“But what we will miss, when our entire culture is sold through one big chain-store shopping mall called Borderstones, is the stuff that floats to the surface on a bubble of personal enthusiasm.” – Nick Hornby
Sometime in the late 90s my good friend Bill had this crazy notion about wanting to open a record store. I say crazy for a few reasons. By the end of the century, the music retail landscape (in Australia) was dominated by HMV, Sanity and JB Hi-Fi, big companies with more buying power than some Pacific Nations. Also, a pesky little thing called Napster was just about to hit the Internet, forever changing the way we would consume music. To top it off, Bill was a Deputy Principal of a High School and in his mid-forties. His entire retail experience consisted of a part time job as a supermarket cashier before he went to teacher’s college.
Despite all this, his notion (nay his dream) became a reality and on the 1st of March 1999, Atlantis Music opened. I know this because before I became a corporate fat cat I worked in the store with Bill. The two of us along with my flatmate and great friend Chad (to complete the triumvirate) worked tirelessly for weeks on end in those first months of 1999 to get the store ready for opening day. To say we winged a lot of it is understating the gravity of the situation.
The aim of the store was simple: give the customer more than what any other music retail business could offer – outstanding customer service. No I know that is part and parcel of anyone trying to sell you something but we could never compete on the same playing field financially. Money can buy you as many CDs to stock the shelves as you desire, it could not buy you the personalised service we were offering. Any album in the world? We were prepared to track the ends of the earth to find it. Our slogan was simple: Your search is over…You’ve found Atlantis Music.
Sure, we stocked the pop princesses, but we aimed to cover much more ground than the current play lists of the Austereo Network. A decent range of back catalogue? Yes. Second hand? We had it. Vinyl? 7, 12, even 10 inch? Sure thing. 78’s? We had so many we could have sold them by the pound. Old sheet music? Enough to wallpaper a studio apartment.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t even discussed memorabilia, original movie posters or our specially made record cleaner (otherwise known as the blue goo).
The range of stock was one thing but to establish a long lasting relationship was the key. We wanted a regular customer to enter the store, be greeted by their first name and engage in robust discussion about the affairs of the world. When they enquired about the new one by ‘so and so’ we wanted to have it on the new release shelf or, better still, to produce a copy from behind the counter and say, “we ordered one specifically for you”. Did this always occur? Of course not, but you bet your ass we kept aiming for that perfect customer experience.
I clocked out after 8 and a half years (Chad not long after), ready for new challenges that would lay ahead. Yet I can honestly say I enjoyed waking up every day and going to work in the store. Who wouldn’t enjoy listening and discussing music for 8 hours a day? My time there is full of so many great stories and larks but the one I always remember, which occurred in the first few months there, was when a middle aged man got a bit shouty at me over the song “Cat’s In The Cradle”. He swore black and blue it was on the album Tea For The Tillerman by Cat Stevens and was a little more than agitated that a 20 year old kid was telling him that Cat Stevens never sang it and if the man was so sure then to prove it.
I even offered him a copy of Verities & Balderdash by Harry Chapin (which contains the song he was after) to purchase.
I guess there was no pleasing some people.
I am proud to say that last month, Atlantis Music celebrated a decade in the business. Pretty phenomenal you must admit in this current state of not only music retail but global economic misery as well. It is a testament to Bill’s vision that the store is still a success whilst many of his contemporaries are sadly shutting their doors for good.
In a few days time we celebrate Record Store Day, a recent creation designed to highlight the unique culture of the independently owned record store. Whilst I understand the push for a lot of the music business to go digital, I hope deep down that there is always a place for the record store in our lives.
Now that I am the customer and no longer the retailer, a customer continually searching for new music, I mean that more than ever.