The thought of opening a record store in today’s era of music streaming might seem challenging, but record stores are actually doing well, thanks to a resurgence in vinyl’s popularity. While this type of business isn’t without its challenges, dedicated and creative store owners enjoy success.
The warm, crackly sound of vinyl spinning on a turntable is an unparalleled pleasure for many. If you love music, appreciate vinyl, and enjoy engaging with other music lovers, starting a record store of your own could be financially rewarding while allowing you to work in the music industry every day.
Starting a record store requires more than just the technical know-how of running a business. It demands a deep understanding of music, the industry, and your customers. As such, our guide is designed to navigate you through the process by providing an understanding of the business, a step-by-step guide on getting started, and answers to common questions.
Record stores typically stock a variety of music and video entertainment products for purchase. It’s common to find an assortment of vinyl records, CDs, and accessories, like sound systems and earbuds. Some stores specialize in hard-to-find and rare music genres, while others take a more general approach, offering the most popular contemporary music. Some businesses also have programs where they’ll buy used merchandise from customers to resell.
While the same products that an independent record shop stocks are usually available online, these stores offer something that online retailers cannot: The ability for consumers to come in, browse, and sometimes listen to products before buying them. Today, many record stores are valued for the community, experience, and atmosphere by connecting DJs, indie record labels, and bands to music fans.
Owning a record store is often a labor of love, so it’s important to make sure that you’re truly passionate about the music industry. That passion can translate to success – one of the best strategies for choosing your store’s inventory is to rely on your own tastes and choose products you want to have in your personal music collection.
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The record store industry, contrary to some perceptions, isn’t a dying industry. It’s a niche market, yes, but a resilient one. Vinyl sales have seen a steady increase in interest over the last decade, thanks to the “vinyl revival.” There’s a growing appreciation for the tangible and the analog in an overwhelmingly digital world. Young music fans are discovering the joy of record collecting while older generations are reconnecting with a beloved format from their past.
Even though there may be a renewed interest in vinyl, the record store industry has seen revenue decrease by an average of 8.9% over the last five years, but is expected to reach sales of $1.1 billion in 2023.
The industry’s decline is partially due to the competition posed by online music retailers like Amazon and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. Because consumers can access their favorite music online without having to purchase records, there’s less incentive to travel to a brick-and-mortar store to buy complete albums. Big box retailers are able to offer albums at significant discounts because of their ability to purchase in such a large volume, which can also eat into an independent record store’s profits. If record stores are to survive, they need to find new and unique ways to offer products and experiences that consumers can’t get online.
Sustainability and personal connection are two major trends shaping the record store industry. Many customers see buying vinyl records as a more sustainable alternative to streaming, which has a surprisingly large carbon footprint. Additionally, the in-store experience is becoming increasingly important. Customers are looking for stores that offer a unique, immersive experience, with listening stations, live performances, or album release parties.
Moreover, record stores are becoming more community-oriented. They’re places where customers can connect with other music lovers, attend events, or simply hang out. Successful stores are those that can offer something unique that music fans can’t find online or in large retail chains.
Record stores market to music lovers who value the quality and tangible nature of records and CDs. A store’s specialty areas may change that target market slightly – a store that stocks only rare or vintage records will market to a more niche audience than a store that stocks contemporary music products.
The key here is understanding that a record store generally appeals to a diverse range of individuals, each with a unique connection to music and the vinyl format.
Here are some key groups you might consider:
- Music enthusiasts: People who have a deep passion for music typically form the core audience for a record store. These aren’t just your casual radio listeners, but those who enjoy exploring different genres, discovering new artists, and collecting albums. They appreciate the album art, liner notes, and the physical act of playing a record. They might also enjoy the ritual of visiting a record store and browsing through different records.
- Vinyl collectors: These are individuals who collect records as a hobby. They could be interested in rare records, first pressings, colored vinyl, or albums from specific artists or genres. These customers often value vinyl’s sound quality and authenticity over digital music formats.
- Nostalgia seekers: Many customers are drawn to vinyl because it reminds them of a past era. These customers may have grown up with vinyl or want to recreate a nostalgic experience.
- Younger, hip audience: Interestingly, vinyl has seen a resurgence among younger audiences in recent years. The tangible experience of vinyl appeals to those who’ve grown up in a digital era where music has become somewhat intangible. These individuals might be interested in the latest releases on vinyl, limited editions, or enjoy the novelty and cool factor of owning vinyl records.
- Gift buyers: Record stores also attract customers looking for unique, thoughtful gifts for music lovers. A vinyl record can be a great present, whether it’s a favorite album, a collector’s item, or a new release from a beloved artist.
Each of these audiences will have different needs and desires, so understanding your specific target market will be crucial in tailoring your inventory, marketing strategies, and in-store experience.
Checklist To Start A Record Store
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If you’re thinking about starting a record store, it’s important to do your research first. Here is a checklist to help you get started.
Step 1: Assess the Market
Before you jump into the deep end of starting a record store, doing a little reconnaissance to test the waters is a good idea.
Why, you ask?
Imagine setting up a fantastic record store, stocking it with classic hits, rare editions, the whole nine yards, only to discover that the demand in your area is minimal. It would be like trying to sell ice in Antarctica. So, conducting a thorough market analysis is a key step that can save you from potential missteps and financial risks down the line.
Researching market demand involves understanding the size of the market, identifying potential customers, and gauging their interest in your offering. Here’s how you can get started:
Surveys and questionnaires: Use online platforms like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey to create a questionnaire. Target questions around music preferences, vinyl collecting habits, frequency of purchases, and willingness to visit a record store. You can distribute this survey on local social media group pages, music forums, or even within your local community . Remember to ensure your sample size is large enough to accurately represent your target market.
Online analytics tools: Tools like Google Trends or Keyword Planner can help you gauge online interest in record stores or vinyl records. This can give you an idea of the overall popularity and potential market size.
Competitor analysis: Check out other record stores in your vicinity or online. Observe their customer interactions, product offerings, and read customer reviews. This can give you insights into what’s working and what’s not, helping you fine-tune your approach.
Social media listening: Monitor social media platforms, music forums, and online communities for discussions around vinyl records, music collections, and record stores to glean insights into customer behaviors, preferences, and potential demand.
Local community engagement: Attend local music events, fairs, and concerts. Interact with attendees, conduct informal interviews, or just observe. You can also reach out to local DJs, music teachers, or artists for insights.
These research steps, though they might take some time, can paint a clearer picture of the demand landscape. The more you know about your potential customers, their behaviors, and preferences, the better you can tailor your record store to resonate with them. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be in a prime position to hit the right notes with your new venture.
Step 2: Write a Business Plan
A business plan for a record store is like a musical composition for an orchestra – it sets the tempo, defines the melody, and guides all the instruments to work in harmony. It’s an important document that not only clarifies your thoughts and ideas, but also acts as a guidepost as your business grows and evolves.
If the business plan will also be used to secure funding there are a few sections to focus on.
One significant section would be the Market Analysis. Given that you’re targeting a niche market, it’s essential to present detailed research about your potential customers, competitors, and industry trends. Highlight your understanding of the customer’s music preferences, purchasing behavior, and why they’d choose your store over others.
The Marketing Strategy section also carries weight. Your record store isn’t just about selling vinyl records; it’s about selling a unique experience. Outline your plans for creating an engaging store atmosphere, your advertising strategies, public relations, partnerships, and online presence. Discuss how you plan to reach out to your target audience and get them excited about your store.
Now, onto the Financial Projections. Financial projections are especially important, not just to get funding but for you to analyze whether there your business will turn a profit. The projections include an income statement to estimate profitability and a cash flow statement to evaluate seasonality as your sales might see a spike during holiday seasons.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Secure Funding
With the next step, you’re right on the money – literally. After validating your idea and preparing your business plan, the next note in your startup symphony is funding. It’s like the electricity that powers the amplifier, turning your vision into a small business that resonates with your customers.
Starting a record store involves costs such as renting or buying a suitable location, procuring an initial stock of records, setting up the store, and covering operating costs until the business becomes profitable. For a small-scale operation, these costs can be quite reasonable, but still, enough to require careful planning and potentially, outside financing.
The first source of funding for most entrepreneurs, including record store owners, is often personal savings. This approach has a clear advantage – you’re in control, and you don’t have to worry about interest rates or loan repayment schedules. The downside, however, is that it’s your hard-earned money at stake, and you should always keep a cushion for unexpected expenses. A smart rule of thumb is not to invest all your savings and to always maintain an emergency fund.
When personal savings are insufficient, entrepreneurs often turn to banks or credit unions for a traditional business loan. If you’re looking at this route, bear in mind that lenders typically require borrowers to invest at least 15% of their personal funds into the business, have a decent credit score, usually above 650, and have sufficient collateral. If a bank feels your business is a bit risky, they might require getting an SBA loan guarantee. This program encourages banks to lend to small businesses by guaranteeing a portion of the loan, reducing the risk for the lender.
If you’re eyeing startup costs below $50,000 (in most cases), or if traditional lenders are hesitant due to your personal financial situation, microloans could be a good fit. These are small loans, offered by local economic development programs and specialized financial institutions. They often come with more favorable terms and sometimes offer the added benefit of business training and guidance.
Finally, there are angel investors. These are individuals with a higher net worth who invest their personal funds into promising businesses. It’s important to remember, however, that angel investment can be challenging to secure. These investors often prefer businesses with high growth and scalability potential. However, if you can demonstrate the unique value proposition of your record store, such as a significant local market or a unique twist on the traditional record store model, you might attract an investor who shares your passion for vinyl.
Securing funding can sometimes feel like trying to find a rare record in a giant music store. But don’t get discouraged – with the right approach and persistence, you can find the tune that fits your business perfectly. Remember, it’s all part of the exciting journey of turning your dream of a record store into a reality.
Step 4: Select your Location
There’s an old saying in business that it’s all about “location, location, location.” For a record store, the right location is as important as having the right records on your shelves. It’s your stage, the place where your business will sing its song to the world.
Now, let’s get to work on setting the stage for your business. Once you’ve secured the funding, the hunt for the perfect location begins. You’re looking for a place that’s accessible and visible, where your target audience frequently visits or passes by. It might be in a shopping center, near a college campus, or even in a hip neighborhood downtown.
Don’t be afraid to get your feet on the street. Visit other record stores and similar businesses (both competitors and those in areas with similar demographics) to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Consider things like parking availability, foot traffic, proximity to other businesses, and the overall vibe of the area.
Once you’ve chosen the perfect location, it’s time to negotiate a lease or purchase agreement. This is where having your funding secured is crucial. You don’t want to sign any contracts before the funding is in place, as this process can often take longer than expected, and you don’t want to risk defaulting on your agreements.
Finding and preparing your record store location is an exciting step in your journey. It’s when your dream begins to take physical shape and gets ready to welcome its first customers. It may require some patience and hard work, but remember – you’re not just building a store, you’re setting the stage for countless musical discoveries to come.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 5: Register the Business
Alright! We’ve got the funding, the location, and the passion for records – now let’s make this business official. Registering your business not only makes it legal but also offers protections and advantages that can be important as your record store grows.
Choosing a business structure is the first step. There are four common structures for small businesses which include the Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Limited Liability Company (LLC), and Corporation. The two most popular ones are the Sole Proprietorship and LLC.
If you’re starting small and want to keep things simple, a Sole Proprietorship might be the way to go. It’s easy to start and typically less costly than other structures. However, as a Sole Proprietor, you have personal liability for the business, meaning if something goes wrong, your personal assets can be at risk.
On the other hand, an LLC offers more protection against personal liability. While the LLC comes with more formalities and costs, your personal assets are separate from the business, meaning your personal belongings would generally be safe if your business faced legal issues.
Related: Comparison of business structures
Once you’ve chosen your structure, it’s time to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.
During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.
Depending on your location, there will likely be a variety of general business licenses or permits needed before opening. This could include a business license, seller’s permit, Occupancy Permit, and Employer Identification Number (EIN).
Related: What licenses do record stores need?
Registering your business can feel like a big step, but remember, it’s a key part of protecting yourself and your dream. Once the paperwork is done, you’re not just a music lover with a dream – you’re the proud owner of a legally registered record store and are getting really close to opening the doors.
Step 6: Set Up Accounts with Suppliers
So, you’re ready to stock your record store with the kind of tunes that will have music lovers flocking to your door. That means it’s time to talk to suppliers. Suppliers are crucial to your business – they’re the ones that provide those gems that will sit in your racks and make customers’ hearts beat a little faster.
Before we dive in, a quick word of caution. Most suppliers in the record store industry won’t provide pricing or set up accounts until your business is legally registered. They want to be sure they’re dealing with a legitimate business before they get the ball rolling.
Now, let’s talk about your options.
Major record labels: Major labels like Sony Music, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group have a vast catalogue of records. They often work through distributors, so you might not deal with them directly, but their music will likely be a staple in your store.
Independent record labels: Independent labels cater to niche genres and underground scenes. If you’re looking to stand out and offer unique records, these labels can be a goldmine. Labels like Sub Pop, Matador Records, and Merge Records, among others, offer a wide range of indie artists and styles.
Record distributors: Distributors are the middlemen between record labels and record stores. They deal with both major and independent labels, providing a wide selection of records from various artists. Some well-known distributors in the U.S. include Alliance Entertainment, Baker & Taylor, and Ingram Entertainment.
Used record suppliers: If you plan to sell used or vintage records, you will need to connect with suppliers specializing in these. These might be estate sales, auctions, private collectors, or even individuals looking to sell their own collections.
Direct-to-artist platforms: Platforms like Bandcamp allow artists to sell directly to fans. You may be able to work out a wholesale deal with artists for their vinyl releases. This can be a great way to support independent artists and offer music that’s hard to find elsewhere.
Record pressing plants: If you plan to offer exclusive releases, you might want to work directly with record pressing plants. This can be more complex, as it often involves negotiating rights with artists or labels, but it can also provide unique inventory that sets your store apart.
Finding the right suppliers is just like crate digging. It can take time, and you might have to dig deep to find the real gems. But once you’ve found them, they’ll keep your store spinning with customers eager to find their next favorite record. Now, go on and make your record store the place where music comes alive!
Step 7: Design the Store
When you have the keys in hand, it’s time to turn this empty space into a record store that resonates with your customers. Think about your store layout carefully. Your store needs to be inviting and your records easily accessible.
Starting with the layout, it’s essential to have clear paths for customers to navigate through different music genres, new arrivals, and vintage collections. Consider allocating space for listening stations where customers can sample records before purchasing – a popular feature in record stores. Make sure to allow room for the checkout area and any other spaces you envision for your store, such as a stage for live performances or a coffee bar for customers to relax.
Next, think about the atmosphere and ambience of your store. A record store isn’t just about buying records; it’s about an experience. The design should resonate with your target audience and the vibe you want your store to convey.
Maybe it’s retro or minimalist, or perhaps it’s filled with music posters and memorabilia. This is your chance to make your mark and create a space that your customers will love. Lighting plays a significant role here. Soft, ambient lighting can create a cozy, relaxed atmosphere while bright, targeted lighting can highlight specific areas or products.
When it comes to purchasing equipment, focus on quality and durability. For record stores, this can mean sturdy record bins or shelves, a reliable sound system for in-store play, and headphones for listening stations. Don’t forget about back-of-house items like storage units for inventory and tools for cleaning and maintaining records.
Setting up your Point of Sale (POS) system is another necessary task. The POS system handles sales transactions and often includes inventory and customer relationship management features. Choose a POS system tailored to the needs of retail businesses, with the ability to manage a large inventory of unique items like records. A few popular ones include Square, Clover, and Lightspeed.
Last, don’t forget to create a comfortable, functional space for yourself and any employees. This includes a well-set-up checkout area with a cash register, card reader, and packaging supplies, as well as spaces like a break room and a restroom.
Step 8: Get your Marketing Plan in Place
With the streaming era of today, be prepared to get creative in building and marketing your store. Marketing your record store is about making connections with your community of music lovers, both online and offline. So, let’s dive into some effective strategies that can make your store the go-to spot for vinyl enthusiasts.
When it comes to online marketing, social media platforms are your best friends. Instagram and Pinterest, for example, with a focus on visuals, can be great places to show off your record collection, announce new arrivals, or feature customers and their music stories. Facebook, with its groups feature, allows you to connect with local music communities and share your store’s events or special deals.
Your website is another critical piece of the puzzle. It’s a place where people can learn about your store, browse your inventory, and even make purchases if you decide to sell online. Make sure your site is easy to navigate, responsive on mobile devices, and has your contact information prominently displayed.
Now let’s talk about Google Business Profile. It’s a free tool that helps your business show up on Google Search and Maps. This is key for customers who are searching for record stores in their area. The same goes for other business directories, such as Yelp or Yellow Pages – claim your profiles there to increase your online visibility.
While it’s great to have a strong online presence, remember that your record store is a physical place where people come to experience music, so don’t forget about traditional marketing methods. Engaging with the local music scene and hosting events like live performances, album release parties, or record listening sessions can create a buzz around your store and draw in crowds.
Joining your local chamber of commerce is another step worth considering. It can give you networking opportunities, exposure to local businesses, and access to community events where you can promote your store.
Finally, consider reaching out to local radio stations. They can announce your store opening, advertise your events, or even collaborate with you on special promotions.
With a well-rounded marketing plan in place, you can create awareness, build a community around your store, and keep the music playing for the customers who love what you do. Remember, marketing isn’t just about selling records – it’s about sharing your passion for music and creating a place where others can do the same. So, tune in to your audience, and let’s get the word out about your incredible new record store!
Step 9: Hire Employees
When it comes to running a record store, hiring employees can be an essential step towards ensuring a smooth and efficient operation. The process involves more than just finding people who share your passion for music. You’ll also need to consider roles and responsibilities, payroll, and legal requirements.
Typically, a record shop hires sales associates to assist customers, manage inventory, and handle sales transactions. You may also consider hiring a store manager, particularly if you plan on expanding or if you simply prefer having someone else handle day-to-day operations. Occasionally, record stores might employ specialists with a deep knowledge of certain music genres or vinyl records to provide expert advice to customers.
Before you bring your first employee on board, it’s important to understand some legal requirements. Here’s a quick rundown:
Employer Identification Number (EIN): If you haven’t already, you’ll need to apply for an EIN from the Internal Revenue Service. This number is used for business tax filings and to report employee information to state agencies.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance: Most states require businesses with employees to carry Workers’ Compensation Insurance to cover medical treatment and disability benefits if an employee gets injured or falls ill due to their job.
Labor Law Compliance: You’ll need to be familiar with both federal and state labor laws, including wage and hour laws, anti-discrimination laws, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
Employee Tax Filings: Once you start paying employees, you’ll need to withhold part of their income for federal income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare. You’ll then match the Social Security and Medicare and pay all these taxes to the IRS. You’ll also need to handle the employee’s portion of state taxes, if applicable.
Reporting New Hires: You are required to report new hires to your state’s new hire reporting program within 20 days of their start date.
Post Required Notices: Federal and state laws require employers to post certain notices in their workplaces to inform employees of their rights and protections.
Every state has different regulations when it comes to hiring and managing employees. Be sure to check with your state’s labor department for specifics. Taking the time to understand these requirements can help ensure a smooth hiring process and a positive work environment in your record store.
Step 10: Prepare to Open!
As we pull into the home stretch of opening your record store, there are a handful of tasks left that can really solidify the foundation of your business. Every journey to opening a record store is unique and your needs may vary based on your specific vision, location, and market. By tying up these loose ends, you’ll be setting the stage for a smoother opening and a successful run in the world of music retail. Some of the common tasks include:
Business insurance: In the world of retail, insurance is pretty much non-negotiable. Common types include general liability, product liability, and property insurance.
Bookkeeping: Keep your financial house in order from the get-go. Implementing a bookkeeping system will not only help you keep track of income and expenses, but it will also simplify things during tax season. Wave Accounting (FREE) or Quickbooks are popular choices, but there are numerous other options out there.
Business bank account: Keeping your personal and business finances separate will make your life a whole lot easier. Plus, it adds another layer of professionalism to your operation.
Credit card processing: If not using a Point of Sale system, the need for a business to accept credit cards is pretty much a given. Providers like Square or Stripe offer simple, straightforward solutions for small businesses.
Grand opening: Plan for a big splash to introduce your store to the community. Think about partnerships with local musicians or a radio station, special promotions, or even a live performance to make the day memorable.
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Common Questions When Starting A Record Store
How much does it cost to start a record store?
Starting a record store can typically range from $20,000 to $100,000, depending on various factors. These figures include the following startup costs:
Lease or purchase of premises: The cost of securing a location will vary dramatically depending on the size of the store and its location. Prime city spots will come at a premium. Initial deposit costs can range from $1,000 to $5,000 per month.
Store fit-out and design: You’ll need to invest in the store’s look and feel, including shelving for records, lighting, signage, and other furnishings. Depending on how elaborate you want to go, this can cost between $5,000 and $30,000.
Initial inventory: To stock a record store, expect to spend between $10,000 and $40,000 on vinyl records alone, depending on the size of your store.
Equipment: You’ll need a point-of-sale system and sound equipment like record players, speakers, and amplifiers for customers to sample music before they buy. This could set you back another $2,000 to $7,000.
Licenses and permits: Depending on your location, you may need to pay for licenses and permits. These can cost around $200 to $600.
Business insurance: You’ll want to protect your business with insurance, which might cost around $500 to $1,000 for the first year.
Marketing: For initial marketing expenses like a website, social media ads, flyers, and grand opening events, you should budget $2,000 to $5,000.
Professional services: Legal and accounting services may also be necessary, costing about $1,000 to $2,000.
Adding up these costs, you get a ballpark of $20,000 to $100,000 to start a record store. These numbers will vary based on the specific choices you make.
The cost doesn’t stop there, though.
Once the doors open, you’ll need to cover ongoing expenses such as rent, utilities, inventory, salaries, and more. This is why it’s recommended to have three to six months of operating expenses saved as a buffer to give your record store a fighting chance to establish itself in the market.
How profitable is a record store?
Determining the potential profit of a record store involves a number of factors. According to several industry sources, an average independent record store can generate about $200,000 to $300,000 in gross revenue annually.
The primary source of revenue is from the sale of records. So, if a new vinyl sells for $20 and a used one for $10, selling around 30 new and 50 used records per day would amount to around $250,000 annually.
Now, let’s talk about expenses. After taking out costs such as rent, salaries, utilities, inventory, marketing, and insurance, net operating expenses might run around 60-75% of the gross revenue, or $150,000 to $225,000. This estimate is based on standard retail operation costs, but can vary depending on your specific situation.
By subtracting these operating expenses from the gross revenue, we get a net profit. Using our example, if a store generates $250,000 in sales and has $180,000 in expenses, that leaves a potential annual profit of $70,000.
However, remember that these are rough estimates. The profitability of a record store can fluctuate based on location, size of the store, volume of sales, how well managed the expenses are, and other factors. It’s always a good idea to create a detailed business plan and financial forecast to get a more accurate estimate for your specific situation.
What skills are needed to run a record store?
A record store owner won’t need a business degree to get started, but certain skills and experiences can increase the store’s chances of success.
Music industry knowledge: A record store owner will need to be knowledgeable about the music industry to choose the best inventory and understand what customers would want to see in the store.
Awareness of music trends: The music industry evolves quickly, so a store owner should be aware of new and evolving trends and how they might affect customer buying habits.
Resourcefulness: Owners of record stores specializing in vintage or rare records will need to be resourceful in finding and buying inventory to sell.
Customer service skills: Great customer service is one factor that encourages customers to make an effort to go to a record store rather than rely on online purchases. A store owner who can strike up a conversation and build a relationship with customers can contribute to the store’s success.
Organization skills: Strong organization skills will help a store owner set up the store in a logical manner, ensure that specific inventory can always be located, and keep the business running smoothly.
Creative marketing capabilities: Record stores face tough competition, so creative marketing is often necessary for their survival. A store owner who can identify new and exciting marketing and event opportunities can build customer enthusiasm and loyalty.
What is the NAICS code for a record store?
The NAICS code for a record store is 45122.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.
Related: What is a NAICS code?