How to Start a Record Store

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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 do enjoy success. 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. 

Business Overview

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 ear buds. Some stores specialize in hard-to-find and rare music, 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 and resell it. 

While the same products that record stores stock 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 experience and atmosphere that they offer. 

Industry Summary

According to IBIS World, the record industry’s growth declined by 9.0 percent from 2014 through 2019. During that time, the number of businesses fell to 2,660, and industry employment also declined to 10,191. In 2019, the industry was predicted to bring in $1 billion in revenue. 

The industry’s decline is partially due to the competition posed by online music retailers and streaming services, like 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 large volume, which can also eat into an independent record store’s profits. If records stores are to survive, they need to find new and unique ways to offer products and experiences that consumers can’t get online. 

Industry Trends

A resurgence in the popularity of vinyl records is a promising opportunity for record stores. Classic FM reports that in 2019, vinyl sales outnumbered CD sales for the first time in 40 years. While vinyl records certainly evoke nostalgia, that’s likely not the driving factor behind their sales, especially since younger people are actively buying vinyl. A YouGov survey found that one in four 18-24-year-olds had purchased a vinyl record in the month before they were surveyed. Instead of seeking nostalgia, younger people may be looking for tangible items to justify their spending. Vinyl records tend to have a warmer sound than CDs or streamed music, and consumers may enjoy the thrill of hunting through piles of vinyl records to find a hidden gem. 

Who is the target market for a record store?

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. 

Skills, experience, and education useful in running a record store

A record store owner won’t need a business degree to get started, but certain skills and experiences can increase the chances that the store becomes a 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 that specialize 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 of the factors that encourages customers to take the effort to go to a record store, rather than relying on online purchases. A store owner who can strike up a conversation and build a relationship with their customers can contribute to the store’s success. 

Organization skills. Strong organization skills will help a store owner to set up the store in a logical manner, ensure that specific inventory can always be located, and keep the business running smoothly on the whole. 

Creative marketing capabilities. Record stores face tough competition, so creative marketing is often necessary to their survival. A store owner who can identify new and exciting marketing and event opportunities can build customer enthusiasm and loyalty to the store. 

Costs to Start a Record Store

While factors like the store’s size and location will affect startup costs, plan to spend at least $50,000 to open a small store, while larger stores can cost $150,000 and more. The cost to start a record store that offers only used merchandise will be slightly lower because of reduced inventory costs. 

Common startup costs for a record store include: 

  • Inventory
  • Furniture and shelves/display racks
  • Sound system(s)
  • Signage

Steps to Starting a Record Store

Step 1. Write your Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a business plan.  Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.

How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2. Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC.  Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements. 

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Step 3. Select your Location

A prime retail spot can bring in walk-in traffic and help to drive public awareness of the business, but it also brings high rent costs.  In addition to high visibility locations, be sure to consider proximity to complementary businesses, ease of access and parking availability. 

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

There are no licenses specifically for record stores, however there are some general  business licenses, permits and registrations that will be required to start a business which vary on the activities of the business in addition to where it is located. 

Some of the common local, state and federal registrations a record store will need include a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, and Occupancy Permit among others. 

Related: Common business licenses, permits and registrations by state

Step 5. Find Financing 

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a record store is another.  In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs. 

Related: Finding the money to start a business  

Step 6. Get your Marketing Plan in Place

Record stores need to continuously use effective marketing to drive sales and build their customer base. Marketing techniques may involve everything from using social media marketing to getting involved in local events to build a community presence. Some stores may use online advertising or even radio advertising to reach new customers. Marketing costs will vary depending on the type of marketing being performed, but stores will need to include this ongoing expense into their budgets. 

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

 Step 7. Get Insurance

 A record store will need several types of insurance:

  • General liability insurance protects the store if a customer falls, slips, or is otherwise injured while on the property.  
  • Commercial property insurance protects the business against the financial loss it would face if its store and/or inventory were damaged in an event like a fire. 
  • Worker’s compensation insurance helps to cover expenses like medical bills or lost wages that can occur if an employee is hurt while on the job. 

Policy costs will vary depending on factors like the value of the business’ inventory and how many employees the business has. It’s best to request quotes from multiple insurance providers to get the best idea of what insurance might cost. When comparing the quotes, focus on variables like coverage limits and exclusions, premiums, and deductibles. 

Step 8. Hiring Employees

A record store owner may be able to manage the store when it’s just starting out, but will probably need to hire staff if the store is going to operate during standard retail hours. According to PayScale, retail sales associates earn an average of $10.86 per hour, or $36,259 per year.

Employee salaries are just one of the multiple expenses that come when hiring staff. A record store’s budget will also need to include expenses like workman’s comp insurance, paid time off, and health insurance contributions. 

Related: Hiring your first employee

How much can you potentially make owning a record store? 

The revenue of a record store will vary depending on its location, its size, and even how long it’s been in business. While hard data on average record store profits isn’t currently available, Glassdoor reports that record store managers, who are often also the store owners, earn an average salary of $44,032 per year. That salary can range as low as $30,000 or as high as $65,000. 

Things to consider before starting a record store

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 that you would want to have in your personal music collection. 

With the streaming era of today, be prepared to get creative in building and marketing your store. As you work on your business plan, focus on a niche that’s unmet in the community, or in the music industry as a whole. Offering used, rare, or vintage records is one strategy that can be effective and that will set your shop apart from the competition of streaming services. 

Independent Music Store Owner Association
Coalition for Independent Music Stores