find it.”
This is not Target
Since Kboudi founded it in 1977, part of All That Jazz’s angle has been to appeal to a niche market that exists naturally in Steamboat Springs. The store does most of its music business outside of the mainstream, selling records by reggae, jam, hip-hop and punk acts.
“This is not Best Buy or Circuit City. And Beyonce, Jay-Z, while they’re established acts, we don’t sell a lot of that music,” King said. “Nonmainstream – that is where we’ve thrived in the past.”
That niche market of music collectors, punk fans and hip-hop DJs – anyone who is going to buy physical product, no matter what technology emerges – has been as critical to All That Jazz as it has been for independent stores of varying sizes across the country.
“The national trends say that music sales are down, but that is not what the indie stores are experiencing,” said Eric Levin, president of the Alliance of Independent Media Stores and owner of Atlanta’s Criminal Records. Levin recently signed a lease for a larger location for Criminal. His store made it near the top of the list for the “17 coolest record stores in America” in the July issue of Paste music magazine.
“I wouldn’t be doing that if I didn’t think there was still an incredible market for an alternative to what is perceived as a downward trend in music,” Levin said about the expansion. While big-name, big-label acts such as Mariah Carey, Coldplay and Madonna have taken hits in sales outside of traditional record stores, Levin – like Kboudi and King – said he has not felt the impact.
“For indie stores that have always specialized in music, the good ones among us haven’t seen a downward trend. : As opportunity for buying music has shrunk with Best Buy shrinking floor space, Wal-Mart exiting and Tower going out of business, it’s only made it better and better for stores like ours,” Levin said.
For the people Levin calls “music participants,” advances such as iTunes downloads and Pandora Internet radio haven’t kept anyone from buying music; technology has just made those people more educated.
“I would think of a participant as someone who’s going to buy physical artifact. A participant is someone involved in the culture of music, not in the collecting of zeroes and ones,” said Levin, who remembers All That Jazz as “a cool store” from visits to Steamboat Springs.
“Someday, somebody’s going to go, ‘I thought all those stores were going out of business. What happened?’ I think it’s the beginning of a boom time,” Levin said. “That’s why I’m getting a bigger store, and that’s probably what All That Jazz is thinking, as well.”
New store, same old place
In the three days leading up to All That Jazz’s move down the 600 block of Lincoln Avenue, store employees, family and friends worked almost nonstop, carrying inventory down the sidewalk, setting up shelves in the new store and tearing them down in the old one. At least four of those employees have been with All That Jazz for more than a decade.
Kboudi and King said they’ll miss the old location’s “funky charm that felt like a back alley charm.” But they’re ready to fill a larger shop, holding on to the best qualities of a space King said they had outgrown by five years.
“It’s still our funky record store, you know what I mean?” Kboudi said. And it still sticks to the ideals that started it more than 30 years ago, and that keep people like Kboudi, Levin and VanCleave in the business.
“I’ve always loved music, ever since I can remember,” Kboudi said. “And when I moved to Steamboat, there was a little record store that didn’t really have any heart and soul in it. And I said, ‘I can do better than that.'”